This subject has been popping up all over my life this past week. First off, I met with my thesis chair on Tuesday to discuss the direction that I was heading in. Gah. Help. Gulp. The research and direction that I’d been working in was basically rounding up to a big how-to on how to get better at things you’re not so great at. I used my blogging experience too literally, and basically was writing about how with the accumulation of pinterest, blogging, instagram, and twitter, you could become a better creative professional by using these media with specific intentions. While all valid in certain aspects, there isn’t one way in which we can all use these media that will lead to success. It works on an individual level. What some creatives understand about looking at a certain image on pinterest is completely different than what others see, and they inspire different thoughts and tangents and lead to various creative insights that can help inspire projects. There is no formula to the creative practice.
That being said, the ways in which we go about using the inspiration that we’re gathering needs to be dissected. We need to understand the difference between inspiration and imitation. I wrote a little about this topic in one of the Life & Letters over on Glass and Sable a while back. I think there is something so valid about being inspired by a piece of design or art and copying that with the intention of learning—and learning only. Part of the creative process is experimentation and taking what we already know or have access to and learning the basics. It’s only from the basics that we can understand the concepts behind what we want to create, and it’s from here that we grow into better designers, painters, crafters, whatever you hope to be when you grow up! BUT the trick here is taking these lessons a building upon them. When you take inspiration literally, it’s imitation. This is hard. It took me years to understand this, and honestly, I’m still working through it. On some kind of subconscious level I often catch myself sourcing too literally pieces of design that I’m inspired by. With the constant over-flow of inspiration available, sometimes you see an image, it goes into your database of inspiration and gets logged in your brain for days, weeks, years. Later, when going through the design process you come up with this brilliant new solution to a problem, create the piece, and later come to find that you’d accidentally copied something that you were inspired by. It happens. A couple months ago I basically recreated the typography from the Target holiday campaign for a logo design for a client. It wasn’t until a friend of mine pointed this out, and I felt like a complete nut job. Thankfully, the client chose a different rough draft logo and there was no harm done, but seriously, I couldn’t believe that even now I’m still doing this!
Tangents, those are things. Anyways, there are two things I really wanted to mention during this little chat we’re having.
ONE: Earlier this week I received an email from someone who had seen my business card design online. She loved them so much that she wanted to see if she could buy the design from me so that she didn’t have to pay a designer to recreate them for her company. Ummm. I was flattered that she liked the design and my brand enough to want to make it her brand too, but really. Am I being harsh here? Maybe, but it’s so strange to me that people, especially companies, can’t see that taking the essence and visuals from another brand and making it their own would eventually just speak poorly of their own. What you’re trying to do as a brand is to create a unique point of view, something entirely your own based on your own values. Imitating other brands is just in poor nature, and consumers are smart cookies—it’s not hard to see through a less than genuine brand when it comes to imitation. Can anyone say Bobs? Or another one of my favorites here—this one is not someone completely ripping off an entire business model, but it goes to show how brands can be diluted when the design community decides to take inspiration too literally.
TWO: [EDITED] Based on that general thought of the design community having the potential to cause some of the problems, I’d like to talk about how designers can work. As far as professionals go, I’ve seen two main groups of designers, and those that fall in-between. I’ll just call it out right now—I’m totally an in-betweener. Not to be confused with this, but yeah. Designer type one: realizes the potential the moodboard, and that great design exists. Has a great eye for details and can make things happen when it comes to visual aesthetics. Talks to a client, sees their vision, and goes out into the world or the interwebs and finds inspirations that work well to solve the design problems at hand. From here, this designer takes bits and parts from these different inspirations to create a unique solution. What can happen with this way of design is that the inspirations can come together in a patchwork-like way where the concept behind how the design came together can be a little fuzzy. I don’t want to devalue this way of working, as it has the potential to create some pretty beautiful work, but often-times the work does not have the conceptual validity to back it up. It has the potential to become decorative design. We all need a little of this in our lives sometimes though, and that’s why I still think this practice is valid. The second type of designer can see these different inspirations as catalysts for thought and concept. When looking at a piece of art, they see the principles behind that, and work at finding out the essence of how that came about so that they too can use these same kind of principles to help inform the thought process behind the work they’re creating—not just visually informing the end design. I think this is where the real beauty in creative thinking comes through, when you can get a deeper understanding of how the design and art principles work. Then you sit down, marinate on these concepts, and they come through to eventually inform the way you look at a new problem in design. This is hard, and it takes years upon years to understand how to start really using these inspirations and life experiences in your work as a creative. When talking with my thesis chair the other day, he mentioned that the ways in which designers work is so different from the ways artists work because designers usually work in project bubbles. They work on one project, and they keep it in a bubble. While some of the skills can translate to the next project, the conceptual process and practice usually doesn’t. What an artist does is to build upon the practices they create—each project can inform the next and the process grows. I think this is the core of what I’m trying to get at in my thesis. While I love the power of blogging and pinterest and all of the self-curative media that is available, I think too often as creatives we don’t work hard enough to take what we have learned and what we experience to turn it into something new and to let our processes that we learn from all of these experiences grow on each other. Rather than taking bits and pieces of imitated aesthetics and concepts, why not use these to build up and inform the way you actually go about processing your next creative concept?
So, there you have it. My designerly rant for the week. Do you think there is any validity in this? Do you see this happening at all in your own work or in others? Again, I would love your thoughts—I think what’s so important about the media of blogging is that I can come here, write up my thoughts like this, and I can actually have conversations with the world about it. That’s pretty cool friends!
I hope you’ve had an excellent week.