Where do you personally draw the line between being inspired by a design and copying a design?

Where do you personally draw the line between being inspired by a design and copying a design? I’ve come across instances when I design something on my own and then either realize it’s very close to a design I’ve seen or I believe it may be, for lack of better expression, “too good” and find myself retracing my steps to ensure I’m not plagiarizing. Any advice for cases like those?
— @coffeebreakdown

This is a struggle for everyone. Being 'inspired by' or 'influenced by' are different. You have to accept that nothing is completely original and is more likely to be someone's interpretation of something. All great artists were inspired by other great artists and we frequently see them using this 'inspiration' in their art and music.

Many filmmakers pay homage to other films, but Tarantino takes things a step further by replicating exact moments from a variety of genres and smashing them together to create his own distinct vision.

But back to the question at hand, how do you stop yourself falling into a trap of copying other people's work either consciously or subconsciously?

One way that helps is to immerse yourself in a project for a set period of time such as a day for example. Spend time looking at pictures, doing sketches, creating mood boards and researching. But don't do any work. This is key.

Then the following day put all the reference material away and start doing the work without looking at any of that reference material you gathered from the day before. As you work, the most significant aspects from your research will seep through from your subconscious and you will create something new and most importantly, something original.

Unlike, it seems the work of photographer Tyler Shields whose originality of his work is questioned in the Vice article.


He's not unique, recently comedian The Fat Jew was exposed as joke thief by those in the world of Stand Up Comedy too.

'Comedian' The Fat Jew.

'Comedian' The Fat Jew.

My advice is that going back to try and make sure you're not plagiarizing someone isn't productive. You will always find something that is similar, which will make you undermine your art/music/film and all of the hard work and effort that went into it. Deep down you will know if you copied something and it's important to use that moral compass to make sure you don't fall into that trap.

Copying is learning, but it will only get you so far. It is a useful exercise if you are starting out and want to learn a certain skill, such as in a Photoshop tutorial, but to get past that and become a master of your craft, you need to push yourself to be as original as possible.l

An analogy from cooking might be: I can copy a recipe but that doesn't make me a good chef. If I learn to get better at cooking and then create a similar recipe, does that mean I copied it? No it doesn't.  The difference is that a good chef is a master of their craft and can create another recipe with ease. A novice can't stray from the recipe as they only know how to copy it. By copying, they are learning which is fine. The mistake is to claim the dish is their own creation.

My advice? Stop worrying, be honest with yourself and keep striving to gain a greater mastery of your craft so you have more experience and knowledge to draw on when you need to.