The Modern Sherwood Forest

For years, I struggled with finding the most original idea I could. To be renowned in my field, I thought that reinventing the wheel would put me at the top. Little did I know that inspiration for other designers and artists often came in the form of sources that they could pull ideas from. 

We have a postmodernistic world view, accepting that we have run out of original ideas and quickly moving on to the fact that artists much steal from each other to create new things. In a sense, this is a grim thought to think of originality as dead, but when you consider the amazing works we've seen since our society was declared to be post-modern it becomes apparent that the death of originality does not correlate to the depth of captivating interest. I believe that Duchamp touches on this with his chosen quote, "I don't believe in art, I believe in the artist." Even if someone takes an idea and makes it his own, it is the work of the artist that makes each piece so unique. We're able to have wonderfully individual art because of the power of the artist.

This practice should not be confused with plagiarism. The honest artist is the one who admits he steals, but tells you where he finds his ideas. This practice leads into imitation and emulation. If you use Pollock's exact same process in an art piece, it is impossible that your art will be the same. You have created a new piece of art while emulating an artist, and learned more about the artist, methods, and materials during that time. It seems that mimicking someone in this form is an intimate way of admiring their own work.

One of my heroes is Aaron Draplin, a graphic designer from Oregon. He's very forthright about his influence, specifically packaging and logos of the 40s and 50s. He calls it 'Rescue Efforts'. It'd be hard to chase back a distinct genealogy with so many collected influences, but his includes Saul Bass, Paul Rand, Eliot Motes, and Andy Warhol. He's a noted collector of unique objects and searches them out specifically. Check out this talk to be able to put his character in context (the selected part starts at 8:40).

This attitude is especially pertinent to graphic design. The culture leads itself directly to sharing and rebounding off of other designers. In most cases, it's celebrated. In the field of interactive UX, making sure we ALL steal the right ideas is important for the users we affect. I've also found that it makes a massive difference in the speed of my work, versus attempting to come up with my own ideas about patterns. I now assimilate resources and things I like, and then put the pieces together to create a piece of work that is distinctly mine.