Aren't we all just copycats?
The whole originality debate has been explored. To the point where it’s probably highly ironic that in writing this piece, I'm going full circle and reiterating something already stated.
The creative industry as a whole thrives on creating better, superior things, so why is it then that the design community acts in such a guarded manor? I distinctly remember at university, everyone would (and I am guilty of this too), at some point offer snide remarks about the work of others and make dismissive comparisons often to famous designs/designers. Whilst lets be honest, most of this work was just a blatant copy of an image you saw on Google and tried to palm off as original in a vague attempt to fool your senior lecturer, this is not the point. What if there were visual comparisons to great design because the designer was influenced by them?
“The real problem is people don’t know the difference between copying, building and inspiring”.
Some of the greatest inventions seemingly materialise from nowhere. I am a big fan of Hip-Hop and funnily enough it’s one of the easiest ways to reiterate my point. Hip-Hop was built out of Brooklyn, where everyday people were inspired by their surroundings, hardships, parents and everything in-between to build their own culture. It was about acknowledging the greats beforehand and building a style from it; thus sampling was born.
Kanye West a creative genius in his own right (whether you like it or not), initially constructed a career sampling the greats. Q-tip, RZA and Dilla did it too, arguably better, but lets not get sidetracked in that argument. The point is these aptly named artists aren't copycats, they were just inspired by great work and built from it to create something better. So why can the design community not acknowledge and move forward like the music community and so many others have and still do?
“I ask cos’ I'm not sure, do anybody make real shit anymore?” — Kanye West
True perfection has to be imperfect, in the same way absolute originality, will never be original. Whether you like it or not you are influenced by the world around you, everything you do and everything you say is a sum of your past. We could do with eradicating these double standards in the design community in order to promote unified development. Without touching too much on my opinions of lawsuits, copyrights, patents and other such legal jargon, it is intriguing yet somewhat amusing to note that in 2012 Gizmodo reported the following.
“Apple and Samsung spent more fighting lawsuits and snapping up patents than either did on R&D last year. And that makes sense. After all, Apple spent less than $3 billion on R&D last year (and is on track to spend less than $4 billion this year)”
I understand that creatives need safeguards like patent protection in order to defend their work, and the statistics (although somewhat dated) shockingly illustrate this, just on a worldwide scale for a company like Apple or Samsung. In a perfect world we could abolish all patent protection laws and promote an almost harmonious advancement of technology and services, where we all benefit. Lets get realistic though, the world is far from perfect.
Like millions of others worldwide, I watch Casey Neistat vlogs fairly regularly. It is pretty inspirational how hard the guy works, and how he has managed to formulate such a particular style that any time anybody replicates a video along the same lines they are dubbed a fraud, thief, copycat etc. I remember him talking about his camera setup in a recent video and stating he pioneered the whole Joby gorilla-pod to DSLR vlogging setup (seen here) and whilst he more than likely did, what does it really matter? After all, other creatives wouldn't replicate your setup if it was not a good idea. Similarly at school when the teacher would say “Oh be flattered, it’s a compliment they’re copying you!” as a kid that infuriated me, and this is why I can relate to those who have their ideas stolen. Now though, I understand it really is flattering. Of everything around them, all the influential things they could draw inspiration from, they picked your work and your ideas, feel proud.
With the ease at which information can be accessed these days we are influenced by whatever / whoever we want and the line between inspiration and copying for monetary gain is extremely blurry. When you create something, only you know how much effort went into that process and sometimes it is easy to feel guilty if it seemed effortless. Designers, artists, writers, vloggers and other such creatives all do what they do, because they are good at it. Sometimes I feel like less of a designer and more of an organiser of ideas.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things." — Unknown.