The difference between “inspired by” and “stolen from”

The difference between “inspired by” and “stolen from”

For some bizarre reason, people seem to struggle with what the actual difference is between inspired by and stolen from. Especially when it comes to design. I sometimes receive emails from clients requesting – usually a logo – that must look like the sample (only one attachment; no combinations between or elements from.) Exactly. Like. That. Yes, that is the brief. Well, that is not my job, exactly. First of all, I don’t like being told what to do. I never did as a teenager, not as a student, not as a wife, a friend, nothing. Inspire me (without being pushy), and I will put my whole heart into it. It might sound a bit hardass, but I prefer to call it resolute.

Resolute adjective /ˈrɛzəluːt/: admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering. (According to Google Dictionary.)

Strangely enough, two of these incidents were from photographers 🙄 It may sound like I have something against photographers, which is not true at all! I respect the industry and admire what some people can do without making it look like an effort.

So let me explain:

August + White Design Studio

Client A: This client sent me an image and said something in the lines of “I am changing my corporate identity and want a logo like this. Only change the initials to so-and-so, keep the colours and everything else the same.” For illustration purposes, I am going to use this beautiful logo designed by August & White as the example. I read the email a couple of times and shook my head in disbelief.

From my experience, photographers often do one (or all) of the following: (a) often watermark their photographs to such an extent that you can’t see the person’s lovely shoes. (b) Gets anal when you want to use their photos somewhere and then refuse to send you the high-res, unwatermarked version – even though you promise to credit them. (c) Very often don’t credit the subject(s) of their photo. Point C is very well known within the wedding industry, for some arb reason. The woman who spent hours creating a masterpiece of a cake, the décor team who spent a fortune on flowers and glitter, not to mention their effort and time, the dressmaker, the make-up artist, the venue… And then the photographer expect these people to use a watermarked version of their own work? I don’t really get it. They worked together as an unofficial team and should be supporting and crediting each other.

So, long story short, this was the instructions I received. I calmly typed my response: Dear client, I will unfortunately not be able to assist you with this project. I refuse to copy another designer’s work. How would you feel when another photographer uses your photos in their portfolio? Needless to say, I did not get a response.

And then, Client B: Please will you design my website? Me: Sure, please forward me your logo. I received the logo as a low-res jpeg. So, in the process of tracing the logo (pet peeve!), I realised two things: The icon used is from another person’s drawing portfolio. The typeface is non-commercial. I replied: Are you aware that your logo is actually illegal? After a couple why’s and that’s why’s emails, I ended up redesigning the logo so that it is legal, high-res and has a transparent background.

I normally request three to four examples of typefaces, a couple of logos and random pictures a client likes. Also, links to websites and blogs they find inspirational and I ask who their competition is. From there I am able to see who they are and what they want to represent. It gives me inspiration as opposed to instruction for what I need to do for them. Once I get to know them better, it get’s easier. A personality can be summed up by just designing a logo for a client (which sometimes make you hand over the open files, the typefaces and everything else they might need to take their work elsewhere.) I know I might come across as vain or uncooperative, but I read an article by Kim Kiyosaki recently and she said:

“Life is too short to deal with difficult people.”

And that closed the deal for me: I don’t have to deal with difficult people.

It so often happens that I get logos from well-established companies that don’t adhere to this simple rule: Non-Commercial. It means you are not allowed to make a profit out of it in any way. I judge these people’s designers out loud.

I can’t stress this enough; don’t steal. The internet is flooded with beautiful artworks, gorgeous (and un-gorgeous) typefaces and logo examples. If we all could just stick to the simple rule of give credit and respect, this world will be a better place. And you will sleep better.


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