Inspiration or plagiarism

15Jul08

Sorry for the lack of posts, I have been enjoying some quiet time post-teaching; I even went for a swim today.

I have been noticing a few posts around the blogosphere about “homages” to old designs as well as blatant rip-offs. As you are all at the start of your design careers, plagiarism is something that you should really try to avoid. I am sure it’s especially difficult because you are being exposed to such new and wonderful pieces of design that you must just be itching to emulate – but please don’t – because you will be caught.

Case in point is this advertisement for the Guardian (left) which has a remarkable similarity to a 1956 Olivetti ad by Giovanni Pintori (right). Read a little about Pintori on Grain Edit and about the Guardian campaign here. You can also read a story about the relationship between design and the Olivetti company here. Thanks to Mike Andrews for the tip.

When you start working for a living you may be at times asked by your client to “design something just like this”. Most often it will be a magazine or an ad that they have seen when on holidays and they’ll see absolutely no problem in asking you to blatantly rip off the design. You’ll need some good diplomacy skills to convince them that this sort of practice is not professional nor good for their brand; so make sure you use words like innovation to describe how important it is for their visual communication to be original.

This is what I think must have happened at Coast magazine (below). The art director must have been given a cover of the New York Times Style magazine as “reference” for a cover of their own. Problem with this is, that the NYT Style magazine has a circulation of over 1 million people, so the chances of the plagiarism being discovered are were good. For a look at some other NYT Style covers, see the entry for the Society of Publication Designers annual #43. Read about the case from the perspective of the New York Times here, and make sure you read the comments under the story for some interesting points-of-view.

And then of course we have the current series of “homages” at Esquire. I have mentioned this before and have made my views fairly clear on the matter. I am at a loss to understand why they think this is a good idea. I guess I am just not part of the target market.

In Jandos Rothstein’s excellent book Designing Magazines (from the blog of the same name) George Lois, the art director behind the 1968 cover of Muhammad Ali, describes the story behind the cover. The power of the image was that it didn’t need explaining with lots of words (unlike the one on the left). The Ali cover for Esquire came at a time when Ali had become a Muslim, was being speaking out against the Vietnam war, and was being heavily criticised by the media, public and politicians – he was a martyr – so the connection to the image of Saint Sebastian was very appropriate and totally valid (unlike the one on the left).

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One Response to “Inspiration or plagiarism”

  1. 1 Derek Lva

    What if original is just the mix bag of others in your mind? Like a lot different ideas put in a blender and then thrown out like yours


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