The famous Picasso quote: “Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal” has never been more relevant in today’s digital age. With over 7 billion people in this world and billions of ideas searchable on the world wide web, you can learn a lot from exceptional design, but to copy someone’s work is the best compliment you can pay. I’m not in to compliments… I prefer stealing!
Let me make it clear though, I have no criminal record and I’m an upstanding citizen! By ‘stealing’ I mean taking an idea, but reforming it and making it even better: Innovation rather than interception.
Many successful people have recognised this quote and used it as motivation, and as Designers, we should also recognise the power of this quote and the lessons to learn from it.
Do your research, find good ideas and steal them – but, and this is the most important takeaway, make them your own and create something inspiring. With so many amazing, creative minds out in the world, there is a lot we can learn from our fellow humans. Every project should start with respecting our world and learning from it so we can continue to innovate and inspire and hopefully become a person who’s work will be immortalised in human history or improve the lives of others.
Research is key to successful design, and it’s all at our finger tips. Start with a Google search, compose a mood board or document ideas in whichever way feels natural to you and can be conveyed to team members and clients. Seek inspiring examples and use them to your advantage.
How to steal to create great work
When designing a content marketing piece we always look at the big picture and the creative team here at High Position often bring up examples types of games, data vis, video or content pieces and add to a section in a project brief to help when devising the design and structure of a piece.
Start by searching for hidden gems; search for words like ‘design awards’ and ‘web design best of’ and browse through sites such as Creative Bloq, awaaards, designmodo, Smashing Magazine, dribbble, Behance and net Magazine.
“Create your own visual style, let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.” - Orson Welles
Quite often I make a concept board, which is different from a mood board as it’s more about styling and functionality than just graphics and visuals. If I’m on a project by myself at this stage I’ll often paste these examples right onto the design art board or wireframe I’m working on as a reference point. This can be a great tool when designing icons.
Again, this is where searching for inspiration can be used to see what icons are most used and what users will easily recognise. Pasting these into your concept art board can save you time switching between apps when rendering the icon so your mind is in the design matrix and you can allow the work to come to life.
As a general rule for research you can follow these steps. And don’t forget to take notes/photos on your phone of anything that stands out.
- Research, research, research
- Make a concept board
- Find design styles and create mood boards
- Break down into elements and look for inspiration
- Start stealing ideas and making them your own!
Beg, Steal, Borrow, Develop
Research also applies to development. Github, among other places, can be a great place to start. Viewing code shared on the Github community allows you to see new techniques – as well as things to avoid. Every time you come across some useful code, add a snippet to your development app of choice or third party app. You can literally steal code and rework it for your needs and donate it back to the community again to help the next developer along the way. Kinda like a new-age Robin Hood!
Some Research tips:
- Don’t just look for something you like, look for something that you know worked.
- Look for the best work out there; try searching for award winning pieces for inspiration
- For every element of the project research is useful even if it’s just one graphic or tiny little detail in the overall piece.
- Get involved and contribute to development communities.
You must find a process that works for you and your team. The important lesson is to research your ideas so that you can build upon your knowledge base to create great work. And don’t be afraid to leave something there for the next one to steal and do something great with.