Recently, my team stumbled upon a paid theme that quite blatantly stole the Semplice.com homepage design. It’s not the first time I've seen a website or page design that looked eerily similar to something we've designed in the past. We were a bit puzzled by it and sent a friendly note to find out why, but we ultimately laughed about it in Slack and moved on.
A week later, we shared a new page featuring our favorite type foundries and typefaces. While the response was overwhelmingly positive, I did see a comment that made me think. “This is like a blogger posting about hidden gems,” it said with a sad face emoji. The implication: By sharing the resources we use for our work, we were making them accessible to others who might follow suit. We were making it easier for people to rip us off.
It’s a natural tendency for humans to protect what they find precious. I suppose it stems from survival instinct. We lean into this instinct with Semplice as we’ve found that people share it with their closest friends like a secret family recipe, something they don’t want too many others to know about. Semplice is “designers’ best kept secret.”
With travel blogging specifically, this makes more sense. In the article, “Loved to Death: How Instagram Is Destroying Our Natural Wonders,” The Ringer describes how our obsession with geotagging has led to overrun parks, endangered wildlife and people falling off cliffs in an effort to capture the perfect selfie. Thus, protecting “hidden gems” can legitimately benefit nature and protect humans and animals.
"If we are confident in our work, we are generous with our resources."
Hoarding our knowledge or resources as designers does no such thing. We may feel like we own an Illustrator trick, a specific typeface or even a certain style. We do everything we can to keep it to ourselves, thinking this gives us an advantage or makes us original. We believe copycats cheapen our work and hurt our business. When someone rips us off, we feel threatened.
As much as I understand and relate to this mindset, I believe it is detrimental to our community, to ourselves and the evolution of design itself. Open source software exists to propel innovation. Why doesn’t design work the same way?
I am not condoning plagiarism. Finding inspiration in someone’s work is one thing – stealing it is wrong. And a company stealing an individual artist’s work and reselling it is even worse. But the resources, tricks or knowledge we use to make our work? Give it away. Tell everyone you know.
Our advantage lies in our unique perspective and identity. If we are confident in our work, we are generous with our resources. We don’t fear someone ripping us off. We see that as a challenge to do something different. An opportunity to do the next thing worth copying.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!