This is a story about that one time I almost stole someone else's design from the Internet.
It started with this image on Pinterest:
via Eight Hour Day
I was enthralled by the clean lines, and I loved how each symbol related to a keyword. The image was originally pinned for an idea for a tattoo, but I thought the symbols would be amazing as embroidered hoops, singular or in combination, as it certainly would be both interesting and unique. I envisioned them to be a major seller, and within minutes had already developed a plan of attack in my head when I decided to go in search of the source, hoping the glyphs came from some ancient language and would therefore be usable, but naturally, the image was sourceless. So were the other nine or ten pins of the same image that I clicked on, but thankfully one had a caption that sent me to Google and lo and behold, I found the source. Eight Hour Day Design & Illustration features the work of Nathan Strandberg and Katie Kirk, creators of the glyphs shown above, and for a brief few minutes I almost stole their work.
It all happens so easily. You see a striking image or idea posted out there on the Internet and think you can easily copy it, replicate it, or use it in some other creative way to make it your own. That was my exact plan- take these symbols and turn them into something I could sell. The problem is, these symbols are not universal (as are, say, the structure of the constellations)- they were completely developed by someone for a specific client, and I'm sure it took them a very long time to perfect their concept. Using those glyphs in any capacity without permission is stealing their work, flat out.
When it came down to it, after searching multiple pins with no results and getting frustrated, I was ready to give up on trying to find the source, ready to just use the glyphs. Use them now, explain later. Except that felt wrong. Really, really, wrong, because deep down, I knew that someone must have created them, and by using them I would be (really) knowingly stealing them. I may have been able to sell some hoops but I would have felt guilty every time.
In the debate on "inspired" design, there are obviously exceptions to the rule: common processes, techniques, and materials that used again and again cannot entirely be considered original. You can't stop a person or company from using the same fabric as you, or wrapping gemstones in the same way. If I wanted to come up with my own glyphs to use, for example, I could do that. It would be playing off their idea, but the actual symbols would be my own. I would have been inspired by their idea but the actual work would be original, which is the basis of how most fonts are created. There is, however, a huge difference in taking an idea and creating your own, and using something that someone else has created in entirety.
The moral of the story: always err on the side of caution. Check, check, and recheck for sources. Make sure that an idea does not come from someone else's hard work, unless you have express permission to use it. When in doubt, or when something is sourceless, don't use it. Make your work as original as possible. There is a fine line in design between an original idea and an inspired one. You may play off a color scheme, a common phrase, or use a similar technique, but the heart of the idea should be your own. Using something word for word, or in this case symbol for symbol, or even copying a signature design style is indeed stealing. I would have felt horrible knowing I took someone's work for my own, and I would have been horrified if they found out.
Have you ever almost had this happen to you? Do you check for sources, or has taking what you see become a common thing?