We’ve all heard the saying, ” great minds think alike.” But, when it comes to graphic design, that’s not always a good thing. You don’t want to be like everyone else. You want to be unique. You want your designs to stand out from the rest. So, how do you do that? How do you create great graphic designs that are original and unique to you? In this article, I’m going to show you how great graphic designers have this in common: they steal like artists!
Great Graphic Designers Are Thieves… Kind Of
I want to talk to you guys about an important topic: people stealing your work. A lot of people get super upset about this. I’ve seen it happen to countless designers; it’s happened to me, and I’ve heard other people talk about it. In fact, I watched a video recently with Chris Do, and he was talking about this and other people stealing your work. So, I want to give you guys some advice when it comes to people taking your work.
I’m going to cover a lot of different angles with this, so let’s dive right in. This isn’t going to be too long of an article, but I want to make sure you get a good mindset, get some good perspective around the topic, and you can walk away with something tangible that you can use with your clients and with just future projects in general. Most importantly, to start this off, I want to really just share with you that really good design, and really good artists, are all about replicating the world around us. There is nothing original anymore, especially in the times that we live in.
There Is Nothing New Under the Sun
Everything is some sort of replication or clone of something else. Something that we were inspired by, sometimes that’s a conscious thought, and sometimes it’s a subconscious thought. So I want to first make sure that you understand that piece. If you think you’re the only one with this idea, you’re not. So I want you to get over that ego and that pride. You’re not the only one with good ideas. There are lots of other people. And what a lot of people do is replicate things that inspire them.
So, when you’re getting people who are doing this, you’re actually getting a compliment from them. And you know, one of the most famous artists in the world, Pablo Picasso, said that “good artists copy; great artists steal.” So if you’re an artist and people are replicating your work, you need to take this as a compliment. There are three things I want to give you initially here throughout this article that I want you to walk away with right now.
Copyright Court Claims Aren’t Worth the Time
Number one, I don’t want you to focus any of your valuable time and energy on them – it’s not worth it. Don’t go through the hassle of hiring a lawyer or taking them to court for copyright infringement unless it’s an egregious and outright theft. You’re fighting an uphill battle; it’s just not worth your energy. Your time is too precious and valuable, and worth too much, to get focused on somebody else trying to replicate your work.
Great graphic designers always start at the bottom, because that is how any business gets built. They are always curious, they are passionate about their field, and they are never satisfied with the status quo. They also tend to be woefully underpaid, and filing a lawsuit is expensive and time-consuming. It is very literally not worth the time or the effort it will cost you.
Great Graphic Designers Are Unreplicable
The second one is that nobody can replicate you. People are buying you, not what you’re doing. There are amazing artists out there that are honestly better than you. But at the end of the day, what people are buying and what they’re purchasing and what they’re getting behind is you and the brand that you’ve built.
If you’re showing frustration, if you’re getting angry, or if you’re getting upset because other people are taking your design work and using it, it shows a lack of confidence and a lack of just pride and ego. Or too much pride and too much ego that you have around your work. You’re not the greatest in the world, maybe you’re pushing to become that but you can’t get hung up on that. That’s only going to take you away and take away your energy from focusing on becoming a much better artist day in and day out.
Your Mindset Matters
The third thing I want you to think about is the mindset. The thing between your ears is important, remember that imitation is the highest form of flattery nowadays. If I see somebody copying my work or using one of my logos, or revising one of my logos, I take that as a compliment. I feel very validated, and you should too, in the work that you’re doing now.
I’m at the place now where I don’t do as much graphic design work as I used to. I mostly just focus on my personal passion projects, designing stuff for my youtube channel or my wife’s company. But I have artists that I work with, and I’ve seen my artists’ work actually taken and being used in other places. And I even get a little defensive sometimes, but that’s natural. But you want to let that go and just realize you’re doing something right if people are replicating your work.
Great Graphic Designers Think Alike
A quick example that I think would be really appropriate to share in this article is a video like the one in this article. There are a lot of videos that I’ve recorded–over 400 now–and there have been countless people that have taken my videos, downloaded them, and uploaded them to their own YouTube channel to build their own following on YouTube instead of creating their own videos.
Now, that is literal theft obviously, because they’re taking my video, all my time, my energy, and my money that I put into them and putting it on their channel and pulling people away. But at the end of the day, it’s spreading my message, spreading my brand, and spreading my name to more people. So I really don’t get hung up on that. The only thing I ask of people–and this is what you should be doing too–is if somebody’s going to use your work, at least attribute it back to you and give you some credit for that work. As long as you’re getting credit for that work and it leads them back to you, I wouldn’t get too upset or hung up on that.
Great Graphic Designers Make Exceptions for Client Copyright Infringement
I want to make sure I mention this because sometimes clients will steal your work. Maybe your client knows how to use Photoshop and you’ll design something and send it over to them, and they’ll take it and edit it – and mess up your work. That right there is unacceptable, and that is grounds for firing that client immediately. Then you can send them a cease and desist if you want.
But when it comes to other artists and other creatives, I wouldn’t get hung up on it. However, you want to make sure you protect yourself and these are expectations that you should be setting with your client up front, whether you put proof over it or you put a password over it or however you send it. You want to make sure that you’re protecting your work, but at the same time don’t get hung up on it if other people are replicating or copying your work.
Great Graphic Designers Out-Execute the Imitations
The second part of this article that I want to talk to you guys about is execution. Now, this is really important. Execution is a big key to why I’m no longer intimidated by anybody taking my design work – even clients. Because the truth is, there are three things that I’m going to do that nobody else can do.
The first reason is that I’m so passionate, so motivated, and so driven that I work really, really fast. More than anything else, it’s the speed of the work that you want to be focused on instead of worrying about these other people and trying to get them not to copy your work or replicate your work. You could be taking that time and energy and using it to create more work and create it faster. This is going to give you more time back, and you’re going to be able to create more speed.
The faster I got, the more efficient I became at design. This allowed me to pump out more designs, and people couldn’t keep up. You’re going to become a mountain worth of content – whether it’s graphic design, logo designs, web designs, motion designs – whatever it is you’re going to create, and they’re never going to be able to keep up with that. You’re going to be an inspiration and a leader in the industry if you’re able to do that and focus on speed.
The second way to out-execute everybody else is by producing more quantity. So I’m leveraging other creatives on my team to produce 10 times the amount of work. When I post my work, a lot of the stuff you’re seeing is not stuff that I designed anymore. It’s stuff from my team. So there’s no way if my work is being replicated that anybody will be able to keep up with what we’re doing because they would have to keep up with the pace of four, five, six, or even 10 people.
So think about that when you’re over-executing: Leverage the other people on your team to delegate certain tasks out within a project, like a logo design. There’s a lot that goes into logo design research and planning, which you can delegate out. This will speed up the process and get more quantity, which will make it hard for people to out-execute you.
The third piece to this and out executing them is complementary skills. There really aren’t many things in life that beat skill, and I think the skill sets that you continue to grow in by watching more tutorials, watching more training videos, reading more books, pursuing more personal growth–you’re going to become more skilled, and you will have a variety of complementary tools at your disposal. Don’t focus on the negative; focus on the positive and complementing all of your gifts, on top of adding more skills.
So there are a lot of really good benefits to actually being focused on developing your skills and becoming more and more skilled in specific areas. As I’ve grown as an entrepreneur and a creative, I’ve learned skills in other areas that have made me even more deadly. Like actually understanding how to write copy or do marketing strategy or lead generation – there are very few people out there with the width and depth of skill that I have. As a marketing agency, as a creative, that is why I’m positioned where I am. I’ve built the following that I have by following these tenets, so this is something you should take to heart as well: think about speed, quantity, and skill.
Great Graphic Designers Understand the Fundamentals
The third part of this article is preaching the importance of fundamentals. Now, what’s missing from a lot of these imitation designs are the fundamentals. They’re looking to you and replicating your work because they’re missing education on design fundamentals. They also don’t understand copyright law, which makes this a great opportunity to talk about copyright law.
Education vs Litigation
We see people stealing our work, then we make a graphic or make an image or make a video, or talk about copyrights and how they work. So you want to actually understand that you need to share the fundamentals of things with people so they can get an understanding and build a foundation. I’ve done this myself and it’s actually helped a lot.
Mentorship Creates Great Graphic Designers
They can’t replicate the way that you or I problem-solve because of our history, life experience, the things we’ve done good and bad, and because of that, they’re never going to be able to problem-solve the way we can. With the stellar advice and skills we’ve been given, our mentors have taught us how to problem-solve. Those mentors have made me into a unique person when it comes to problem-solving, which is why clients seek me out. This is because of my high level of skill, which I have attained due to the people I’ve sought out for advice. This is another lesson for you – you need to seek out the best of the best if you want to be one of the best.
Failure Is the Only Option
Another piece of the fundamentals that they don’t understand and you may not even understand this yet is when people are replicating your work – they’re going to fail. Listen to me – they’re going to fail in certain areas of replicating your work. They’re not going to execute it perfectly, and the areas they fail in are opportunities for them to develop their own style. Just a quick story: I’ve mentioned this before – there was a guy, Andy Kitchen, who was a nightclub, nightlife, bar, and restaurant flyer designer. He did a lot of amazing work. I replicated a lot of the stuff he did, but there were areas where I just didn’t have the same abilities or style, so I filled those holes with my own unique style, personality, and experience – like a little bit of radio, marketing, and advertising. I approached the way I laid my stuff out a little differently than he did, which made me unique.
Great Graphic Designers Create New Graphic Designers
So this is actually a benefit when people go to try to replicate your work. They’re going to have shortcomings that are going to separate them from you and that separation is going to help them develop their own style. So don’t get intimidated by that. This is something that you should really take to heart and live by. Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Focus on Becoming Great Graphic Designers, Not on Fighting Flattery
The last piece of the puzzle is that you need to keep learning. To do this, you need to spend a significant amount of your time on it. You’re on the right track, you’re reading this article, so you need to spend time learning and developing your skills so you can outpace everybody else in the industry. You look at people like Gary Vee or Grant Cardone – those guys are obsessed. You can be obsessed or be average, but keep in mind that average doesn’t get you anywhere. You can take this opportunity to continue to learn by doing classes on Udemy and Skillshare, and reading books.
One of the books I would really like you to read and that I think would be really helpful for you, specifically, is a book called Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. This is a really good book – it’s pretty short to go through, and it’s actually fun to go through – it’s going to set your mind right and help you realize that nothing is original. People are replicating your work; you should take it as a compliment. This book is going to really help you get a deep understanding of how you can implement some of those things and look at inspirations in your life and how that’s actually fallen into your work.
I bet you there are people out there that would say the same thing about you. Great graphic designers would say that you’ve probably taken their work as well. But the truth is you’ve developed your own identity your own style, with the shortcomings in there, and that’s what makes your work unique. Thank you guys so much for reading. If you haven’t already joined my community, you’re looking to level up as a creative web designer, motion designer, or graphic designer. Please check out the Instagraphics Pro Network on Facebook, home to great graphic designers and exceptional people. We’d love to have you guys there! I look forward to seeing you guys in the next article. Until next time, I’m Adrian Boysel, and as always, keep looking up.