Monthly Archives: April 2014

Walking the Fine Line Between Inspiration and Imitation

Nubby Twiglet | Walking the Fine Line Between Inspiration and Imitation

There’s such a fine line between inspiration and imitation. It’s so fine that in retrospect, I’ve crossed it a few times myself.

What is the difference between inspiration and imitation, though?

To me, inspiration consists of gathering imagery you love and creating a mood board. Designers do this for most projects to inform a client of the look and feel they’re going for. Inspiration can set the stage for what’s to come and that’s a good thing. Inspiration can help get the creative juices flowing and makes sure everyone is on the same page. I gather inspiration for every project I do.

On the other hand, imitation is knowingly lifting someone else’s design and claiming credit. I say “knowingly” because most of us have had instances where our work turned out eerily similar to someone else’s but we weren’t aware of it until after the fact. This happens sometimes and it’s completely normal because there’s only so many ways you can do something. We all get on similar brain waves.

I am flattered when someone is inspired by the work Branch does and I always get a thrill when I spot it popping up on their client mood boards. It means that the work we’ve produced is resonating somehow, in some way. I love that. Feeling like you’ve somehow inspired someone else’s work is an honor.

The dark side though is discovering that your work has been taken as-is, perhaps badly modified and written off as someone else’s. This has only happened a handful of times that I know of but when it did, I had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Back in 2009, when I was building up my freelance clientele, I released a PDF of my print portfolio on my blog, only to come across a version a few months later that had lifted my entire custom design including the cover, simply replacing a cropped close-up of my face with theirs. Everything else, from the fonts to page layouts to description lengths, was identical. If you’ve ever built a portfolio, you know how many months of hard work it can take to put together something even deceptively simple.

Another time, a well-known graffiti artist took my “mouth with pill” logo as-is. It was easy to spot because my original design had been illustrated from a photo of my mouth, mini fangs and all. The artist had printed my design on t-shirts and circulated it in a newsletter without my consent, claiming it as their own. I fired off a cease and desist which cleared up the issue by the next day day but it’s still not fun even thinking about going down that road.

5 Tips Before You Turn In Your Work

Even with endless amounts of research, there’s no surefire way to know if what you’ve created is too similar to someone else’s work. But, there are a few things you can do before you release it:

1. Do a gut check. Does it feel original to you? Have you truly created it from the heart? If you’ve knowingly pulled a little too much inspiration from a source, ask yourself what you can adjust.

2. Find little ways you can make your piece ownable. We all have access to the same programs, type families, shapes and stock images. Print out your piece, step back and figure out how you can further modify it. With Gala’s branding, it was a matter of adding small heart elements to her wordmark. With Olivine, it came down to adding a gold tip to the feather icon. For Blogcademy, it was about slicing and color blocking a basic B icon. Think of that one added twist that takes your design from expected to unique.

3. Ask a trusted source for feedback. A few weeks ago, I was working on branding for a client in an industry that was completely new to me. As the first round neared completion, my gut told me that while the branding looked solid, the icons were feeling a little too familiar. I couldn’t quite place why, though. I called Joey in and he confirmed my suspicion — the icons were too simplistic and probably wouldn’t be able to be trademarked. Because of that, I pushed hard for more unique concepts in the next round. An extra curve here, an extra flourish there. My client ended up picking a much more original option. In the end, we all felt better.

4. Sketch, sketch, sketch. I am not an illustrator by any means but I do make sure to do a ton of thumbnail sketches and map out concepts before I ever get started on designs. It forces me to get my ideas onto paper and figure out ways to customize branding elements without the allure of Pinterest and Dribbble (which I do love).

5. Do a Google image search. I very rarely do this myself but when I was working at larger agencies where an icon had to be trademarked worldwide for a client, we would give this a go if an element felt too familiar. To do this, go to Google, click the images tab and then click the camera icon in the search bar. From there, you can upload a screen shot of your branding and see what transpires.

Always Keep Moving Forward

As difficult as it may be, if someone lifts your work, you can’t let it take over your existence and eat you up inside. If you’re amazing at what you do, by the time you’ve discovered what they’ve taken, you’re already five steps ahead and onto bigger and better things. Always keep moving forward. Dan Phillips once said that “One can steal ideas but no one can steal execution or passion.” Use your talents and push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Your uniqueness will shine.

There Are Honest People

As I was writing this post over the weekend, an email popped up from a travel writer who had googled the name for his project and I happened to have a blog column under the same name. I’d created a custom header for the column ages ago (now defunct) and he inquired whether he could buy it and use it for the branding. I packaged up the files, invoiced him and a few hours later, I passed on the rights and was a few hundred dollars richer. Because he was honest and bought it outright, he has a clear conscience and can use it however he pleases for his project. We both felt good about the transaction. There are always going to be bad seeds but you’ve got to focus on the good because things like this do happen.

Mistakes are inevitable but learn from them. Do your best to stay inspired. Do your best not to imitate. Do your best to create from your heart.

Your turn: With so much inspiration out there, how do you keep yourself from crossing over into imitation?

The Typofiles #134: Monster Children

Nubby Twiglet | Monster Children Magazine

Nubby Twiglet | Monster Children Magazine

I’ve missed posting as many Typofiles lately so here’s a note that I’m bringing it back more often.

And with that declaration, one magazine that always seems to make its way into my must read stack is Monster Children. The content is geared towards skate and surf culture but the design is so consistently spot-on that I plunk down my debit card even though I haven’t been on a skateboard since I was 14.

Nubby Twiglet | Monster Children Magazine

Part of what makes Monster Children so awesome is that it’s not afraid to take chances. In a way, it reminds me of Ray Gun back in the day — designers had a pretty strong reaction to David Carson’s style (there was never anyone who was on the fence about it — it was full-on love or hate) and I feel like Monster Children is a more controlled version of that in-your-face design sense. Text marches off the pages, content is rotated sideways, copy runs over images…but the result is always somehow…beautiful.

Nubby Twiglet | Monster Children Magazine

Featured: Monster Children Magazine
For even more Typofiles, click here.

Latest & Greatest #23: Garance Doré For Rifle Paper Co.

Nubby Twiglet | Garance Doré For Rifle Paper Co.

I’m a big fan of sending thank you cards — no matter how much times change, nothing can replace the handwritten note. So when my favorite stationery line, Rifle Paper Co. partnered up with illustrator / blogger Garance Doré for an exclusive line, I was in heaven.

First off, the quality is amazing. All of the printed materials are U.S. made and very weighty. I also love the custom black angled belly bands — the little details really make this line.

Nubby Twiglet | Garance Doré For Rifle Paper Co.

I am a huge fan of Garancé’s art prints and had the idea to buy the Assorted Girls Set to frame as mini prints across our guest room wall. Her work is so chic and quintessentially French.

Nubby Twiglet | Garance Doré For Rifle Paper Co.

Trying to be conservative, I ordered a box of cards and set of notebooks the first time around but once I saw how nicely everything was made, I picked up some more cards. It’s impossible to feel guilty splurging on thank you cards — it feels so good sending out something this beautiful to people I care about.

Nubby Twiglet | Garance Doré For Rifle Paper Co.

I couldn’t buy everything (trust me though, I was tempted!) so here are a few more of my favorites pieces:

1. Cape Card, 2. Canary Thank You Card, 3. Oui Pocket Notebooks, 4. Thinking Of You Card, 5. Sunglasses iPhone Case, 6. Femme Card, 7. Friends Card, 8. On The Go Notepad, 9. Hello, Darling Card, 10. Graphic Notepad, 11. Le Glamour Card and 12. Bonjour Card.

Nubby Twiglet | Garance Doré For Rifle Paper Co.

I love it when two worlds collide and collaborations like this happen!

Are there any collaborations out there at the moment that you’re super excited about?

Photos: Shauna Haider
Product images: Rifle Paper Co.

The Week In Pictures: 4.25.14

Nubby Twiglet | The Week In Pictures

This week has been very full but very fun. My friend and fellow “branch” Star came to visit from San Francisco so we’ve been digging into client projects, business goals and sharing lots of creative assets (Star is a human treasure trove of useful information and resources).

When not working, I’ve been showing Star around to some of the new places that weren’t open in my hood the last time she visited like Salt & Straw and Roman Candle and then stopping into some of her favorite Portland haunts including Naked City.

We have a busy morning ahead plotting out new services for Branch but I wanted to check in and share some highlights from this week.

Nubby Twiglet | The Week In Pictures

About once a month, I get together with my friend, Girl Joey (have you checked out her daily photo project yet?!) to reminisce and talk shop at the Doug Fir. I love sitting out on the back patio, even when it’s raining and catch up while digging into some mac and cheese.

Nubby Twiglet | The Week In Pictures

Oh, Star! I first met her on Live Journal in 2001 and the rest is history. At this point, we have a massive stack (this is just a sampling!) of photo booth strips commemorating our antics.

Nubby Twiglet | The Week In Pictures

The highlight of my last weekend was babysitting Rocky’s friend Raleigh. This little black beast snorts, snores and loves to cuddle. I’d adopt him in a second.

Nubby Twiglet | The Week In Pictures

I never thought I’d be obsessed with a pair of scissors but every time I’m at Roman Candle and order pizza, it is served with a golden pair of shears to cut right through it. Genius, really. Works so much better!

Nubby Twiglet | The Week In Pictures

I was going through my bookshelf and came across this Marilyn book I bought years ago at a library’s used book sale along the Oregon Coast. It’s tattered but beautiful.

Nubby Twiglet | The Week In Pictures

One of my favorite projects from this week was designing a media kit for Gala. You can see more of my in-progress work over on Dribbble. Okay, I’m off to be a good hostess and show Star a few more must-see Portland spots. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Link Love: 4.24.14


• Naming your product or service can be so incredibly difficult and frustrating. Alexandra Franzen is here to help!

• Are you deathly afraid of success? What’s holding you back?

• Photographer Luke Copping shares more about his newsprint project that my studio, Branch designed.

• 5 quick grammar tips to improve your writing.

• Your first idea is not always your best.

• Learn how to make your own hand-stamped necklace.

• How did famous creative people spend their days?

• A Tumblr dedicated entirely to vintage French photos? Yes, please.

• I want a copy of Holiday so bad. A travel magazine published from 1946-1977, it’s just been reintroduced!

• When it comes to your life choices, there are shoulds and musts.

• Starting a blog is not the right choice for everyone.

• Stop downsizing your joy.

Photo: Suvi Kesäläinen.