Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

Steal or copy — treading the fine line

October 30, 2009, 3:41 PM

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”
—Albert Einstein

“Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.”
—Pablo Picasso

“Instinct […] is memory in disguise—works quite well when trained, poorly otherwise.”
Robert Bringhurst



Last night I couldn’t go to sleep before making this poster (larger here)—it stood as a sketch in my Moleskine for two days. It is one of my works for the 15th Design Challenge (the theme being a bike-day-or-ride poster with the title “I want to ride my bicycle”). The concept is great: a giant, red-striking, italic B (Futura UltraBold, of course) suggesting the word “bicycle”, helped by the small bike icon (InfoPict Two) and being part of an already very well known song line, “I want to ride my bicycle” from Queen. Add that big red letter over a black&white photo (bikes in their urban environment) and you have a clear winner. Looks great (I actually have people that can testify, so please excuse the self-praise :P)

However, this poster—most likely—wouldn’t have been born without seeing another poster three days ago, browsing Flickr. This one was made by Gabriel & Svoboda, exibited at the A:Event—larger here.


Now, the obvious troubling question is: how much is my poster mine?
Sure, they only have the big italic B in common, and the black&white poster is obviously not the first or the last one to make use of a huge, dominating letter as the main focus of its composition. Just as I’m not the first to use red Futura UltraBold over black&white photography—Barbara Kruger did this way back, and she’s in most design books so almost every designer has seen her work at some point, even if only by visiting Centre Pompidou.

Usually we don’t really remember our influences, mostly because we always filter everything we see and learn through our own personality, through our own creative talent. I didn’t think of Barbara Kruger at all when I designed the poster, I only remembered her while writing this analisys. God knows how many other influences I had. But I did know about the other poster, I specifically wrote down in my sketchbook to use the big italic B to illustrate my own ideas.

In the end, I guess it comes down to how much the work is your own, to how well you’ve managed to bring it close to your soul, to how much you believe in it. To how much you’ve “stolen” it or made it your own, as Picasso says. Do I like the poster? Of course, I’m proud of it. Is it mine? I think so. But being an intelligent person, I’m never completely sure of anything (“Only fools are 100% sure, son” “You sure, dad?” “Of course, son”).

This having been said, in commercial work there’s a pretty different story. The last thing you want is to find out that your design resembles another—your whole effort for differentiating your client can be ruined just because somebody somewhere had a similar idea. This is why market research is important, just as keeping yourself informed on other fellow designers’ work is (but this also influences your work—feel the irony?)

Come to think of it, there is this recent case that touches the same problem: Wolff Olins’ Docomo vs Pentagram’s MAD. Many hurried to cry “copy-cat”, but that’s just plain thought-less reaction. All designers, consultants and advertisers (the serious ones, that is) know how many elements are involved during a project. And we all know that you can’t reinvent the wheel. The basic shapes will remain the same, nobody can “own” them, just like T-Mobile can’t own magenta—that’s just against common sense.

(quotes reminded by Adi – RO link)



"Browse less & draw more"

October 3, 2009, 7:42 PM

This is probably the best piece of advice I could ever give to a fellow designer. And I’m very very sure Mr. Milton Glaser would agree, as you can read in this interview, with Chip Kidd.

I made an iPhone wallpaper out of it, to keep it in mind as much as possible—maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to actually take this advice myself. Feel free to use it. Let me know if you like it. Thanks :)

Browse less & draw more

Browse less & draw more

And yes, nothing beats Futura. Ever.
(small hint to IKEA :P)



Sun people vs. Ice people — Happy to be of mixed blood

September 3, 2009, 1:55 PM

Dave Trott manages to put it so simple, yet so true:

Louis Farrakhan is an American black militant. He said something I found very interesting. He said the world was divided into two kinds of people. Sun people and Ice people. Now by that he meant black (for sun) and white (for ice).

I don’t agree with that part. But if we take the racism out of it, and just look at the way climate and racial memory affect personality traits I think it’s very interesting.

Just look within one race, take white Europeans. Now look where they’ve lived for generations and generations. Contrast the Nordic types (ice people) with the Mediterranean types (sun people). See how the climate affects their characters.

In southern Europe the climate is warm and welcoming. There is plentiful food just growing outdoors. You could sleep outdoors all year round if you wanted.

So there’s nothing to do except enjoy the finer things in life, the added value items. The things that, in themselves, aren’t necessary for survival, but make life nicer. Painting, sculpture, music, fashion, the decorative arts, good food, lovemaking, all the right brain sensory activities.

Now take the Northern Europeans. The climate doesn’t want you there. It’s cold and miserable. You need to be protected from the very environment you’re living in. If you don’t spend all summer preparing for the winter, you won’t get through it.

So there’s no time for the finer things in life. Everything has to be functional. Gathering food, shelter, and fuel for the long cold months ahead. Concentrating on protection from the hostile climate.

That’s why northern European cars work in conditions that would kill a southern European car. Ferrari and Lamborghini are beautiful, sensuous, delicate pieces of automotive art. Volkswagen, Mercedes, Volvo aren’t.

Those cars don’t look beautiful, they’re not exhilarating. Because when they’re covered in snow and you turn the key, they have to start. The Italian cars don’t.

German food fills a function, Italian food is delicious. German architecture is strong and powerful. Italian architecture is delicate and beautiful. Scandinavian design is clean and minimal. Italian design is playful and over-elaborate.

You can always find exceptions to any rule of course. But, by and large, northern Europeans are better at war,
Southern Europeans are better at art. Northern Europeans are better at function. Southern Europeans are better at form.

Sun people can enjoy life today, they know the future’s safe, the climate isn’t trying to kill them, let’s have fun.
Ice people have to concentrate on logic, and making sure all the bases are covered, because they know mistakes will be punished.

Ice people are left brain. Sun people are right brain. Which is why most art directors are more like sun-people.
And most copywriters are more like ice-people.

And why Northern Europeans are better at product. And Southern Europeans are better at brand.

I guess I’m lucky to be of mixed blood: hot, passional oltenian blood mixed with cold, rational german blood—the hungarian blood is on the hot side too, I guess, while the transylvanian one is on the cold side :) I wonder where we’d place chineese blood, as it seems everybody’s going to have traces of it in the future :))

(thanks Sebi for the link)