I admit it. I’ve committed a cardinal designer sin. I’ve straight up, unabashedly, embarrassingly…copied.
Don’t judge me like you haven’t done it in a pinch—okay, maybe you haven’t, but I admit it I have. It’s shameful, especially since I’ve also been the guy who’s called people out on the internet for copying. Ya, I was that guy. Yet, in classic hypocritical fashion, I was probably copying someone else’s style of calling people out. I digress.
Why do we choose to copy things as designers? Why do we secretly risk the potential of being humiliated by (at least) our peers and even at times dance with breaking the law? I’ll tell you: because we’re lazy. Creating something new requires determination, follow through, stick-to-it-iveness, and most importantly, the grit and resolve to carry you through the parts of the process that are just plain agonizing.
Many people look in on the design world and think it’s just a bunch of drawing pictures, pretty colors, Instagram photos, and foosball breaks. But we know better. Design is tough.
So with any new design challenge, we’re tempted to copy something that’s already navigated the decision-riddled waters of the creative process. It’s less thinking. There’s no need for discovery. There are no decisions, planning, sketching…it’s just a rip-off of someone else’s success getting to the end of the process.
But often what we forget in that corner-cutting moment, is that no one remembers the copycat.
If you’re reading this, there’s a chance you create for something more meaningful than just peddling more french fries and soda. You design for environments where people can learn more about a loving God. Honestly, it’s the best news they’ll hear their entire life. Do you really want to trust that first visual interaction to a stolen design from designspiration.net? We are called to better.
Here are a few things I consider with each new design I’m involved with:
- Be inspired, not just from one source, but from many.
- Multiple sources of inspiration bring non-copy results, where one source of inspiration leaves you copying.
- Find originality in what is familiar.
- Curate—constantly seek new ideas and concepts in all mediums of design and art.
- Study great designs. Pick them apart. Find out what makes something a great design, find additional pieces that carry a similar thread of style, then create something totally new from what you love about each of them.
- Explore other types of design/art—Look at architecture, sculpture, painting, collage, nose around on Etsy, walk through an IKEA, be inspired by something other than the medium you’ll be creating in.
- Copy to learn a technique only. Do not put it in your portfolio, it’s not your idea. This is a valuable way to learn how something is done so you can build on it in your own way. But it’s not creating.
- Sketch a lot, a whole lot. Then sketch more.
- Learn to embrace the craft and process of making things that are great, don’t just strive to be done.
- Be ready to fail. And when you do, have the grit to get up and go for it again.
- Talent isn’t a gift, it’s earned with a lot of hard work.
Don’t sell yourself short, you can be original, but it takes a lot more effort than copying. Be inspired, don’t steal, don’t copy. I would rather fail trying trying to be original, than eek by through stealing others’ work and copying. Our culture craves originality, we long for it, we often mock copies. You were created as an original, as one of a kind—don’t be content with just making copies.
I dare you to make something no one has ever seen before. Surprise us. Go.