I am working on a school research about copyrights and I need to hear some opinions about how to handle this case:

You have been commissioned to design a new website. It has taken you a long time to come up with fresh creative ideas, but you still have to design an icon set for the home page, about, contact, site map and search sections. You decide to “borrow” a set of icons from another online website. You copy them to the desktop and paste them onto your sample pages. At the presentation next morning, your client loves your design, especially the icons.

  1. Do you tell him you just included them because you ran out of time?

  2. How to ask the real designer for permission to use them?

  • 1
    Welcome to Graphic Design SE. Your question appears like you are asking us to do your homework for you, which is something which we do not like to do. Can you elaborate what you found out yourself and where you are struggling?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Feb 11, 2018 at 17:18
  • I don't like this question because there's too many open source placeholder icons out there for this to happen today. But, I do like questions related to copyright so I'm conflicted. Feb 12, 2018 at 15:44

3 Answers 3


Well, this is opinion......

  • The reality is you should never seek client approval for a design you are not confident can be implemented. This includes a design containing elements which may not be permissible. Clients should only ever see designs which are both possible and legal in my opinion. You are much better off showing rudimentary shapes where icons will be placed than showing off a set of icons you later discover you can't use.

  1. Yes. If the client is expecting original, copyrightable, work you need to be upfront and explain that the icons are not original. Any designer or artist passing off the work of others as their own is being unethical. That being posted, the client might not care.
  2. You send an email or place a phone call. Explain what you want to use, show an example of the usage and ask politely. If you get a response, then you adjust -- yes for a price, then you determining if the cost is worth it. -- No. Then you can not use the icons and need to explain to the client they need to be replaced. Or you replace them with icons you can use and hope the client doesn't notice. (You can't merely redraw the icons you don't have permission for)

There's no need to borrow icons you don't have permission to use.

There are websites with icon sets that are either free to use commercially - like those at openclipart, flaticon, etc, or icons sets that can be purchased from stock image sites.

  • 1
    Agreed. I think if this question is being taught in schools it's grossly outdated. Feb 12, 2018 at 15:47

1-Do you tell him you just included them because you ran out of time?

No, but you imply it: "The top navigation is there as placeholder. Today we are just looking at the main body content. If you like these icons I can make you something similar"

"These icons are here to show the basic idea. If you like these symbols in these locations I will create the final ones. I just wanted to be sure you approved the symbology before I put in the effort to draw unique ones."

"I ran out of time. WE don't have the rights to those icons, but if you like them we can buy them or I can draw you similar things."

2-How to ask the real designer for permission to use them? Just ask. If they came as a set they are probably for sale. If you found them on a random site they may not be created by the people that made that site.

Home Page, About, Contact, Site Map and Search are well established icons. There are many free versions, plus these are fun to make. Well established means certain symbols are easily recognizable: magnifying glass for search, little house for home etc. Look online for ideas then draw your own set to suit the site.

Make your own

Get permission to use others

Use free ones without restrictions


Buy them

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