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I love the clean style but I feel like whenever I'm given a design project I research and I see all of these templates with these cool diagonals and curves. I want to utilize the style but I feel like I am stealing. The line between stealing and be inspired by is a very grey area to me. So I panic and create a grid and produce another linear design. I just want to be able to produce a different look expand my creative range. I've included a link below.

enter image description here

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    please link images and dont force people to go to a random internet location – joojaa Aug 28 '16 at 19:34
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    Sorry about that I added a link. – WorkInProgress Aug 28 '16 at 22:40
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Some thoughts first.

There is a chance the feeling of stealing could be because you try to explore a finished product too deeply and not the general idea, the initial feeling.

1) Do not look for detail

As a first step, instead of seeing your idea as the image you posted, try just to see a blurred, non-detailed image:

enter image description here

This is the same process as the one you perform, for example, doing an image search. You first see a low-res image, and something catches your attention. It is not detailed observing it is a "first strike".

Colors, shape, contrast, saturation...

2) Methodology

The design should have a scientific method approach:

  • Observation
  • Hypothesis
  • Experimentation
  • Comprobation
  • Thesis

One "non" declared part of the scientific approach is the refutation of different hypothesis, and we assume as designers that other approaches are not right... without seeing them!

We think that we should not use curved lines... and therefore we do not experiment with that approach, just because!.

If we have a methodology, specifically for the hypothesis+experimentation part, we can explore in a layered fashion different constructive elements.

Background, color, shape, font, space, equilibrium, size, proportion, etc.

If we apply this methodology to the point 1, the subconscious idea that stroke us when we see another persons design, we can grab a base idea, not a detailed, finished, digested, developed idea.

3) The fundamentals of design... Experimentation

Play and experiment with the original case, applying the basic methodology. You now could discard some cases.

Evolve simple steps. For example, for shape: Straight lines, simple curves, more complex curves.

enter image description here

4) Expand your basic set of exploration topics

Be demanding on your exploration of this vocabulary. Mix them, shaken and stirred them!

Equilibrium, disequilibrium, perspective, meaning, iconography, symbolism, semiotics, contrast, contrast of colors, tone contrast, hue contrast, contrast of size, contrast of ideas...

How about some glossiness to the photo, some 3D effects, HDRI look, motion blur, digital matrix effects, quantum tunneling exploding gluon quarks effects...

5) Study the past and evolution

In the history of art this was the experimentation that took place. They grabbed a concept and developed a way of seeing things trough that. Impressionism, cubism, futurism, hyper-realism...

Some other "looks" were dictated because of technological limitations, for example flat silk print to make posters, duo-tone images to reduce costs.

This exploration could leave you not to make a "retro look" for example just because is in trend, but because you found the beauty of the approach to simplify an idea.

Study the past, design for the future.

6) Additional note.

I will steal the quote that Hans stole form Picasso

Good artists copy, great artists steal.

And I will try to go deep on that. A copy machine can... well... copy. Stealing means that you make that part of you. If the elements you are grabbing do not form an intrinsic part of you and your design, they will probably not work, at least for you.

  • Great answer Raf! Only thing I'd add is when experimenting to also consider existing motifs that might help. Like in this case the animals and their teeth are so prominent in the photos, I could imagine either the logo or maybe one of the bars being bitten. – Ryan Sep 6 '16 at 12:54
  • Good point. I like this topic a lot, so I probably will add some aditional tips later. – Rafael Sep 6 '16 at 15:49
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Good artists copy, great artists steal.

—Pablo Picasso

Your work will never be uniquely yours. Everybody steals from everybody. The creative thieves will want to improve on their ill-gotten gains and the result is progress. Mondrian did it, Picasso did it, The Beatles, Dylan and so on. The world is a better place for it.

  • Could you elaborate on going from getting inspired / stealing to putting it into practice? – Ryan Sep 1 '16 at 21:47
  • The full quote ends with "And I don't even bother to do either anymore!" (not really) :) – Yorik Sep 2 '16 at 15:15
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Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to."

—Jim Jarmush

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    Could you elaborate on going from getting inspired to putting it into practice? – Ryan Sep 1 '16 at 21:47
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Its a tough one to really pin-point and as others have mentioned there are many great artists out there who are open about how other work has influenced theirs. It is nothing new and nothing to be ashamed of. You can see the differences quite clearly in something that is plagiarised and something that is influenced.

In response to learning how to open up your own knowledge base, that takes trial and error and tonnes of research. Once you understand that design is a lifelong process you will see that there is no need to try and rush things.

You need to develop your understanding of why certain elements work and why an artist or a designer has decided to use a particular technique. I spent many years trying to recreate The Designers Republic style, but because I did not have the basic knowledge of the subject I could never achieve the polished look of their finished work.

You need to understand and critique projects, instead of just seeing something you like and trying to replicate it. Break the project down and identify what you like and what you dislike about it. We have a huge amount of design at our fingertips but unfortunately that can also be a bad thing. We don't take enough time to understand the make up of a project or fail to see how many hours of research has actually gone into it. It is a curse of our generation that success is expected almost instantly.

Reading the correct books can also help to open up your mind creatively, as well as becoming culturally aware by observing architecture, going to talks on a variety of subjects, spending time in nature (that last one sounds very woo-woo but I find it perfect for allowing my mind to test out new ideas).

Try out these books and see it it can help you develop your mind further:

The Vignelli Canon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Vignelli-Canon-Massimo/dp/3037782250/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473072179&sr=8-1&keywords=vignelli+canon

Grid Systems https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grid-Systems-Graphic-Design-Communication/dp/3721201450/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473072221&sr=8-1&keywords=grid+systems

How To https://www.amazon.co.uk/graphic-design-things-explain-better/dp/0500518262/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473072259&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=how+to+michael+bieruit

Lateral Thinking https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lateral-Thinking-Introduction-Edward-Bono/dp/0091955025/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473072302&sr=8-2&keywords=lateral+thinking+de+bono

The Creative Thinkers Toolkit https://www.amazon.co.uk/Great-Courses-Teaching-Company-Creative/dp/1629970255/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473072332&sr=8-2&keywords=the+creative+thinkers+toolkit

Your ideas are only as good as the information you expose you mind to. There are probably hundreds of books and topics people could tell you about but these are ones that have helped me greatly in the last 6 months.

Design is a lifelong journey and you need to fully immerse yourself in the subject to stand out from others.

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Designing is like bodybuilding.

Have patience to workout (train) long years or take a shortcut with steroids/oil (steal).

Both will give you nice physique (earning money).


All beginners after learning the basics of designing need to put some more years for studying/practicing in the fields of typography, photography, 3D modeling and texturing, digital painting, and traveling to different places.

Socialize along the way and do freelance with connections. Make it really good and put it in the portfolio. Value your work and be confident when selling your design to your biggest client.

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    I disagree with the analogy. Bodybuilding is much more finite and objective. There could be some minor aesthetic differences between two body builders, but either they have big muscles or they don't, regardless of whether they trained for years or took steroids. Design is subjective, there are any number of ways to express the same idea/concept (yet none are completely original). – DLev Sep 2 '16 at 15:41
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Just as everyone told you, learn to steal, that itself is not a solution but it will sure help. What I would recommend you personally is to read a lot, read about art history, buy all of your favorite graphic designer's book, start blurring the line between aesthetics and design. Forget about minimalism or any other fancy word, start experimenting. Maybe the next time you wonder what font you're going to pick just grab a pen and draw it, then scan it and play around with it.

The line "Good artists copy, great artists steal." also means that you are NOT expected to plagiarize or copy anyone's style, take it and put your own twist to it, you can have a super clean design made by someone, print it, draw and write on it, slap a random filter afterwards and it's now yours. You can grab a Swiss poster grid, make an extremely minimal and appealing typography to go with it, then just delete the title and handwrite it in a very messy way and it's now yours. This is creativity, it will only come with experience and experimentation, if you dont experiment, you wont go too far. Dont forget to try out different tools, pens, sharpies, brushes, different software, learn 3D, photography, painting, etc ...

There's an extremely good book I'd recommend you to read to expand your creative knowledge, it's nothing lifechanging but it sure is a great book ( https://www.amazon.com/Forget-Rules-Learned-Graphic-Design/dp/0823018636 ), here's a good overview article about this particular book ( http://retinart.net/graphic-design/forget-rules-graphic-design/ ). Get all the Saul Bass and Paul rand books, mix up their styles, what would a clean Saul Bass design look like with collaged a 1850 ink illustration ? What would the IBM logo look like if it was poorly handdrawn ? Why wouldn't it be good design ? Experiment, ask yourself questions, and you will eventually have your own style.

Sorry for the poor formatting, dont hesitate to ask if you have any questions.

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I use to struggle with that too in my early years. Today I have the chance to have a young graphic designer under my wing, and i will tell you just like i told him. "YOU WILL NEVER CREATE WHAT HASN'T BEEN CREATED BEFORE, BUT YOU AMELIORATE IT OR REMAKE STUFF TO YOUR OWN SAUCE".

Its just like @Hans said about the picasso quote. Great Artist steal. But that doesn't mean you should copy and paste somebody's work. It means Copy it, Tweak it to your own taste, then paste it. Thats the best way to learn art. And you will find out that with time, you won't even need to copy anymore, but instead you will starve for inspiration. That's the stage im going true now. I literally inspire myself from anything i see, anything is a potential new way of designing stuff, I travel, i walk in the park, i take pictures, Literaly ANYTHING, and that led to learn things i never thought i will have to learn. All i wanted to be is a graphic designer, I ended up into motion graphic, video production, 3d Graphics, today im a Front end developper who's taking courses in photography lol. And believe me even after 8 years i still don't think i reached the peak. And i don't think there is any finish line. Its just a matter of levels. And your level now is to copy someone else, learn how he did what, then grow from it, and that takes a lot of patience. Its a constant learning process. Read books about creativity, find out who's your favourite designer in the industry, Get into forums, I will advise you to check these guys https://www.digitalartsonline.co.uk , They drop constant new ways and techniques to do digital art stuff.

So that's my advise to you. You will definitely get there . Don't be ashamed to copy someone's work. we all do that believe me, because its by copying that you learn how the guy you copying from, did what he did, and next time you will be able to do it yourself without checking his work.

Be Patient and passionate my friend.

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