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Originality and Good Copying


I passed Starbucks this morning and had to do a double take. Their summer promotion owes more than a small debt of gratitude to a Coke campaign from a few years back I think. Two things surprised me; firstly, as designers we are all magpies. But we typically make a bit more effort to cover the tracks back to what we have purloined (or been inspired by). Secondly, Starbucks is a big brand with strong iconography (this feels less distinctively them than is typical for the brand).

Does it matter? Not to 99.9% of the population, who wouldn’t give a fig. But unoriginal work reflects badly on any brand. It suggests they are happy to come second. I guess there is a fine line between copying and the Picasso line about  ‘great artists steal’. And even the greatest designers walk it daily.  When it is done with imagination it can be a jumping off point for a classic in its own right. Consider Milton Glaser’s’ Dylan poster, which owes a debt of gratitude to a self-portrait by Marcel Duchamp (who was himself of course the father of the ‘readymade’ in art, with his recontextualised urinal).

I guess it comes down to being honest with ones self. We all know in our heart of hearts if we have lifted something, or built upon it. And for most of us, we didn’t go into this business because we wanted to crank out copies – where’s the joy in that? More importantly, what good brand would ever intentionally want to turn up apparently wearing someone else’s clothes?



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