The more time I spend working with and looking at design, the more amazed I become with the amount of visual communication there is in our world. There is virtually a blizzard of advertising and communication happening 24 hours a day, every day, all year, all around the world. So allow me to put on my hat and gloves and try to dig my way through the touchy subject of plagiarism.
I’m sure you’ve heard the term no two snowflakes are identical. While that statement is true, it could also be said no two snowflakes a completely unique. Every snowflake after all is a snowflake. All are principally made of the same materials and are created in primarily the same way. A similar principle holds true in the world of visual communications.
Anything visual is essentially made up of photography or illustrations, colour and type. This is true for websites, brochures, logos, billboards, and packaging, nearly anything visual. Go ahead and try to design something visual and not use anything from the aforementioned list. You’ll find it’s quite impossible. You’re probably thinking by now “Get to the point professor!” Ok, fine, I will. The point is this; design is a finite thing. There are only so many fonts, colours, shapes and pictures in the world and only so many unique combinations to go around. At some point one design is going to bear resemblance to another.
This isn’t a bad thing; it’s just the reality of our industry. Now I want to address the bigger picture here. When two designs bear some resemblance it does not mean plagiarism has occurred. Sometimes similarities are coincidence. Sometimes they are the result of something stored in our subconscious and drawn on later. Sometimes they are purposeful, because it’s good communication. The point is all designs have to coincide in a gigantic and competitive world. Let me be clear, I in no way condone the stealing of someone else’s work. I am solely talking about the instances when two “original works” cross paths and have similarities.
I will conclude with one specific example, our friend, the speech bubble. Where would mobile phones and instant messaging services be without it? As I was writing this, I found this post on another blog with many good examples of how this visual has been used over and over again. Many of them are distinguishable from each other, but make no mistake, it’s the same idea. The objective at the end of the day is to find ways to allow your communication pieces to coincide and stand apart from others it may come into contact with. It’s a tall order, but the best agencies and designers find ways to do it.