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The Discovery and Use of Appropriation, by a Conflicted “Graphic Design Student”

I have a new assignment at school, and it’s time to hit the bookshelves. Some people prefer to look at certain styles or aesthetics, like my friend Abe, who only studies work done by Dutch designers, or Jenn, who prefers the Swiss. But I have no loyalties, no aesthetic biases because I’ll gaze at any design book, so long as it delivers good ideas and helps nudge my homework assignments past mediocrity.

My library at home has editions by the likes of Eames, Gehry, Koolhaas, Rand, Tolleson, Zwart, and Greiman. Most have some sort of writing, but the color reproductions are where it’s at for me; I refer to the color plates as inspiration or “juice.” I like the word juice because I get a vibe deep down inside when I see the plates, and I’m motivated—even energized—to design. On most occasions, I’ll be given an assignment such as a brochure or stationery project; so I get started by looking at other brochure or stationery designs. While I may flip through page after page, it’s always nice to hit upon that one design that somehow relates to the project I’ve been assigned by my professor. Sometimes, there’s a series of images that I can use for the given project (or I’ll come upon something unrelated that I’ll use later on in the school year). When I see that juicy design, I’ll rough it out in pencil, drop the book, and run to my sketchbook or computer, amped with thoughts of how I can go and do something as cool—or better yet, cooler.

When I get bored with my own library—small by most accounts—I head to Barnes and Noble, which is a good place for getting juiced by design books. I’ve noticed that Barnes and Nobles located in shopping malls have smaller design collections than the freestanding stores, and I’m not sure why this is. But the best part about Barnes and Noble is the fact that it’s like a library, I can sit there and read books all day if I like, without ever paying a nickel. The longest I’ve ever read there has been 8 hours, and I brought along a sack lunch and dinner in preparation for the long haul of studying OMA along with Modern Dog and Mau, Pentagram and the Postmodernists. That Mau book really held my attention the longest because the bigger the book, the more invested I become. When the plates are large, and in rare cases full scale, I really feel like I’m digesting the work itself instead of reproductions. However, it’s the smaller books that pull me in, delivering more intimacy, and I buy them they’re less expensive and easy to tote back and forth to the school’s computer lab where I design and print during after hours.

And in case you’re wondering, there are other students that do the same thing—checking out design books for ideas. It’s not just me, honest. I may be the only one to admit it here, but that’s because I’m an older student compared to my peers (ten years older than them on average, and some call this “mature”). When I hang out at the coffee shop before class, I see the younger design students reading through award journals and monographs by Cahan or Sagmeister. These kids usually don’t take the books out in front of the instructor (nor do I) because we all fear some kind of verbal punishment. And who doesn’t recognize that we’re aping some design done by some other designer, who’s more famous than we are? Maybe it just looks like we’re trying to create something in their spirit, I don’t know because our instructor never says anything. Once during a critique, I put a poster up for review and my friend Dean remarked at how it looked like something of Rand’s for IBM. I just smiled and said, “Thanks, and you know, I really love his work,” and then Dean concluded with, “Me too.” When I saw some of Dean’s roughs next week for an annual report assignment, he showed me something that looked Randish too, winked at me, and proceeded to lay out reader’s spreads for the critique. The instructor just shook his head, almost disgusted. From inside his shoulder bag, he shared a wealth of annual reports, done by Cahan and Fitch, “Here, you need to look at these instead. Do something like this,” he directed, pointing to the covers and interior spreads. So when our instructor gives us that kind of direction, it’s not like we’re stealing anything, is it? We’re designers, we appropriate, borrow, beg, and steal (for god’s sake, you can’t work in a vacuum). There’s no way to create anew, everything’s been done; for so long I was mistaken and thought that it was my responsibility to be original, and now I see that those urges were misplaced. In order to fit into the design canon, we must design like designers that came before us—whether we like it or not. In fact, one instructor told me that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. What’s wrong with trying to flatter all of the people you admire?

Some of you more seasoned designers may think I’m crazy, but you’re wrong. There are plenty of times that you too have borrowed or stolen. Be honest. In fact, if you think back to your own education, I’ll bet you’ll recall days of mimicking other designers in order to learn how to design on your lonesome. And have you seen any of the work out there lately? It’s all derivative. Like I said, originality is dead; fresh is the way of the future. If design were a produce aisle, you’d see row after row of the same vegetable, fruit, or herb, but someplace in that pile you’ll pick out a juicy and crispy selection that stands out from the crowd. In the world of print, you could say that award annuals showcase such freshness, and lately the internet’s doing a mighty good job too. I just love what sites like http://www.newstoday.com and http://www.dutchdesigners.com/ offer up. I want to do more stuff like that. Maybe my problem is that I’m looking too locally, focusing too much on stateside work. I know America is the ten-ton beast when it comes to military power, technological advancements (except cell phones), and sports (except soccer/football). Still, I’m beginning to notice that most of the juicy design happens overseas. Leaving this country sounds like a good idea with each passing day, and looking at all of these chic design sites from Europe diminishes my patriotism even more. Maybe that email address I got ([email protected]) will come in handy sooner than I expected.

It’s no accident with that gmail, once I get out of school, I’m headed to Europe for certain, and it doesn’t matter what anyone says. I’m a designer, and if that means leaving this place to do fresh work overseas, then I’m gone. Maybe I should listen to my dad and head to NY before making a big leap like Europe, but it’s hard to tell what the economy will be like in the states by the time I graduate. Already, so much work is being outsourced, and maybe it’s just a matter of time until the design work goes elsewhere. How should I know, I’m a student and I have no idea what a job at a studio entails, let alone what the market looks like. I’ve had some offers though, it’s not like I’m totally cut off from the real world. One of my friends got me hooked up to do a website for a rock band. My teacher at the time told me that because I was a student I should charge something like seven dollars an hour because [a] I could get the job by underbidding everyone else and [b] seven dollars an hour is a realistic price based on how much design work I’ve done. Seven an hour is good money, but I really would do it for free just to get experience and a portfolio piece. I hate to think about all of these things like clients, deadlines, and paychecks; as a student I have so much to deal with already. That’s why I never took that rock band website job, and I probably will wait until my senior year to do an internship. I hope my professor can hook me up with that because I have no clue about where to start. It’s not a fun position to be in, this vague area between how do I design and how do I get a job. I want to learn both, but it seems like they’re only giving me half of the equation in school, and then there’s all of this software I’ve got to keep up with. How am I expected to learn Adobe CS when they make an update almost every 18 months? How can I even afford it! My friend Stefan still uses Photoshop 3.0 on his PowerBook, and he swears it’s all he needs.

Photoshop, PowerBooks, iPods … I’m poor and just buying a really nice design book to browse through for juicy ideas already stretches me thin. It may take a while, but someday I’ll be the imitated designer in those books, and I’ll be both flattered and rich enough to buy a whole bunch of design books to continue fueling my own ambitions.

No designers were harmed in the making of this essay, any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), establishments, events, situations, or locales, is coincidental. Names, emails, and certain incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously. The author, who is a college faculty member and designer living in North Carolina, does not let his students know he’s this cynical—he attributes said outlook to living in Seattle’s gray weather for four years. He also recognizes that design is neither about fame nor appropriation, but wonders why the aforementioned situations and thoughts may plague designers.

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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 2504 FILED UNDER Essays
PUBLISHED ON Dec.27.2005 BY Jason A. Tselentis
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Doug B’s comment is:

is today April 1st?

{bait *not* taken}

I would like my 5 minutes back, please.

On Dec.27.2005 at 04:48 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

"My teacher at the time told me that because I was a student I should charge something like seven dollars an hour"

I can't tell if that's parody or not.

On Dec.27.2005 at 04:56 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Oh wait, it's parody. Nevermind.

On Dec.27.2005 at 04:57 PM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

5 minutes, huh? The tone of your reaction leads me to one conclusion, Doug: you either live (or have lived) in Seattle, perhaps NYC. Let's leave the unconstructive bantering in the playground, Doug, because with patience, you can cut through the cynicism of this article and offer up a constructive comment. There are questions to be asked, curiosities that you can bring to the surface. Or maybe I'm overestimating you.

On Dec.27.2005 at 04:57 PM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

Not a parody, Darrel, the $7 an hour is a true statement. Do you agree with it? Under what terms would you give such advice to a green/junior designer with freelance ambitions?

On Dec.27.2005 at 05:00 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I guess I'm not sure what the point of the post was. Seemed like a story about students that get inspiration from other's work and some odd advice from a teacher.

Under what terms would you give such advice to a green/junior designer with freelance ambitions?

When would I suggest a student work at design for $7 an hour?

On Dec.27.2005 at 05:28 PM
Derrick Schultz’s comment is:

As a design student myself, I can remember thiking much of the same things. Of course, I was a freshman or sophomore and moved past that idea very quickly.

Appropriation has become commonplace in design. Is it wrong? yes and no. It helps in that it already uses a recognizable visual language; one that has immediate impact. When done right, it can be a very exhilirating experience (I think Paula Scher's work for Swatch, even though controversial, at least shows there was consideration made.)

But one of the many problems that this poses is the lack of historical context, or context in general. Why would you do something in Rand's style if Rand would not have done it that way for that project (assuming that Rand is more than just a style, which I think many of us would agree with, though up for debate in many instances). The problem with design students appropriating ideas is that it becomes about "how has so and so solved this problem before?" instead of "is there a better way to solve this that has not been done yet?"

On Dec.27.2005 at 05:54 PM
Tan’s comment is:

There's nothing wrong w/ appropriation, unless you become dependent on it.

Yes, every design student has been "strongly influenced" by work at one point or another. But simply lifting other's design work and transforming it into your own does not teach you how to design —�it only teaches you how to appropriate.

Design is about learning how to think for yourself, and how to express yourself creatively as an individual. Copying Modern Dog's work doesn't teach you how to create it. It may give you a glimpse into how Robynne Raye might have created it, but that doesn't teach you a damn thing in the long run.

You shouldn't be afraid of looking at other people's work, or even being influenced by it. Everyone is influenced by other people's work now and then. But while you're a student, you need to learn to think critically for yourself and show that through your own design. That's called getting an education. Anything else is a waste of your time and money.

On Dec.27.2005 at 06:08 PM
Doug B’s comment is:

5 minutes, huh?

Yes, it took me 5 minutes to read your text. It's roughly 1600 words, does that make me a fast reader? I've always thought of myself as a fast reader.

The tone of your reaction leads me to one conclusion, Doug: you either live (or have lived) in Seattle, perhaps NYC.

That's really 4 conclusions, but I'll cut you some slack since you're 'conflicted'. No on both accounts.

Let's leave the unconstructive bantering in the playground

You're absolutley right. Let's supress all criticism and instead focus our creative talents on writing sensationalized fiction about the education and profession of design. Be sure to throw in a few 'half-truths', such as the $7/hour thing to confuse people even more.

because with patience, you can cut through the cynicism of this article and offer up a constructive comment.

I already gave you a solid 5 minutes, I thought we covered this? A constructive comment: I agree with many of the points you raised, and feel passionate about the subject, but you don't need to fabricate to raise them. Good ideas, bad vehicle.

Or maybe I'm overestimating you.

Probably. I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed...but I know when I'm not entertained. Fiction should entertain, don't you think?

On Dec.27.2005 at 06:17 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

I think mistake number one is to look for good design from books, it took me almost five years to discover this out. Walking around an island in September, non design experiences educated me more about design than anything before. Of course you don't need to visit Manhattan to see design in action. Watch how people live their lives - it's real and a lot more honest than fiction or non fiction alike.

On Dec.27.2005 at 09:01 PM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

Essay Critique: The first 4 paragraphs were more than enough to get the point across. The focus is lost after that. (Maybe another essay in there?) Does your cynicism come from resentment, Jason? Is this a critique on time challenged students taking the easy way out?

Content Response: I’ve found copying another’s work to be educational, as long as I’m aware of what I’m doing. Copying a magazine layout to understand its structural subtleties and information requirements can be eye-opening. A good typographer can make it all look seamless, and most teachers I’ve had don’t think of half of the required content. This can be a great exercise, and helpful to developing my own techniques.

On the other hand, when it’s time to cook up the ideas, I’d rather not see anything that can distract me from from my thoughts. Looking at what’s been done is usually frustrating, especially the award mags. (as a �third-year student,’ I will NOT try to measure my work against the tops in the industry—until I am finished with it and ready for revisions)

At the moment of creation, my visual language has already been informed by everything I’ve seen. Brainstorming is the time to spit it back out. As far as I can tell, that is all I—or any designer—have: our experiences and instincts which shape our ideas, our learned skills which shape our execution, and our trained eye (and some outside help, please) to guide the critique and push the work.

If contemporary design is as devoid of ideas and full of eye-candy as some would like me to beleive, I have two possible paths: a marketplace welcoming of genuine creative ideas, or one that demands I spend more time aping the awards mags/monographs.

Thoughts from those that are there already?

On Dec.28.2005 at 01:08 AM
Dav!d’s comment is:

I think one positive role appropriation had in my formative years was helping me unlock some of the technical mysteries of design. I remember coming across work by studios like ATTIK with their layered 3D look and wanting to know how it was done, so I'd see if I could do it myself. It wasn't being taught in school so I felt encouraged to experiment on my own. Often in doing these exercises my understanding of composition, balance, or typography would benefit and if the outcome was positive, I might find a way to work what I'd learned into a homework assignment.

Nowadays, as someone who manages several Jr. Designers it can be frustrating to see that they are reluctant to experiment on their own, and often ask for help first.

On Dec.28.2005 at 01:16 AM
Daniel’s comment is:

Why does the sincerity of this post put me on edge? Probably the same reason Speak Up is here today. It could be because I relate quite well to the ideas expressed; as a student, I would have found them quite reasonable. Or maybe it's because I'm fighting the urge to admit that there is a place for the, "appropriation method" in our industry (blechh).

Hillman Curtis's personal experience leads him to believe we don't "generate ideas" but "beg, borrow, and steal them". Gensler introduces the concept of "Mash Culture"—the idea that youth culture today is about "borrowing from previous generations... creating this kind of mish-mashed, customized culture...".

I like to believe the examples above are deeper than simple appropriation; maybe like the recycling of already very effective communicative visual methods.

In a world where everything seems to be moving faster, maybe it's design taking a more evolutionary approach to development, where visuals that prove to stimulate our culture will be replicated successfully over a long period of time. The visuals will be replicated at a high rate of speed and accuracy where mistakes—minor changes in the consistency of replicated visuals—become cumulative and ultimately lead to improvements. This would bring Richard Dawkin's proposal of the "meme" to life.

That makes me wonder if culture might eventually become a disoriented machine who's purpose is to define existence.

Or maybe it's a case of nearsighted designers (just a hand full) who embrace all elements of the zeitgeist with disregard for the future. In which case, appropriation will continue on it's very own evolutionary path alongside other methods in design.

On Dec.28.2005 at 01:29 AM
Tyson Tate’s comment is:

I just recently changed my major from Computer Science to Graphic Design. The single most obvious change, to me, in the work environments is the sheer amount of philosophizing and dancing-around-bushes that goes on. In Graphic Design, it seems as though everything either has to be backed up with tomes of philosophy and eloquence or else risk being dismissed as amateur with a string of bizarre non sequitur arguments. Computer scientists don't waste their time waxing poetic about the theory behind their profession, they just get shit done.

With that said, I must say that I'm with Hillman on this one: Everything is influenced by something, whether you realize it or not. There's no such thing as creativity in a vacuum.

On Dec.28.2005 at 04:23 AM
Real Student’s comment is:

Dear Fake Student,

I don't feel as if I share your practices at all. As much as I love the typography of Chris Ware or the physical stunts of Sagmeister, what I enjoy most about design is not re-creating surface treaments but looking at each brief as an entirely new and open field where no specific school will solve the problem better than a thorough consideration of the entire brief.

Do I wind up using things from work that I've seen? Absolutely. But I find it's best to see and enjoy a vibrant spectum of work (not just designer's monographs) on free time and in between projects. In this way I feel as if I'm brewing a forgetful and intermingled stew of influences that spark and fuse together rather than a filing cabinet of references and data.

Dear Author,

We're smarter than that.

On Dec.28.2005 at 06:03 AM
unnikrishna Menon Damodaran’s comment is:

An honest post, Jason.

Truth is always disturbing, even for designers!

There’s no way to create anew, everything’s been done

Designers are not creators. They are designers.

No designer is designing anything new.Because the original idea is inspired from something else, it could be another design, object, music or whatever.

On Dec.28.2005 at 08:57 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Tyson, as a graphic designer that does more computer programming these days, I must say that's an interesting observation.

In the world of computer code, appropriation is often the method used...and even encourages. How do I do this? Here's some code!

It's both design, but yes, the visual designers tend to insist that good design must be original each and every time. Of course, that's not true. Appropriation is sometimes the best solution.

So, as for the article, uh...appropriation is fine at times, not fine other times, and $7 an hour is just silly.

On Dec.28.2005 at 09:32 AM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

Yes, $7 / hour is just plain silly.

With that said, I must say that I'm with Hillman on this one: Everything is influenced by something, whether you realize it or not. There's no such thing as creativity in a vacuum. I second this. Designers draw inspiration from so many places, but when my students gravitate towards design books and design websites to get "ideas" about where to start, it frustrates me. I don't frown on it entirely, but to echo Tan, young designers must learn so they can operate in the long run. Learning styles vary, and early on students must appreciate the wealth of places to draw inspiration from, instead of the wealth of design books. Where in the educational process are students taught to look first, borrow second, and design last?

On Dec.28.2005 at 10:40 AM
Doug Fuller’s comment is:

I went to a presentation once where Bob Gill (one of the founding members of the firm that became Pentagram) said that all of the ideas in our head were put there by Time Warner or Disney. He also said that, if given an hour to do an ad for a dry cleaner, you should spend 50 minutes of your time actually in a dry cleaner and not with your nose in some design book.

Of course he's exaggerating a bit, but there is a considerable amount of truth to what he said. Design books have their value, but they can also be a very tempting crutch for people to lean on.

As far as being original goes, I struggle with this quite often. Is design about originality or is it about communicating? Sometimes effective communication requires standing out from the crowd, but it seems that our designer egos are what push us to strive for orginality over being appropriate for the job or client.

On Dec.28.2005 at 10:49 AM
Dav!d’s comment is:

I appreciated this article. Initially, I was roped in by nostalgia and kept reading after wondering where the cynicism would take us. Regardless, it did it's job and got this thread cooking.

One thing relevant to this thread I'm interested in is the different way designers have handled the inevitable ("Make it look like Apple") client who requests their project approprate someone else's work?

On Dec.28.2005 at 12:12 PM
David E.’s comment is:

Some of you more seasoned designers may think I’m crazy, but you’re wrong. There are plenty of times that you too have borrowed or stolen. Be honest. In fact, if you think back to your own education, I’ll bet you’ll recall days of mimicking other designers in order to learn how to design on your lonesome.

I don't think you're crazy. In fact, I don't think that there's any other way to learn to design. I would even go so far as to say that there's not nearly enough "imitation" of what we've come to regard as good typography, form, etc. I've seen so many junior level designers that just don't get it at all. Sometimes I feel like saying "What's wrong with you? Just copy something that's good and learn how to do it."

When I was in college, a fellow student asked our instructor, "Is it better to do something good, or better to do something original?" The instructor's response was, "It's always better to do something good." The idea being that if you're imitating something good, you're learning something.

It's just common sense. If you wanted to learn to do tricks on a skateboard, or draw, or play a musical instrument, you would start out by imitating what others have done.

Strive to understand why things work or don't work. Eventually, everyone develops their own approach.

On Dec.28.2005 at 12:58 PM
David E.’s comment is:

Also, don't worry about keeping up with software — spend all your energy on learning to design. No potential employer is going to care what version of Photoshop you know how to use.

On Dec.28.2005 at 01:21 PM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

Also, don't worry about keeping up with software — spend all your energy on learning to design. No potential employer is going to care what version of Photoshop you know how to use. AMEN! I'm disgusted by the software hunger that designers go through at an early stage. I fell into it myself, and once I got through the initial wow factor I sat back and didn't worry about it. I used Photoshop 3.0 up until 1998, right before I gave in and bought a G3. Who knows how long I could have gone on 3.0. One of my former instructors swears by PageMaker, and still uses version 6.5 through OSX Classic—his design looks killer!

On Dec.28.2005 at 01:29 PM
Feldhouse’s comment is:

Designers draw inspiration from so many places, but when my students gravitate towards design books and design websites to get "ideas" about where to start, it frustrates me.

I don't necessarily think students roam/pillage/steal ideas from design books and websites to "get ideas." I know the group of students I was surrounded with when I was in school always looked to the books as to what has been done and perhaps how to do it better, but not at all the same. Any critique we had (almost every class) we would draw upon these sources and show people that it has been done in a similar style and if they wanted to approach this style to somehow make it their own. If the book never was there for them to see it, how could they know it was already done and then be ignorant to the fact that they were creating something almost identical?

As an educator, you are caught in a catch 22 with design. You are trying to teach design yet teach other values of design as well. It is a difficult struggle although I would not say it's impossible, but it is tough. I wish my professors would have told me to buy three books when I first entered the graphic design program:

How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul | Adrian Shaughnessy

It's not how good you are, it's how good you want to be | Paul Arden

GAG Handbook: Pricing and Ethical Guidelines

If I would have had these (Granted HTBAGDWLYS wasn't released until this year) it would have made the struggle somewhat easier. It would not have stopped me from learning from history but it would have given me a new view on what to design for each project.

I think the main thing about this article is that it is missing the whole reference to the mediocrity that is America (And the rest of the world). Only the few will ever get it. The rest have to borrow. That's just how it works... there's no way around it. If we were all brilliant beyond what we think then our world (& design world) would be a much better place and we wouldn't have occurrences such as the AT&T disaster. This is why we have idols... it is just how it happens. So this essay touches on something but there's a much bigger question about education reform from what I see in this article. Anyone know how to solve this little catch 22 of solving mediocrity, design values, and education of design principles?

On Dec.28.2005 at 02:08 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

No potential employer is going to care what version of Photoshop you know how to use.

Depends. One needs to know the medium they are working in to function well.

Design trumps all, but if you can't actually produce what you design on your own, you're not necessarily going to be a good asset in certain organizations.

Of course, SPECIFIC software/technologies are less important than understanding the software/technologies in general.

That said, you should be at a school that teaches concepts, strategy, theory, etc. Not specific tools.

On Dec.28.2005 at 02:24 PM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

Feldhouse, How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul by Adrian Shaughnessy is a great read, one that I recommend to most of my students. Meanwhile you've touched on one of the points that nobody else has: American Mediocrity. I did not delve into it as wholeheartedly as I could have. But what's to be said about this conflicted eurodesigner's ambition to do cool design and leave the USA behind in order to make it happen?

On Dec.28.2005 at 02:50 PM
Jason L.’s comment is:

First off, appropriation is a valuable teaching tool. Doesn't anybody remember doing pastiches in school? Is this not done anymore? Didn't anyone have a professor or instructor who watched what you were doing and said look at so and so's work? If your doing experimental mark making through lines, you should check out Cy Twombly. If you're creating geometric glass, look at Frank Lloyd Wright. Look at Rand, Lester Beal, Bass, Chermayeff, Bradbury Thomspon, Zapf... You get the picture.

To look at these designers isn't just inspiration, it can help us to create a shorthand or get us to the point that we have in our heads faster. When you know how Saul Bass approaches something, and you have a solution in mind that reminds you of Saul Bass, you can skip the growing pains because you know the language. And fluency in the language of design is important. Being fluent in the language lets you be and express yourself. The trick is knowing what you want to say.

On Dec.28.2005 at 03:16 PM
Sheepstealer’s comment is:

Don't steal.

If someone else did it, and I like it, and I do it too, I'm stealing.

Yet I feel that looking at the work of others (especially the best-of-the-best) is vital. I have to know what's out there, not to get my ideas, but to see how high the bar is that I have to jump over.

Now seeing that my core beliefs won't let me steal, I am influenced by the work of others all the time. But I usually limit my "influences" to elements, not to overall layouts.

For example, I may have a concept that needs to show human relationships visually. Then I'll look through the history books and the annuals (in that order) and look at how the masters have handled the idea of human relationships. Or when I'm looking for ways to emphasize a piece of display type, or an interesting page-number technique -- no need to reinvent the wheel there.

I think the difference between a rip-off and an influence is to make sure I have my concept and my message figured out before I start looking around. Then I'm only taking techniques, not ideas.

It may be rationalization, but it helps me sleep at night.

sheepstealer

On Dec.28.2005 at 06:01 PM
Tyson Tate’s comment is:

So what, exactly, is wrong with appropriating and reusing?

I'm a big fan of collage/mashup/remix/graffiti works, so perhaps that explains my viewpoint. I don't see reusing things as bad. If you come up with a really inventive and original idea, awesome - you're one of the few and elite. If you took hundreds of elements from existing culture, mashed them together to create something new, I say even better!

As pointed out above, reusing is a major part of Computer Science. If you want a single reason why software has advanced so fast, you need not look further than code reuse.

Of course, it can go to the other extreme when people take open-source software, re-brand it, and sell it as their own. That doesn't seem to happen too often in the design world, however. If you ripped off someone's design entirely, it's pretty obvious.

On Dec.28.2005 at 06:40 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

I found that when I stopped looking at design books my work became more authentic.It's being content within myself to find solutions. Usually by working harder within the idea, by familiarizing myself more genuinely with my client's world and by thinking of how this work of mine will be seen by his/her consumers, I found my own voice and that's far more satisfying. I've not entered work in many competitions anymore because they seem to favor design stars. So I'll be happy with letters from clients that it ws an enjoyable experience.

Being aware of trends is something we all do, Tan is quite right, but slavishly copying someone else's award-winning design seems tragically uninspired past student grade. To learn to listen to clients and respond to their needs, to defend your best designs in the face of mediocrity is a challenge, of course.

The computer,possibly even more than books, opens us to a vast storehouse of work ripe for stealing.If stealing is your solution to assignments. Some of them ARE undoubtedly outstanding and inspirational, which is what, I think, Jason was saying to us. But by being so chameleon-like in what we're serving up then is imitation only, and it serves no one well. Neither client nor designer.

Enrichment, it seems to me, comes with cross-cultural pollination more than swiping off the color plates in a design book on your lap.

Someone - went back to see it was Jason - mentioned Cy Twombley who took scribbling references from as far back as graffiti on ancient Roman walls and reworked it into the modern painting expression but all within his own vocabulary.

Thanks, Jason, for putting this out there.

On Dec.28.2005 at 07:16 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

That doesn't seem to happen too often in the design world

Happens all the time. It's a big part of how our society and commerce advances.

On Dec.28.2005 at 07:21 PM
SCox-Smith’s comment is:

So, just as an example, interior designers use 'period' styles all the time in their work, and feel free to interpret those styles in a purely linear fashion, or create more transitional (combined style) interiors. We don't penalize an interior designer if all he or she 'does' is David Hicks or Colefax & Fowler. Why is it such a crime for a graphic designer to learn, utilize and trade on one particular style. It hasn't hurt Charles Spencer Anderson and he certainly didn't 'create' his particular idiom. It's all about being the right designer at the right time. You just have to be really good at it and ballsy enough to get away with not being able to do anything else. Just make sure de clients is buyin'.

I'm all for a broad education of design styles and trends and I see nothing wrong with giving a student a tried and true structure or base design and asking for interpretation. This works particularly well with publication design. Could you take the Time magazine grid and make it look better, stronger, newsier?

Being a student is all about being egotistical enough to believe that one is a good enough designer to reinterpret something that's already been done and make it better. Save the disappointment for later, when they are making $7 an hour (cha-ching) making changes based on the suggestions of the CEO's Mother-in-Law's astrologer, because Tuesday isn't a good day for olive.

On Dec.28.2005 at 08:25 PM
Derrick Schultz’s comment is:

Tyson, I think you're mixing style with context. the graffiti/collage/mash-up/etc. work tends to work so well because it is a reflection of that culture (sampled music, remixes, blends, reappropriated clothing, etc.) So in that sense it works. But it begins to lose merit as it moves outside of that cultural connection. Seeing people use that style in a context where that sort of communication is innappropriate is where I begin to question the appropriation is ok argument.

No one will ever hear me talk about how good it is to use "period styles." Will we ever have new period styles if all we do is pillage the old?

On Dec.29.2005 at 03:48 PM
The Jaded Student’s comment is:

Also, don't worry about keeping up with software — spend all your energy on learning to design. No potential employer is going to care what version of Photoshop you know how to use.

WRONG! How dare you fill my impressionable mind with such... lies! The modern student, that being, myself, faces the dire task of learning how to use wonderous things such as alternate characters, grids, h&j violations, old style figures etc... (I've just finished Typography 2, forgive me if these are very simplistic) But to do this we need to learn the software. Often, this modern student has their own computer and will work between it and computers in the labs. The labs get new software every time Adobe ups its version count. Thus, for compatibility, we must obtain (I hesitate to say purchase) the newest copy and learn its quirks.

What happens when we don't do this? Oh, I can tell you. Students get disabled. Computers are scary when you have no coaching in InDesign CS2. What takes 5 seconds to do could take someone 5 hours by not knowing. Its no ones fault. You can blame the student, the prof, the software, but in the end, its knowledge that's to blame. If we don't know how to align paragraphs to the baseline grid in the latest version of InDesign, our work will suffer. If we know how to do it in InDesign 1 and not CS or CS2, how are we expected to work in the labs? In class? Its impossible. Thus, we must learn the newest version of the software to live with interoperability.

Adaptation is key to success.

A little bit of A, Initially, I was roped in by nostalgia and kept reading after wondering where the cynicism would take us. Mixed in with B, No one will ever hear me talk about how good it is to use "period styles." Will we ever have new period styles if all we do is pillage the old?

People enjoy nostalgia. People enjoy the avant garde. These people can be the same people, different people, or people who prefer one and create the other. The word style is used with a purpose: it notes the difference in visual presentation of the same information. Style will always be appropriated by many, and style will always be created anew. There's groups that do both, and a market for both. Its when we accept this that we can use appropriated style and original style with discretion based on the client. If all we want to do is create new and original ideas, then we don't take the client of appropriation. We live the live of the avant garde, which is usually quite impoverished. Accept the realities of the business and work to move past them.

All these cynical designers I keep hearing comments from... What hope is there for my future as a student of design? The day I'm told by CEO's Mother-in-Law's astrologer, because Tuesday isn't a good day for olive is the day I tell the CEO's Mother-in-Law's astrologer that Tuesday is the perfect day for olive and argue it with semiotics, rhetoric and gestalt and all those other theories were learning that make the profession academic, self-sustaining and not some subsidiary of every sociology, anthropology, the fine arts etc....

Use big words. CEOs like big words.

On Dec.30.2005 at 09:56 AM
Mr.Frankie L’s comment is:

I have to agree with The Jaded Student:

While, many of us have the luxury of working

for employers who value the mind, many entry

level jobs for graphic designers involve sweat shop

conditions — knowing software and the latest

the software is the dealbreaker.

It sure as hell doesn't sound glamorous, but

this reality is very common.

...

Back to the main topic, despite noble

efforts of professors to teach us how to

think design, such programming is stunted

when one looks at Design Annuals. I'm always

frustrated when looking through those, because

the descriptions often over-simplify the design

concept and research that went into it.

Usually all we see are the credits for the

Art Director:

Writer:

Designer(s):

Photographer:

Illustrator:

Paper Stock:

...

Design Annuals have their place, but we need

publications that focus on how ideas & processes

are applied — not just the front cover.

Yes, I am aware there are some magazines that

claim to do this; but never adequately IMO.

On Dec.30.2005 at 10:48 AM
Doug B’s comment is:

I don't think that "The Jaded Student' is a student at all. I think he/she is a professional masquerading as a student to stir the pot. Feel free to prove me wrong.

Of course, I just finished The DaVinci Code so I have conspiracy theories on my mind....

On Dec.30.2005 at 11:39 AM
SCox-Smith’s comment is:

The day I'm told by CEO's Mother-in-Law's astrologer, because Tuesday isn't a good day for olive is the day I tell the CEO's Mother-in-Law's astrologer that Tuesday is the perfect day for olive and argue it with semiotics, rhetoric and gestalt and all those other theories were learning that make the profession academic, self-sustaining and not some subsidiary of every sociology, anthropology, the fine arts etc....

Use big words. CEOs like big words.

Jaded Student:

Use all the big words you like. Most clients want their projects to be 'perfect' for everyone which means you will get a lot further as a designer who can swing with the changes and still make a design sing, than the existential, philosophizing artisté no one understands. You will have to make arbitrary design changes on almost every paid project you work on. Your challenge is to choose your battles carefully. I once refused to use a stock image of a business man on a surfboard (briefcase in hand) to represent ROI in the Data Warehouse Market. Was I right? Yes, absolutely. Do I work with that client any more? No, and it was their choice. Am I sorry? Not for a minute!

Learn, grow, have ideals and goals. Love your work and always do your best to make your design the best, no matter the obstacles.

Going back to the original theme of appropriation, I think Jason's intent is to acknowlege that it can be a slippery slope if you only know how to follow what others have done. It's important for a designer to be a problem-solver, and sometimes the problem is figuring out how to make your perfect design work without olive because suddenly, olive isn't on the table any more.

On Dec.30.2005 at 11:41 AM
The Jaded Student (marko savic)’s comment is:

I don't think that "The Jaded Student' is a student at all. I think he/she is a professional masquerading as a student to stir the pot. Feel free to prove me wrong.

Nope! Thanks for the compliment, but I'm a second year at York-Sheridan in Toronto, Canada.

On Dec.30.2005 at 12:44 PM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

How do you like the program there in Canada?

On Dec.30.2005 at 12:56 PM
marko savic’s comment is:

How do you like the program there in Canada?

I love it. It causes me so much grief because of my passion for design, learning and teaching. I've had a lot of problems trying to grapple with what I'm learning and how to use that information to better myself. But its great because it forces me to examine what I'm learning, how I'm learning and how to apply it. I could rant about the faults, but after reading The Education of a Graphic Designer I've really seen just how great my program is compared to other programs in Ontario. Maybe I just want too much from my education. I very much enjoy the fact, though, that I'm earning a Bachelor of Design, Honours Degree rather than a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design. Not that the title matters, its just, cool.

The only problem I have is they don't teach us the software, so I'm usually running around the labs helping my friends with InDesign and Macromedia Flash. Designers can not write actionscript without proper training! Interactivity Design 2 is the bane of my upcoming winter term. Not that I can't do it, but I'm not looking forward to helping 120 of my peers learn Flash. Oy. Flash is not designed to be used by designers. That is the program you need to learn with each revision or you fall behind, and to put it lightly, die.

I didn't really know what to look for in a program when I first applied to college. I don't think I really understood what design fully encompassed. I think in the end I chose it because of the degree instead of a diploma from my hometown's Conestoga College. In hindsight, it was a great decision. I think. What do you think? I didn't really look at any colleges outside Ontario, but I will for a Master's program

And to counter, Most clients want their projects to be 'perfect' for everyone which means you will get a lot further as a designer who can swing with the changes and still make a design sing, than the existential, philosophizing artisté no one understands.

But what about rationalizing olive because it's not in the moon card? The project can be perfect in this context regardless of colour, but if, as the designer, you feel anything but olive would be horrendous, it has to be rationalized to the client in a way that makes sense from his perspective that olive is the way to go.

What does the colour olive represent that adds to his brand? What emotions (cue scientific studies) does olive evoke, that the design of the report and the company are wishing to express? How does olive fit within the branding of the company? The colour scheme of the annual report? How would another colour work in these contexts? What are the emotional, representational and reactional (i.e. increased alertness, activity or calming?) affects of this colour? How does this change the perception of the company? The report? So while it may seem like the existential philosophy of an artisté no one understands, rationalizing through easily understandable and highly relevant venues makes the case hard to throw down next to Tuesday not being a good day for olive.

But then again, I've not had the experience in that corporate environment to know. Maybe I'll avoid Tuesday meetings.

On Dec.30.2005 at 01:28 PM
Feldhouse’s comment is:

Marko,

Kudos for being so ballsy, but as a recent graduate myself, I found towards the end of my college time is when I learned the most. Not because of all the tools and software, etc., but because I applied my mind to what I was doing — not the software's capabilities!

Let me tell you a few things that I had to learn the hard way. Ever think about Audience? How do you think software applies to an Audience? You have to think about Audience, not the software. How do you think Paul Rand designed? William Morris? Others way before the elite "golden age" of design...? They didn't have software to keep them up-to-date (really, a marketing ploy by Adobe, and if your school keeps updating, I am truly sorry, tell them to stop). Not once in this paragraph:

People enjoy nostalgia. People enjoy the avant garde. These people can be the same people, different people, or people who prefer one and create the other. The word style is used with a purpose: it notes the difference in visual presentation of the same information. Style will always be appropriated by many, and style will always be created anew. There's groups that do both, and a market for both. Its when we accept this that we can use appropriated style and original style with discretion based on the client. If all we want to do is create new and original ideas, then we don't take the client of appropriation. We live the live of the avant garde, which is usually quite impoverished. Accept the realities of the business and work to move past them.

Did you once mention the word concept?

I think you're hitting on some points that are valid, however, I think you're using the technology as a crutch. Try designing without a computer. That was my first assignment in design school. It's tedious but it's worth the hell. You learn so much and how to CRAFT the ART OF DESIGN.

Sagmeister (personal hero) has a theory "Style=Fart." I think you need to take this and run with it. You can style and design on a computer for days and make things look pretty because of a grid or uniform font choice... but will it convey the concept? Clients sometimes don't understand concepts when you explain them — but you need to just go back to the drawing board. My favorite professor would let us design things, then when we had our critique she would take them down and have us start over. It forced us to think beyond what is expected and gives a little of the "real world" into academia.

Overall, I think you are in the "learning curve" of the software. Many of the older designers did not even have the chance to learn this in school so be thankful. Times change, I understand, but you still need to know how things evolved and I don't know if you truly understand them yet.

On Dec.30.2005 at 04:27 PM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

Feldhouse = 2 / Marko = 1

On Dec.30.2005 at 04:36 PM
marko savic’s comment is:

Not because of all the tools and software, etc., but because I applied my mind to what I was doing — not the software's capabilities!

That's something I've applied for day one. I lambast my fellow students who take stylistic approaches to conceptual problems.

Ever think about Audience?

Ever since Project 1, Day 1, Term 1. I always start my projects by analyzing who the audience is, what the project is trying to communicate to them and what would be the most effective/original approach to deal with complex and difficult information. Example, I had to create a brochure for the over 60 bracket about HIV/AIDS. Most people approached the project (and their social issue) by simply "designing for aging readers." The type was big, the fold was simple and the graphics were friendly. I thought, "How do I 'sell' AIDS to old people?" Well, I decided that giving them information about HIV infections in Ontario and how that relates to the wellbeing of their grandchildren; encouraging the elderly to talk to their grandchildren about safe sex; and including a free condom. I'd explain the design, but it's ridiculously complex without seeing it. I can send you a copy if you'd like.

How do you think software applies to an Audience?

Software creates an economy of production, lowers costs and increases uniformity, readability, legibility, clarity of communication. In something like a book this creates greater continuity, flow and a continued sense of identity. In posters, the client saves costs by choosing self taught "garage designers." In the case of school, continuity of software versions increases workflow. Whether the school upgrades every year or not is not the issue, its that the students are working in the same version across all environments. While everything here can be addressed with non-computer solutions, its the economy of production that is mos timportant.

Not once in this paragraph ... did you once mention the word concept?

I was specifically talking about style. Appropriation versus originality. Style is independent of concept. It will either enhance or detract but never make or break.

I think you're hitting on some points that are valid, however, I think you're using the technology as a crutch.

I was simply arguing a point in the context of the conversation above. I completely agree with you, my most challenging project this year was to create a design entirely by hand. I learned more through that one project than any of my previous 3 terms combined. Without a computer I'd be a failure in terms of rendering, but I would still receive accolades on concept originality. The computer simply allows me a more efficient way of presenting clear and uniform information to enhance the concept.

Sagmeister (personal hero) has a theory "Style=Fart." I think you need to take this and run with it.

Style is meaningless. But style also sells. In a marketable world, what will sell more? The Shiny, Pretty thing or the functional, well thought but not aesthetically styled product? Cute wins. I'm not saying that's right, I'm saying that's how the market works, not the design world.

Times change, I understand, but you still need to know how things evolved and I don't know if you truly understand them yet.

I still have 2 years to go in my undergrad, and lifelong learning after that. Sorry if that sounds like I'm defensive or angry, it's not meant to be, I've just been up all night. It's friendly design banter.

On Dec.30.2005 at 05:19 PM
Thomas Jockin’s comment is:

Feldhouse,

concept and execution go hand and hand.

You can have the most amazing execution- but with no strong concept it will not stand the test of time and will fall flat in criticism.

Likewise, if you don't know how to execute your concept- no manner how good it is- it will flatter.

But I agree with your the anti-photoshop seitiment.

I really feel digital mediums leave a kind of "residue" on work. Maybe that "residue" is more of my personal resentment of computers. I mean, when I look at most of my peers at parsons( Im a sophmore), most concepts really are not all that soild and great, and it feels like the computer was used as a crutch.the work ranges from mediocrity to good.

but even for the good works, that's not saying much.

most of the work out in the world is good.

And when one's dropping 45,000 a year I would certianly hope your at least trying to maxize that education as much as possible and doing more than "good" work.

hell I don't want to do "good" work.

good work dosen't add anything, because it just maintains what is considered fine and dandy. Of course, the vast majority of my peers are merely concerned with making a shit load of money, have a easy life, and have a good time- so maybe my issue with mediocrity and adobe really should be directed at my peers who have no interested in doing anything new and changelling.

bleh now I'm ranting- ill stop.

On Dec.30.2005 at 07:02 PM
Feldhouse’s comment is:

I just wrote an entire response, but I deleted it because I believe this has gone off the subject. I think there are greater issues than software compatability or using your style to market yourself.

Style does not sell. Style will only increase the boring. Is the Time Warner logo stylish to you or is it conceptual? Style only sells when you have poor clients (or in academia poor students who have no drive)

This article is greater than what you might think of at first. It touches on the future of design and where it is heading. Just look at the new AT&T logo. The new trend is to be "stylish" and you can see where that gets you.

I don't know what else to say other than enjoy your college education, but if you are tied up in software woes, go to a seminar one weekend and learn Flash. Don't waste good money on an education (concepts, skills, craft, critical thinking, etc) and worry about the software. Use your education for critical thinking.

On Dec.30.2005 at 07:24 PM
unnikrishna Menon Damodaran’s comment is:

Black Book, Art Director's Index, Graphis- whatelse you need to (lift) be "creative" in the world of advertising.

On Dec.31.2005 at 07:23 AM
The Dude’s comment is:

So are you saying that lifting only happens in the ad world?

On Jan.03.2006 at 05:00 PM
Unnikrishna Menon Damodaran’s comment is:

So are you saying that lifting only happens in the ad world?

Not really. It is more visible in advertising.

On Jan.04.2006 at 02:39 AM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Lifting? What a euphemism! Somewhere between shoplifting and box lifting, I guess.

Appropriation? Filching? Stealing? Ah, Borrowing.

Maybe the point here is that there is one kind of lifting we think of as a natural form of design evolution and another that is wrongful possession. Charles Anderson's reuse of old clip art as nostalgia. LogoWorks comes to mind as thievery. Expedient, shameless and trendy.

But this is more about recognition - by designers who remember who did the originals. The general public doesn't know or care. They only recognize style as the the available and desirable.

If the future of Design is cannibalism, then you'd think that someday we'll run out of meat - that's unless Adobe has a product for that one too. Yum! Can't wait.

On Jan.04.2006 at 09:28 AM
art chantry’s comment is:

the first time i visited the louvre, i was annoyed and disgusted to see a couple of "artists" sitting at easels in front of the mona lisa painting COPIES of that famous image. i thought that was stupid and sorta vile - why would anybody want a copy of the mona lisa when the "original" ( there is some debate) was sitting RIGHT THERE! i mean, who the hell would ant a cheezy copy of it, anyway? it was all so sordid and tacky!

it took me several years to realize that those 'students' weren't painting copies, but they were studying by copying. this a time-honored technique in education and maybe one of the most valuable tools we have to learn with. when you paint a copy of the mona lisa, you begin to understand a little bit better just how da vinci created it and how difficult and masterful a task it was. you see by comparing your own efforts to his, just where you need to learn, where you fall short, and just maybe a small understanding of what or even HOW he did it.

it's how we learn. we copy and adapt and transform everything through our own efforts at understanding. think of babies and how they imitate and learn language. think of writers who try to write like hwmingway, fail, but absorb some of his technique into their own voice and vocabulary. it's absolutley the same (likely more so) for us designers. this is a shared language that isn't really taught in school, it's sort structurally presented, then the student is forced into the culture and start speaking it. we all have to imitate to do graphic design. it's IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO. no one reading these words have ever really invented (or 'coined' or developed or 'conceptualized") anything new in design language - honest! the longer i study this stuff, the more and more i find precedents for everything i see created around me today. we don't don't come out of the gate fully realized masters of graphic design. baby steps come first.

further, we live in an era of no new ideas, just old ones re-cycled in new ways. it's called "post-modernism". to do graphic design in this era and think you aren't merely recycling old ideas is just plain fooling yourself. we live in a culture that's over the hump. we can't think new, we can only adapt. it's the hallmark form of a decadent culture. appropriation is the hallmark of the post-modernist era. we all do it, but usually we don't even realize we're doing it. it has been for this way a looooong time, now.

so, dear student, appropriate. it's how we learn to talk.

On Jan.05.2006 at 02:08 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

There's an awful lot of anti-software posturing that goes on here. 'I'm a great designer - I don't need software'

It's all well and good criticising software when you can use it perfectly adequately (or know who to go to to do it for you).

But I rememer all too well my experience as a student - being incredibly frustrated struggling with the execution of a concept.

The creative process inevitably involves trying things out to see if they work. Experience lets you do this very quickly, often going no further than a quick doodle. But as a student, this ability to anticipate how things will turn out is only beginning to develop.

Of course having genuine creative talent is much more important than knowing how to operate a machine - but I think that to criticise a student's desire to learn technical skills (or worse, actively appose the teaching of them) is just insulting.

Marko - it may seem frustrating to have to help your peers get to grips with software, but doing so will help you learn those technical skills much better than any teacher could.

Just resist the temptation to become a 'techie'. Part of the appeal of learning graphic design is the huge feeling of satisfaction when your designs 'work'. It can sometimes be too easy to settle for the satisfaction of getting a machine to work (especially when your peers are thankful for your help).

Genuine satisfaction from creating succesful design is much more difficult to obtain than the geeky satisfaction from learning a piece of software - but it is so much more worth it.

On Jan.05.2006 at 08:42 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Mr. Chantry has a good point about how copying masterworks is a great way to learn. His well-reasoned argument about how copying is educational makes me want to reconsider how hard I was in my last post on lifting design. The distinction being as a larger style trend rather than a personal educational tool. I'm still convinced that there is a difference between a student copy and a forgery. But maybe that's a matter of degree.

Renaissance paintings are especially difficult to reproduce which is probably why it has been a traditional way to learn to paint for a long time. When my mother went to the Arts Student's League in the 1930's she tells me that painting in art museums was very common. To learn how amazingly talented the great painters were.

As an aside:

What's interesting is some recent news that advancement in research microtechnology has found that one of the great "secret ingredients" in Italian pigments to be extremely fine ground glass. The luminosity of their breathtaking coloration has to do with this suspended refracting transparency in the pigment composition. That's an exciting discovery. Well, to me it is. This is just one example of how modern technology is still finding out the secrets of master art from the 16th Century.

So, when we return to our post-Post-Modern time it just doesn't seem the same kind of learning experience. Can things done superfast be as well thought out as the originals?

On Jan.05.2006 at 09:04 PM
Mr.Frankie L’s comment is:

What is interesting is,

having come across some old issues of CA, from

around 1995, many of the same topics we talk about

today such as certification, computer vs. old school

skills, substance vs. style, were being addressed.

The fact we are still discussing them, seems to

suggest, there hasn't been much breakthru.

Even the thread about AIGA "importance" is not

a recent issue..

10 years ago and the issues are the same,

how is this progress?

On Jan.06.2006 at 01:24 PM
Mr.Frankie L’s comment is:

I'm not sure I understand all this talk about

copying to learn..it seems to me this is more

relevant to drawing / painting..When one approaches

a project, shouldn't "form following function" be the

key consideration? Afterwards, if certain stylistic

treatments can be added that would enchance the

design, then great — but to approach a design

with style in mind; that seems premature.

...

To copy Paul Rand's style? His "style" is the

byproduct of his design philosophy, study that

instead. If one studies the mentality of the

great masters, then it leads to a deeper

understanding of why such forms were chosen.

On Jan.06.2006 at 01:35 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> I'm not sure I understand all this talk about

copying to learn

From my own account, I can honestly say that this is how I learned to design. When I first saw the work of David Carson in the nineties while I was in school I tried to literally copy it and apply it to my projects. I failed miserably, I still have Quark 3.0 files, somewhere, of a basketball magazine I designed in my editorial class where I kerned the shit out of ITC Eras, made it big, made it outline and put it in strange places. It is perhaps the worst thing I have ever lay my fingers upon and yet it is one of the projects where I think I learned the most. I would then spend hours on my own doing fictional CD covers in Cranbrook style, and I never once pulled it off, but by simply trying I learned. Just like the people copying the Mona Lisa that Art mentioned.

Today, I couldn't layer two typefaces together to save my life. The key being that my understanding of design evolved, I was mimicking a certain style but absorving what made that style work or not and realizing how important the execution actually is, regardless of how simple, stupid or extravagant the style might seem.

You can learn by copying, as long as you don't make copying a lifelong habit.

On Jan.06.2006 at 02:58 PM
Unnikrishna Menon Damodaran’s comment is:

no one reading these words have ever really invented (or 'coined' or developed or 'conceptualized") anything new in design language - honest!

This is the headline of the year.

All SpeakUp readers should put this on your studio wall and remember it always and whenever your work is being accepted/rejected.

A big thank you to Art Chantry.

You can learn by copying, as long as you don't make copying

a lifelong habit

Copy means happy!!?

Lifting? What a euphemism! Somewhere between shoplifting and box lifting, I guess.

Appropriation? Filching? Stealing? Ah, Borrowing.

I can understand your cynicism. But you got the point anyway.

I am glad.

On Jan.08.2006 at 01:55 AM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

I'm glad too, UMD. Happy New Year, my friend.

Ah, I invented Italics but that was almost 600 years ago and I haven't had a good idea since.......but Arabic script is still so very elegant I thought you did a great job with that.

On Jan.08.2006 at 08:36 AM
art chantry’s comment is:

hey, mr. frankie L -

have you ever stopped to consider that maybe paul rand didn't develop his own style or philosophy, either, but perhaps possibly, just maybe, copped his "look" from others around him practicing graphic design at the same time? what do you know about graphic design and who and how it was created back then? i,personally, have spent many many years looking at and researching names in old design annuals and books that were contemporary to paul rand . i've also collected and devoured many many books that actually pre-date paul rand (imagine that!). i've studied magazine design and textbooks and endless small publications and brochures. i've also also read paul rand's writings and carefully looked at his work. i fail to understand why he is considered so special.

my conclusion is that paul rand's work was not so special. he sort of compiled the ideas and copied the styles of many others who actually pre-dated his work (he was sort of the hot-shot rebel hustler designer of his era). in fact, his great talent is that he managed to outlive his competition and declare himself a guru.

perhaps you doubt me? go do your own research (instead of reading other folks' research). i think you'll eventually get my point.

i don't see anything in paul rand that lester beall and william golden (for example) didn't do decades before paul rand. there are many many others, as well.

we are all post-modernists. therefore we are all copycats. we continually are taught to re-invent the wheel, but we only capable of making wheels. it's our trap.

sorry, but you really touched a nerve with your idolitry of saint paul.

On Jan.09.2006 at 10:54 PM
James D. Nesbitt’s comment is:

I have read most of the comments so far and feel the need to throw my two cents in. We are all lookie-loos and tend to devour that which excites us. For myself, this applies to all things designed, from architecture to communication design to music and art. Everything, wether I like to admit it or not, has an effect on my work. I do not spend hours pouring over design annuals searching for that cool new style on which to hang my hat, but to find out what the problem was and how it was addressed.

The thing that truly excites me about what we do is not always the end result, but how we get to the solution. The focus should not be on the visuals themselves or the "chosen ones" who tout themselves as designers of Messianic proportions, but the flexing of one's design and communication skills. A design that solves a problem while exciting the sences at the same time is far more valuable than following a particular style.

Yes, we are all influenced by each other's work. But the focus should be on the intent, content, and impact of the design, not its particular look or style. Styles come and go, but focused, useful, and impactful design skills and experience last a dozen lifetimes.

On Jan.10.2006 at 05:05 PM
Mr.Frankie L’s comment is:

Mr. Chantry, you've misdirected your bullets.

I NEVER said Paul Rand was a better designer

than Lester Beal, William Golden, or any of his

contemporaries. In fact, I agree with you on that

point. I also agree with you that Paul Rand was

NOT an original. He even said so himself — merely

synthesized the European idealogies and were

amongst the first American GD'ers to embrace it.

The previous post was directed at an earlier

comment regarding a student who tried to copy

Paul Rand's style, to which I argued, one should

try to learn from Rand's design philosophy. Thus,

this student should be reading up on sources such

as Le Corbusier (which influenced his beliefs).

As a matter of fact, that student should also

study Lester Beal, W. Golden, and etc..

On Jan.10.2006 at 05:34 PM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

So from what your saying, it seems like Paul Rand got around a bit. I recall him citing Corbu in his books (none of which I have in my personal library), but what about the others like Beal and Golden? How do they factor into Rand's creative matrix?

On Jan.10.2006 at 10:14 PM
Mr.Frankie L’s comment is:

..but what about the others like Beal and Golden? How do they factor into Rand's creative matrix?

From what I know, since they were all pioneers

of Modernist design in America, perhaps they also

shared a sense of comradery. However, I wasn't

trying to suggest that Beal and Golden influenced

Paul directly, or vice versa.

I meant to say that Rand, Beal, and Golden were

all members in the same club during a similar time

span. Therefore, if one was to study Paul, it is only fair

they at least read up on the above mentioned because

like Mr. Chantry had mentioned, Paul wasn't above them,

he just outlived them.

On Jan.11.2006 at 10:02 AM
Jason Tselentis’s comment is:

OK. We've beaten the appropriation thing up, but one issue in this essay has not been dealt with: fame. So many readers focused on the "borrowing" nature of said designer's process, that they overlooked something in the closing remarks of the essay... It may take a while, but someday I’ll be the imitated designer in those books, and I’ll be both flattered and rich enough to buy a whole bunch of design books to continue fueling my own ambitions.

Perhaps we focused on appropriation because we value process over all else, we value the “signature” that we create. When we’re accused of appropriation or borrowing, we grow defensive; if we see something that looks familiar, we won’t hesitate to question its origins. Why not chastise somebody with stars in their eyes, garnering attention, awards, or fame by means of appropriation or at worst, stealing? The most revealing aspect of the above comments is that designers are okay with fame, and we see nothing wrong with a publication-worthy novice obsessed with making their work look like everyone else’s, “Hey! I’m over here, look at me, I’m the next greatest thing!”

What ever happened to doing the job well, doing good work? The student in this essay wants nothing more than to gaze at their own reflection in a mirror of their own making, and maybe we're all okay with that.

On Jan.13.2006 at 06:24 PM
James D. Nesbitt’s comment is:

Good point Mr. Tselentis. Therein lies the difficulty. I'm the first to admit that I hold process and good work over all else, but I must also admit that an ego stroke now and then can be quite satisfying.

The problem arises when a desinger is more interested in stroking their ego than attending to the problem they were hired to solve in the first place. It is when you are completely successful at solving the problem and pushing the visual communication envelope in an interesting, exciting way that the magic happens. Personally, I'm far more interested in a designer's work when the the process is solid first. The accolades may or may not come thereafter, but one can have the satisfaction of a job well done versus being viewed as a hack who is simply interested in the next style and applies it regardless of required outcome.

OK, soap box now vacant. NEXT!

On Jan.16.2006 at 03:40 PM
dan’s comment is:

Unfortunately a lot of designers appear that they have graduated with a degree in hiding their sources... or poorly attempting to! I think the best comments here are while being a student this is great (to copy > emulate other designers & their styles) and how students should learn, but perhaps the last paper/class/topic taken should be how to sight your sources or stop appropriating..!?

Or perhaps all design should have footnotes like this idea 'referenced' from so and so - therefore removing the confusion and clearly establishing what’s appropriated/copied etc and thus giving credit when possible to the original idea… lol not really an option. But anyhow, what happens when you graduate do you just go cold turkey on the appropriation thing? I’m hoping by then it’s out of the blood but these days I think a lot of graduates are hooked on appropriation. Appropriation the Designer/s Drug.

Sorry about the drug analogy but it might actually be reality - or not..?

On Jan.18.2006 at 07:41 AM
James D. Nesbitt’s comment is:

I'll have to agree with you Dan. I think its all in the quest to grab that golden ADC cube. What folks don't realize is that the guy got the award for adding something to the pot, not copying it... usually. ;)

On Jan.18.2006 at 02:41 PM
Thomas Jockin’s comment is:

I see where Nesbitt and dan are coming from, I would take it even one more step- most students in graphic design are flat out delusional and lazy.

Talk to any of my peers and ask why they're at Parsons and you'll get 9 out of 10:

"To make a lot of money"

last time i checked the average income for a entry level graphic designer in NYC it was around 30,000-35,000.

nothing amazing there.

Of course most students don't know that/ don't care.

They just want to do something they "like" (notice not love), make shit load of money without much effort and go skipping to a grassy field going;

* La-de-da-life-is-swell-I'm going to be the next Sagmeister!*

with that kind of attitude, how could you ever expect the kind of blood, sweat, tears that creating anything of beautiful substance, that will stand the test of time requires?

the easy way out is just to whip out that deisgn annual and copy away!

call it appropriation, borowing, whatever; I call it laziness & cowardly

On Jan.22.2006 at 03:03 AM
Jason’s comment is:

last time i checked the average income for a entry level graphic designer in NYC it was around 30,000-35,000

Can anybody else attest to this? My god, if this is right I really do believe the saying, "If you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere."

On Jan.22.2006 at 10:56 AM
another graphic design student’s comment is:

I am a graphic design student from The Netherlands. This year I started to write my thesis about this subject, appropriation. Sometimes in class I feel very frustrated with students who bring in their sketches, only with elements from Google. And when I read this essay many questions come up in my mind. I think it's not bad to get inspiration from books and use images from Google. Every student needs this to develop himself.

But what I see in my class is that students don't think for themselves anymore. The most important thing in making good graphic design is coming up with an idea, having a concept, a good reason why you make a design. And then you make your design aesthetic in the right way. In this essay it's annoying that the writer talks about making cool stuff, or making cooler stuff. Does he ever think about having a concept and a process, or is he just copying work from books that he thinks are cool? I think it works the same way using images from Google. It's ok if you have thought about your assignment and have an idea of how you are going to make it. Of course you can use images from Google to make your sketches clear. But if you don't have any idea what you are going to do with your assignment and look up images in Google, then Google thinks for you and you use associations from other people. As a graphic designer you have to get your own solutions, creating your own ideas.

On Jan.24.2006 at 04:37 AM