Inspiration, or Plagiarism

Hello all

I have a general question. As designers we are creative people and are constantly required to be innovative, fresh, trendy and at the forefront of our industries.

My question is as follows:

Stealing an idea/principle/concept (wether protected or not) is unethical and is plagiarism.

But how fine is this line when we talk about simple things like shapes, colours, textures, materials and the ways that these elements are used in a product’s design.
We all require some sort of insparation and that often comes from elements/products currently in the market place. Is this inspiration or border line plagiarism?

Appreciate any feedback.


I’ve always thought that if your a very good designer you do everything you can to not copy (they don’t pay us enough to do this for the money), so developing truly innovative, new stuff is really our main driver, without that why bother.

It’s something you know in your heart, like if you lied. But, what may be copying to me may be different to someone without as much talent as myself (yes I really am that good and I know it) some girl copied my ideas in college and had no qualms about it - it was clear she was in the wrong field.

With that said, Picasso said “good artists copy, great artists steal” - I take that to mean that Picasso was all for taking ideas and reworking them to make something new, (also being such a great artist that the original idea being reworked cannot be identified). I would say it’s somewhat like having a conversation and reacting and countering the ideas the other person is expressing with your own ideas - which you might not have come up with without the context they arose from.

Hey all you crue fans - watch my new show where I go back to college, woo hoo! and stay on the look out for Star wars part 7 which I’m writing.



I agree with your sentiments 100%. But I think in reality this is often not the case. I do believe (I surely hope so) though that in most cases the designers intention was not to crook someone elses work.

Like doctors have a duty to society, to practice safe health care, I think designers have a duty to themselves and the “design culture” to follow best practices, which includes ethics.


I agree that designers are frequently wasted on incremental or sustaining rather than innovative products. There is so much innovation in the areas of technology and user-experience that there’s almost no excuse not to be innovative with design. My portfolio is littered with “first of a kinds.”

I don’t agree that our goal is to be original (ie. not copy.) What if the optimum solution isn’t very original? I practice User Centered Design, so a lot of what I do as a designer is make people aware of the conventions we should and should not be working within. (I like Nielsens rule of thumb: if it breaks convention, it should be at least twice as usable.) I judge my success as a designer in how appropriate Useful, Usable and Desirable the solution is in context.

If every design was original, this would be a maddening world to live in.

Hey Tommy, -aggree with you to some extent. But, i wonder if the fact that if a design is copied and ‘riffed’ on enough times, it becomes a trend or design continuum… some designs are too good not to get ripped off, they almost seem to come out of society’s collective self conscious? btw, when you actually get around to writing ‘number 7’ be sure to get me more face time. I’m tired of this jedi crap, i want some action, like the good old days.

oh, and by the way, i’ve heard you faked all your drum solos on stage with recorded ones, stolen from miami state’s marching band drum squad.

Thanks, Yo. You just wasted another hour of my life.

that bunny furry stuff giggly…

Did you see the 3 actors who re-created all three original films into like 20 mins on stage- well funny!!! near as daft as the leaf pickers…

burnsie :open_mouth:

if you have had to ask your self this question as a designer in your process you are more likely asking other designers if it is ok to steal ideas. No its not ok!

Or your lying to yourself and thas not ok either.

if at any point in your process you try and justify stealing then you are probablly stealing

stealing is bad

Most discussion on this topic needs examples to be meaningful.

Damn near all design comes from precedents, not much is 100% invention …

So what is wrong? In copyright law, it is ‘derivative work’ where… the prior art was needed to achieve the derived work. A tracing is an example. If you need a silhouette of a horse (or a unicorn) and you trace a photo, even if you bend and alter it, you have created a derivative work and owe the source some credit, and require permission.

In patent law, it is using someone else’s innovative process or method, while it is still protected. You can ethically accomplish the same THING that they accomplish, by your own route, your own methods, and be totally clear. That encourages others to come up with more efficient methods, innovative methods. So, you cannot patent the idea “a can that cools the drink inside it without any external power source” but you can patent one particular way of doing this, if it is innovative and original.

Low-level copying is cheap and unimpressive, maybe even dishonorable, but … it is going to happen. You can’t protect everything, nor should you try to.

I think that the law has evolved for the most part along the lines that society needs… to protect things that should be protected, to give innovators proper incentive to develop new things and exploit them. Limits on copyrights and patents are good, if they require the inventor to quickly bring to market their innovations for the use of the society, and still provide for them some tiem to profit from their innovation.

The way you first asked this question though, very broadly, it is in the gray area…

I do think that novelty for novelty’s sake is a contemporary fetish. Folks should relax a bit and realize that their totally innovative sports shoe, is in fact still a shoe which shares 95% of its design DNA with things that came before, if not more. Likewise, the shoe that is more innovative… is less likely to be a good shoe. You are a designer, not some creative deity making life from clay.

I get turned off by people that say that everything that can be designed, has been designed… an old boss of mine said that and I lost respect for him.

But, everything you design… comes from someplace. Nothing wrong with that. Cut and paste HTML code? That is lame. Learn how to make CSS so that your columns work nicely? That is just learning. Logo with a wolf head? Depends. Logo with a big swoosh? Lame, probably, once 10,000 other swooshes are out there. Criminal? Not hardly.

This whole cheat/copied/zeroscore/theft/plagiarized thing is usually pretty easy to see, when its right in front of you and the context and evidence are at hand.

stealing [ideas] is bad

is using velcro closures for shoes instead of laces, an idea?

it was, once. someone came up with that, some time after velcro was invented.

so, are you stealing if you use velcro closures on a shoe?

come on, get real. you can include velcro closures on a shoe, and not be stealing.

incorporating the ideas of others is normal and typical and ethical, when its done within the law. do it well, do it creatively, do it efficiently, do it with grace and beauty, and add in your own value.

Somebody once said, if I remember it right:

If you steal one idea, it’s called plagirism.

If you steal two ideas, it’ called borrowing.

If you steal three ideas, it’s called innovation.

Damn! Concretebox, well said. That about sums it up. I most certainly agree

Architect Philip Johnson often quoted his mentor, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: “It is better to be good than original.”

I think it means that you dont have to reinvent the wheel to make a good design, and its ok to reference other designs that inspire you or are relevant to the challenge…

…goes unsaid that they didn’t blatently copy, and always added their unique twist to the design -ex,. Johnson would add classical architectureal elements to super modern skyscrapers

that building is most often compared, not to classical architecture, but decorative woodworking:

thus, the “chippendale” broken pediment top. though it is found in classical and several classical revival styles.

the AT&T building was just one of the first google pics that came up for philip johnson…but I read a book on him once and he mentioned that alot of what he finds inspireational for his buildings were classic architecture…

In a funny way, Core77 propagates the problem. I find that the Coro*Luv examples in the blog are student concepts that often fall squarely into the “ripoff” category. I know it’s hard to double check when you’re in a rush to build content, but I think by singling out portfolios that are ridden with ripoffs send the wrong message to the community.
Two recent examples are emulating someone’s language (Jasper Morrison seems to be a favorite “ripoffee”), or “reinterpret” a commercialized design (like the Jasper Morrison Coffee Maker and that portfolio with a ceramic cup with wood laminate).

Inspiration is ok, but too close is too close.

sounds like someone’s jelous they weren’t coro*luved…