A recent situation sent me into a spiral of artistic self-reflection. In full transparency, I was called out (for lack of a better term) for a past graphic being too heavily inspired by another designer. Honestly, with the 20/20 vision afforded by hindsight I am in complete agreement. After a week or so of processing, and navigating the various stages of defensiveness, vulnerability and self-doubt I arrived at what might be the single most freeing revelation of my career thus far.Where do you draw the line between appropriately inspired and too heavily inspired?
There has always been this underlying conflict in my mind with the work we do in the field of graphic design and really any artistic endeavor. That being: what is truly original? Where’s the line drawn between appropriately inspired and too heavily inspired?
To a point, I truly believe that nothing is original. Everything is a remix. Good artists copy, great artists steal. So on and so forth, they all ring true to me. Everywhere from Portland to New York designers make mood boards with a few similar stylistic examples, and a fresh color palette, they then apply them to their unique use case and allow the designs to be perfected (see: mutilated) by the client. The end result is typically some half-assed-month-late monster that’s green lighted on a stormy night via lightning rod. This is, technically, original enough.Creativity is dead, creativity will remain dead, and we killed him.
Creativity is dead, creativity will remain dead, and we killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? I have no doubt that there is no other industry in the world as public and as social as graphic design. There’s the invite-only cool kids club on Dribbble, the land of students and creepy nude photographers on Behance, and that musty janitor’s closet where kids play Dungeons and Dragons under a bare flickering lightbulb on Deviant Art. Sharing your work publicly has become an almost necessary and vital component of being a designer. We project the same value on our personal Instagram likes and followers as we do our Dribbble or Behance likes and followers, and we perceive them both as providing that same sweet, satisfying validation.
Like never before, we now have an objective standard for the very subjective label of being a ‘good designer.’
This social validation is killing creativity and innovation in a way that nothing else could. Like never before, we now have an objective standard for the very subjective label of being a good designer, which is hugely damaging. Our world today has high standards for perfection, and little tolerance for failure. Thankfully, we now have an at-a-glance gallery of the world’s ‘best’ designers that set a gleaming and conveniently homogeneous example of good design. How fortunate are we to have this resource at our fingertips? A little inspiration from this designer, some more from another, apply them to my unique use case and we’re golden! An original design, guaranteed to succeed and sure to meet the standards of Dribbble’s coveted front page.
Assimilating to a popular designer as a safeguard against social failure is creatively stifling.
You’ll never truly know if something you’ve made is good or bad until you’ve released it into the world. The fear of failure in a field as subjective, emotional, and competitive as graphic design is formidable. But, by assimilating to a popular designer as a safeguard against social failure is creatively stifling. How are we supposed to move the needle of creative expression in design if we’re stuck in a circle jerk of the same trends that we won’t step out of for fear of being the outcast? For fear of being out of the loop?Take chances. Make mistakes. And end up discovering who you truly are as an artist.
My challenge to you: forget about appeasing social networks, who cares whether or not it reaches the front page of Dribbble? Quit creating heavily-inspired designs for fear of failure. Take chances. Make mistakes. And end up discovering who you truly are as an artist. I haven’t found who I am as an artist, but I’ll be damned if I let the fear of failure, lack of social validation, or the safeguard of assimilation get in my way; and I urge you to do the same.