Last week Tara and I shared our inspiration boards
with you and how we reveal them along the way on our projects, way
before they are complete. Lots of designers and creators want you to pay no mind to the man behind the curtain
but we like being transparent about what influences us. And what
influences us could be anything from other design trends to interiors to
fashion to photography. So that opens up another conversation about
inspiration-gathering. Though we’ve spent years and years honing our
craft, our creative process doesn’t exist in a vacuum and we are
inspired by outside trends. But when does inspiration cross the line into imitation and how do you avoid it?
have worked with a lot of students and new designers who have a hard
time finding the balance between inspiration, imitation, and their level
of taste vs. their skills. Here is our advice to them. But mind you, if
you’ve been working for years as an inhouse creative where you have to
go out and hunt and kill your own inspiration, or even in an agency
where perhaps imitation is a big no-no and a constant worry – these tips
might help as well:
1. What do you like?
From color combinations your obsessed with to artists and authors you admire - it’s important to identify what you like. (We think Pinterest is a great tool for gathering these things.
2. Why do you like them?
you figure out what you like determine why. Find common threads and
uncover patterns. Stare at a composition of a beautifully designed room
or a badass layout design and break it down into it’s elements. Identify
the colors, textures, scale, grid and typography and then mentally
piece them back together to see how the whole piece was created.
3. Practice by imitating.
think it’s okay to imitate. I spent a good amount of my time in design
school pretending like I was David Carson and Art Chantry. Should you
post these pieces in your online portfolio? Probably not. But emulation
can be a great way to hone your craft.
4. Find inspiration elsewhere.
you limit your sources of inspiration you run the risk of becoming a
copy cat. You will start to find your style when you diversify your
influences. And don’t limit your sources of inspiration to within your
5. Mind the Gap
Ira Glass, public radio host of This American Life
, has this great quote on the creative process
tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of
us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But
there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just
not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.
And your taste is why your work disappoints you...”
And that takes us right to the 10,000 hour rule.
6. Practice for 10,000 hours.
I recently read Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers
and had a major “a-ha” moment when he said it takes 10,000 hours to
become successful at any given task. A big part of becoming a master at
your craft and creating your own style is to practice. If you don’t quit
before 10,000 hours you’ll start feeling more comfortable with your
Here are a few other really great reads about inspiration and imitation:
• Jessica Hische has a very articulate post on inspiration vs. imitation
- a must read for every student and designer (new and old) out there.
• Becka Robinson at Life As An Artispreneur prefers to shut herself off from outside influences to avoid the risk of unintentional imitation
• Erin Loechner
talks about the fine line between imitation and inspiration
What are your thoughts on inspiration and imitation? Any advice for young designers or students?