Almost all designers, at the start of a project go on a nice research spree. I sometimes tend to look through photography annuals, others might look through design showcase books, a pile of creative reviews or browse the many inspiration sites available. My point is that designers usually look for influence. They are not looking to copy anything, they look for something to trigger their own ideas.
I was recently reading Adrian Shaughnessy’s book ‘How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul’ and found some really good points on the idea of originality in design. He points out that design work usually reflects a nice mix of tradition, history and popular culture, and to this end, originality in its purest form generally does not exist.
I have always thought that art or design generally takes little steps forward, rather than leaps. Most great art movements did not just take place out of the blue, but were rather a gradual movement progressing from one movement to another. Yet originality seems to be a key point with many designers. The fact is that even the most prestigious of studios borrow ideas from other areas. I often find old record labels that use the same font as a modern identity done by the latest fashionable agency.
I think the key point goes back to the idea of progression. Borrowing, and being influenced by others work is fine. Probably even inevitable. After all, the visual world we live in means that subconsciously we are always influenced by something. What you would hope then as a designer is that you add something of your own. Put a new twist into it, or use it for something different. It should be looked at and not thought – they have copied that, but rather – I see where they have got that from, and like what they have done with it.
To sum up, you should never just rip something off or claim another designers work as your own but it is OK to borrow visual references or be influenced by others. It makes our work more interesting. The key is the ability to recognise what visual keys will work in a particular instance. What is appropriate and what will be effective.
I will end this post with a quote within ‘How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul’ from the British designer, Julian House. He says, ‘I don’t believe in originality as an absolute. I think it has more to do with interesting twists on existing forms. Borrowing from the modernist designer from the recent past is not plagiarism; its more a continuation of the process and ideas they set in motion. I think they key to whether it is good or not lies in the viewers response to a particular piece of design. Do they say “I’ve seen it before”, or “I’ve seen it before but not in that way”.
So what do you think? Does originality exist and is it ok to ‘borrow’ other design? Be great to hear your thoughts.