Some people go to school and take design classes. Hours upon hours spent learning color theory. Typography. Rule of thirds. Me? I went to Barnes and Noble. I’d lug my laptop in, get a cup of coffee, grab the latest Photoshop magazine off the rack, and begin a tutorial at Step 1. I’d follow along, learning by doing. Copying. Soaking up the basics. I’d go through each tutorial and compare my results with those in the magazine.

As time went by and the tutorials piled up, I became better at the fundamentals. I learned what layers did. I learned how to apply a drop shadow to everything. I learned what a mask was and why it was better than an eraser. But if I were to sit and stare at a blank Photoshop document, I wouldn’t really know what to do. I wouldn’t be able to be very original. Even as I took my first church design job, I would try to make tutorials fit the design I was making. It’s the way I had learned. It was my safety net. It was easier to take something that I knew would work than to struggle through the unknown on my own.

Ten years later, the struggle is still real. And it opens up the question: How far is too far? When do you cross the line between inspiration … or parody … or homage … and end up just copying?

I was talking with a web designer friend of mine who was struggling and frustrated because the church she was rebranding was asking her to make a new site “just like (trendy church of the moment).” Every question she asked their creative team lead was met with the same answer. “Just make it like X.”

If someone were to ask me how far is too far, deep down I know the answer, but I don’t like what it means. When there is no “me” in the design, I’ve crossed the line. When there is no “you” in your design, you’ve crossed the line. As for me, I know why I’ve done it. Do you?

When there is no “you” in your design, you’ve crossed the line.

There are times I cross the line because to add “me” to the design opens me up for failure. For critique that I don’t want to hear. For the sin of comparison to pop into my head. It’s not as good as “trendy designer name” would have done it.

I, for one, don’t like to wrestle with those thoughts. I don’t like the feelings of insecurity to invade my life when I put myself out there in a design. Regardless of what people might say, I do put my identity into what I create. It’s very hard for me not to do that. It’s a tangible sign that I exist and that I matter.

I think a lot of designers stray toward the line because of fear. Whether they’ve ever given it voice or not, we’ve struggled with the fear. The fear that we aren’t good enough. The fear of failure. The fear that we really don’t have anything to contribute.

I believe those fears are lies. I need to be constantly reminded that those are lies. That God has given us gifts of creativity. But the responsibility to use them lies with us. In 1 Timothy 4:14-16 MSG, Paul writes, “And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use. Cultivate these things. Immerse yourself in them. The people will see you mature right before their eyes! Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation.”

We need to keep our skills dusted off and in use. My skills get dusty when I copy a tutorial. When I imitate someone’s design. But to do that, we must fight the temptation to copy or be safe in our designs. I need to add “me” in all my work. You need to add “you.” If we do, we are vivid examples of God’s creativity in our own lives.

You need to add “you.” If we do, we are vivid examples of God’s creativity in our own lives.

There is no one like me in the entire world. There is no one like you either. We squander an opportunity every time we copy. Every time we cross the line. I was struggling with a design and I sent what I had done to a friend. They could see that I had relied on a tutorial to achieve a certain look. I had asked him what was missing. His response was short but to the point. “You haven’t added any Snyder magic yet.”

Those were the words I needed to get me out of the realm of safety and add “me” to the project. I needed to add the Snyder magic. The world needs you to add your magic to your designs.