When it comes to design, it’s incredibly hard to be “original” anymore – because what really is original? I find this question extremely difficult to answer, but here are my six thoughts on what is arguably the most un-answerable question a designer faces.
As a designer, I am flooded with inspiration and information everywhere I go, especially working in the social space where I am bombarded by thousands of pieces of content a day. I don’t meant to absorb everything I see, but in some way or another, it all affects the work that I do. Our creative process is steered by our subconscious, filled with things that we never realised we took in; making us “copy” things without the realisation we are even doing so. So how can we say someone is copying someone, when they don’t even know they are doing it?
Some people consider that by changing creative works by 10 – 20% makes it “all yours” and not legally considered plagiarism, which brings another argument: how do you really prove two designs are the same and that they even knew the other one existed? It is such a blurred line and as we have access to more and more content, it is going to turn into a question that cannot be proved either way. On top of this, the increased commercialisation of the arts means that it is no longer a moral worry, but a question of someone making more money than you off of your idea, which is only the beginning of a long line of lawsuits that are attempting to answer the impossible.
Lead the creativity
Being a designer, you are required to see the argument from both perspectives. Why? Because you are on both sides, both seeking “inspiration” as well as being someone whose designs could be ripped off at any time. Personally, I think the best thing to do is to turn this into a positive: if you are being copied, you are leading creativity and you are worth copying – and it’s incredibly likely that your design was inspired by someone else in the first place!
It’s all the same solution
On top of the question of whether you mean to copy or not is the logic that design is simply a solution to a problem – it is the best way to effectively communicate a given brief to a specific audience. Therefore, if you had 5 designers working on one brief with the same restrictions, it is very likely that their “solutions” would be quite similar. This is not plagiarism at all, and further stresses the point that people can come up with almost identical designs without knowing the other existed.
There are SO many different artistic styles that designers can follow, make their own, or be inspired by, but this also means that following a well known style can end with similar designs, and big problems! Only a month ago, the Tokyo Olympics was forced to abandon their logo because of its obvious resemblance to the Theatre De Liege’s logo. Would they have really plagiarised so blatantly, knowing that their logo would be plastered across the globe for everyone to see? I am almost certain the answer is no. They have simply used a geometric style, also used by someone else, which when worked on comes out with a similar concept – but this is not plagiarism.
Another word that’s important: intent. Did the designer “intend” to copy, or did they have no idea that they were? . I work extremely hard each day with the intent to come up with original and creative content to inspire others, but I am also aware that others inspire me too.
So what then is my answer to the elusive question of originality? I think that art and design is out there to inspire others, and as long as there is no intent to copy, then our work will only get better and build on each other’s, creating work that continues to amaze and revolutionise the industry.