I’ve heard it said that at any one time there are at least 7 other people elsewhere in the world working on the same thing as you.
I think just about every product designer I know peruses design websites, blogs, looks through books and design magazines on an almost daily basis, to inspire and inform. So anyone who has been designing for a few years will have seen a vast amount of imagery, that they subconsciously or consciously draw on when designing (you have to know who your market competitors are for starters). So I (and probably many others) like yourself have definitely had similar thoughts and feelings about how it all already exists.
A year or two ago I designed a chopping board that was similar to (inspired by) the Joseph and Joseph Chop2pot chopping board, then recently on the Core front page I saw Polygons Measuring spoon by Rahul Agarwal. They are all similar and all have worth (mine the least), we all get inspiration from somewhere and it wouldn’t stop me trying to design another similar chopping board, because I’d want to try and improve on it.
Above: Joseph and Joseph Chop2pot
Above: My attempt
Above: Polygons Measuring Spoon by Rahul Agarwal
Just because its been done before, doesn’t mean it cant be done again but better. For example, say you are designing a dining chair for a furniture company,
There are many hard points that must be kept, (to be functional) the chair has to have a seat and back at certain heights. So you are in many respects putting your style on to something already very familiar, and your style is going to be very similar to many others (we all follow trends) and also the company has a brand style that they would like you to respect/strengthen and the public are following a trend that you have to be aware of so your design fits into their home etc.
Even if you tried to ignore all of the above when designing a chair, no matter how radical your chair design is, because of the hard points, there will be commonality between it and many other chairs, you just wont be able to avoid it. Should this prevent you from designing another chair? (just like me designing a chopping board) Of course not. Because even if what you design looks very similar to those before it, you can still make it different and not just different for differents sake, but in some way better. Is it easier to transport, uses more environmentally conscious materials, addresses a users need (easier to clean), is easier to disassemble for recylcling or does it employ local craftsmen with skills that would otherwise be lost or will a percentage of profits from each sale be sent to a third world country to help a community there? My point which I know I’m delivering a bit ham fisted is would you not design that chair, that had 4 legs, a seat and a back
rest that was better for the environment and helped a community in Africa, just because you had seen another chair with 4 legs a seat and a back?
Also (reading between the lines) it sounds like this feeling, that it’s all been done before,could stop you from putting pencil to paper (or stylus to drawing app), because you think of the design in your head and before sketching it and dismiss it, because you know it looks like something similar. This is like looking at clouds - Everything looks like something!
I think you have to identify who you are designing for and why you design. As an extreme example, (and sticking with chairs), the brief is to design a chair for a 30 stone man who can’t leave his house and won’t answer the door. He orders everything from the internet, so your chair has to be mail order and fit through a letter box, it also has to be really easy to assemble from flat pack as his fingers can’t manage fiddly screws. Added to this for example are your design beliefs - you want to design more environmentally friendly furniture. So even if the chair you design from that brief with your beliefs looks aesthetically similar to other chairs, it will be very different. Then if you do an internet search, you are probably eventually going to find another chair that looks similar to yours - it’s inevitable, but even if you do, the likely hood that it’s been designed to the same brief with similar beliefs is very slim (unless this 30 stone man is emailing the same brief to 100’s of designers)
You must accept that you cannot be truly original
Hope you get out of the rut soon. PT