Inspiration vs Impersonation

In the design world, there are bound to be similarities among products. Whether it be from customer demand, trends or coincidence. We’ve all seen our work mimicked at some point in our careers. Using something for inspiration is certainly fine. If I see a color scheme that I like, it’s in the album on my iPhone for reference later. When I see patterns I like, used them in my own way in a design. Using something as inspiration is innovation. It’s making something old, new and better from the inside out, and not reverse engineering from the outside in.

There is a difference between using something for inspiration and copying. People who “copy” either a) don’t have the capability to create something on their own or b) want a slice of the pie or c) are purely a coincidental mishap (<——that one is a little hard to believe sometimes)

What might bother me the most about our design community is that if we see plagiarism, it’s hard to speak up about it. How is it that if we are the ones to point the finger, we are the delinquent party? No one wants to be that guy. How do you bring it to their attention with decorum? How do you be the bigger person and still right a wrong?

I remember speaking up about seeing one of my most popular designs blatantly copied with a multitude of similarities by another member of a vendor group I am a part of. I immediately felt guilty for even bringing it up and the listening party made an excuse about it on behalf of the copy cat. It was disheartening.

How is it that we’ve done this complete 180 from grade school that copying is okay? It’s hard to be the police for yourself. As a community, we should support each other and police for each other. Ultimately, it makes the design community stronger and more original. Originality is authenticity.

I read an article written by Matt Gemmell (a fabulous follow, BTW) about tech companies and copying and this hit me square between the eyes:

“Copies never, ever achieve the success of the thing they copied. Copying is harder than innovating.”  – Matt Gremmell

If you are copying, you are a fake. Plain and simple.

Matt goes on to bring up the fact that copying doesn’t do anyone good, especially yourself. You’ve actually made it harder on yourself, confused the customer and created a nightmare for comparison.

“Successful products dare not copy.” – Matt Gremmell

I’ll end with my favorite quote from the closing of his article,

“There’s nothing new under the sun, as they say – we’re all inspired and affected by other things. All of our design takes place under constraints. So, be influenced. Incorporate elements. Agree with implementations. Understand an approach. Realise the purpose and function of a design decision. Address a need. Renew something.

Be an innovator, not a copycat.”

In case you’re wondering, no one has copied my work recently so this isn’t in response to something like that. It’s something I’ve seen happen to friends a lot lately and I couldn’t get it off my mind. I’m still working on this, but how do we show disapproval to those who plagiarize or even those who support plagiarism?  I think somehow it is done through love and with compassion for each other and for the design community. Anyone been in a similar situation? How did you handle it?