What to do when you find out your idea has already been done

I guess this is a question in regards to what is “acceptable” among designers. (I’m a student and academic rules might be different than real-world in this situation) Sorry if this is too verbose.

So I’ve been working on a design for the International Bicycle Design Competition for the past few weeks. My idea targets 3rd world and developing countries by 1. allowing individuals/communities the ability to use this bike to pump/transport water and 2. charge cell phones, as they are becoming more important in lesser developed countries where many people don’t have electricity in their homes.

So I work up this idea. It’s a regular bike, with a rack on the back to hold a water tank. the rack can rotate down to form a stand (like a bike trainer) so the bike can be pedaled while stationary. The drive system for the pump and generator run off of a hub mounted disk, not dissimilar to a disk brake.

A couple of days ago, I’m googling around for info on pumps and bike parts, and I encounter this project: Welcome thecoolprojectsite.org - Justhost.com (or here for more details on the build: Redirecting... ) Basically, it’s the same rotating stand idea. instead of the pump/generator on a ring/pinion drive system, they are run as a traction system from the tire.

So, my question is… Can I continue with my idea, or will it be considered plagiarism? Where do you draw the line? I certainly don’t want people to see my work and say “oh, this is the same design that we saw last week”… but at the same time, I could also see that maybe the presentation/form of it would be the bigger deal…

Anyone have thoughts on the matter?

Ford builds pickup trucks, Chevrolet builds pickup trucks, Toyota builds pickup trucks… … they’re all different in some way or another.

Keep at it. In my opinion, you’re not “plagiarizing” anything.

Viewing the Facebook video, their concept involves a separate stand that has to be hauled around. What you’ve described sounds more integral, and provides a tank (5, 10 gallon) to haul the water home with. What other features can you add to enhance the product? Filtration? Can the generator be integrated into the package? Can the package be easily removed so that another accessory can be added; a cargo box perhaps?

To quote my good friend NaS,

“No idea’s original, there’s nothin new under the sun
It’s never what you do, but HOW IT’S DONE.”


Use it as inspiration or a case study to bounce your project off of. Find out how it can be improved upon, make cheaper, easier to build, more targeted to a specific region, etc.

Chairs are not new, people still make them. Some are cheaper to make, some looks nicer, some more ergonomic, some recline, some stacks for storage, etc etc. There’s enough diversity in the world to have more than 1 chair…

In the real world, you will often encounter situations where your goal is to make something just different enough that it provides most of the same benefits as _______ without infringing on ________'s IP. Keep going. Use the existing concept as a jumping off point. Find out what worked and what didn’t and why. Address that. Differentiate.


Great advice from everyone above. The question you are asking translates into everything we as designers do. It has, all been done. Yet someone will pay you to design a new one. My urge as a younger designer was to try and reinvent the wheel every time, to break the mold and shatter conventions. The overall market rarely if ever wants that. The market wants an evolution and improvements.

Look at the other similar projects in the world as hundreds or thousands of hours of research, potentially millions of dollars of investment, and you get to use that as the starting point. This is a huge advantage.

Yes to all the above. Most importantly, don’t pretend the other concept doesn’t exist. Check it out critically, and use it as a starting point. I’ve often seen young designers include concepts in their portfolio of something new and when it’s mentioned there is something similar they often try to pretend they didn’t know about it or say thru didn’t want to reference it as it would look bad. It looks worse if you didn’t do your research or are pretending your idea exists in a vacuum.


It’s really not a big deal. Just do it better. A part of one of my projects was inspired by other project done by a studio. When someone from the studio contacted me and said that my design looked similar and if I could change it, I simply replied that I was inspired by them and improved on it. Theirs offered very little meaning past some aesthetic jazz, while mine integrated into the system and helped convey important statuses like battery life.

I remember that, it was similar. I know the original was for a longer life phone and was an attempt to bring more emotional attachment to the users with the caricatures, not just eye candy

anyway, this quote seemed relevant; Mies van der Rohe said, “I don’t want to be original. I want to be good” Sometimes differences in products might be subtle, proportions or the like, but it can still make a product better/more beautiful. Have you ever compared knockoff Saarinen tulip tables with the real thing? The stalk on the original is much nicer…

What a superb collection of responses to a really important question and a problem that we all at some point find ourselves in.

Whilst I don’t completely agree with David’s quote of NaS’, “No idea’s original, there’s nothin new under the sun” I do completely agree with, “It’s never what you do, but HOW IT’S DONE.”

As seems the general consensus amongst the replys, it’s often the case that we build upon designs that came before us, we add innovation and build upon the particular products strengths and eliminate the weaknesses.

One thing I would like to add is to perhaps add defendable IP if possible, even if it is only in certain areas of the design. In a consultancy environment this is often very important to clients, although it may not be applicable in this case due to the ethics and humanitarian vibe.

Good luck with the project, like many I’m sure, I’d be really interested to see what you come up with so please share.