Inspiration vs Copying

Jul 5, 2016

It helps when you’re creative, in anything you attempt. One of the main pillars of creativity is inspiration. It is where the creative mind wanders and feeds itself.

By nature, our brain tries to always make us more efficient; it likes to make things easier and searches for shortcuts.

Sometimes, our own brain may trick us on getting more than just inspired, and let us go into our dark side: Copying!

We all copied things at some point in our lives, since copying is commonly used as a teaching technique. But as professionals, putting aside the fact that copying is unethical (not to mention sometimes illegal), it’s important to always keep track of the fine line between inspiration and copying.

We definitely all had clients listing logos they like, websites they find attractive, ads they find sexy; some may have even ask us to copy these or to create something similar. However, our role is to explain to our clients that though they may like something, it like doesn’t mean it should be replicated. Going down this road will not bode well for the image of the brand (unless the goal is to be pegged as a “me-too” brand) nor for an agency’s reputation.

Here are some ideas we (creative teams) use to avoid any copying:

  1. Begin with where you draw inspiration. You should definitely, at some point, look into your competitors’ presence and study it, but you should not copy what they are doing, but rather learn from them. Studying the competition will deepen your understanding of the industry and give you a wider creative net to work with. What would also help is enlarging your inspiration spectrum and looking into different industries as well, to get a broader view. Sometimes you can get inspired where you least expect it.
  2. Find why you like a certain direction or idea. If you find something you like, instead of copying it, try to think of why you like it and try to develop your ideas in that direction. Understanding your preference triggers will enable your creative product to be different.
  3. Ask the client the right questions. When a client shows us something he likes, we should not proceed into copying what he likes it because it is easier and faster, but rather ask him the right questions to find out why he likes it. In the same logic of the previous point, understanding your clients’ preference triggers will enable the creative product to be not only different, but on target as well.
  4. Always include a logical timeline to your projects and don’t take on too many projects simultaneously, because that will push you into doing things faster with less attention. And copying in this case will be a very tempting option. So give yourself enough time not only to execute the work, but to do your research and homework as well.

A lot has been said about copying, from both a legal point of view to a more philosophical point of view. We find wisdom in what the famous French director Jean-Luc Godard once said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.”

Finally, everything we do is built on other things, but the difference between copying and inspiration is whether we are taking things to a new place or just staying in the same safe spot.