Over at Branch today, we’re sharing the outcome of one of my all-time favorite branding projects, Chutzpah Creative. Based in Perth, Australia, Chutzpah specializes in video — they’ve got you covered from “about me” films to weddings and do it all in style! I am obsessed with the super bright color palette Chutzpah’s founder FayAnn settled on and we’ve balanced it all out with a dose of black and white imagery. Check out the full outcome right here!
Category Archives: Graphic Design
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?
Photographer David McNeil was the first-ever wedding industry client I had the opportunity to work with many years ago and we bonded immediately over the fact that he didn’t want a traditional, cookie-cutter website and branding. No pastels or frilly type in sight! Branch just revamped his website with a more modern, inviting format and I’m sharing more about the outcome over there. Click through to view the project!
One of the questions I get asked most often is for design book recommendations. And while there are a million books out there that are great for different reasons, I always come back to the titles by Jan V. White.
Design trends come and go and styles change but underneath it all, the fundamentals of design are still there. Understanding these fundamentals is always the base and from there, you can take your work in any direction. I love Jan V. White’s books because they’re not preachy or dry. He doesn’t use obscure lingo and best of all, he mixes in a lot of images and thumbnail sketches for those of us that are more visual learners.
While he has written over a dozen books (most of which focus on editorial design), the one that should be on every designer’s bookshelf is the Graphic Idea Notebook. If you’re ever feeling stuck, it’s a treasure chest of quick, clever ideas ranging from type styles to images to page layouts. Sometimes, you just need to turn away from another “designspiration” site and be one with your own ideas.
It’s been a few years since I first shared this news so it bears repeating for new readers: Jan V. White made his books available for download, free of charge. Pretty amazing, right?! If you’d still like some print copies, most titles including the Graphic Idea Notebook can be picked up used on Amazon for under a dollar.
These books prove that learning design can be fun and engaging. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
Today, a project Branch partnered up with Gala Darling on went live. A full year in the making, this was the most comprehensive project we’ve ever worked on to date! You can click through and see even more of the process here but I also wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the more personal side of things.
Gala and I met on Live Journal back around 2002, both in our early 20s, both not quite sure where we were headed. I was working in a mauve wallpapered corporate office during my summer breaks from college, helping the accounting department with their filing. Shortly after that, I moved onto working in a shoe store. Gala was working a string of unfulfilling retail jobs. I loved reading her posts oversharing every detail of her life, which at times sounded like a made for TV movie.
I didn’t really know anything about blogs outside of Live Journal at that time and in 2006, she was the first person I knew who made the leap over to her own, self-hosted domain. If I remember correctly, she even linked me in her first-ever article about fashion advice for recovering goths (haha).
Still not quite sure where things were going for me (I had just started my design program), I read her blog religiously every single day while standing around at my shoe job, killing time. It kept me inspired and gave me hope that I could find a way to just maybe get into design studios and ad agencies and find my spot in the world.
During the spring of 2007, I flew to LA for a Courtney Love concert (oh, the stories I have!) and spent the afternoon hanging out with my friend Star, who also knew Gala. Star said blogging was going to blow up big time and I needed my own domain. I mean, I had that already but no self-hosted blog. Star happened to be the best developer I knew. Thanks to her persistent pestering, this blog was launched later that summer.
Gala and I read each other’s blogs but we’d never met. Finally, we were going to be in New York at the same time. We spent an afternoon exploring the city together and it was so natural, I felt like I’d known her my whole life. We had different accents and were from opposite sides of the world but everything else was basically the same.
We both had other friends that were into blogging. To be fair though, we weren’t just “into blogging”…we were full-on obsessed to the point that our nonstop discussions around the subject would have driven anyone else completely nuts. We found that bond with each other and carried that through our friendship.
I watched Gala’s blog take off and flourish and evolve. When we first started blogging, most people didn’t yet view their blogs as a full-time business. We came from the era where blogs were a place to share personal stories and snapshots — they weren’t the slick money-making, marketing machines we often see today. And because of that, most of us quickly cobbled together our own branding, if you could call it that. There wasn’t a whole lot of thought behind it at the time.
For Gala, things really started shifting when she began launching digital products a few years ago. I saw her business grow way beyond “just a blog” and when that starts to happen, there needs to be more consistency.
Last Spring, we finally started discussing what she needed to do to have that added polish while keeping the branding feeling rooted in her personal style which included a love of fashion magazine-inspired type, fuchsia and an obsession with “snail mail.”
It’s been inspiring sitting back and watching Gala put all the pieces of her new look to use, from the branding to the blog to the product graphics — she’s always had such strong content and cohesive branding is the ultimate cherry on top.
Congratulations, Gala. I am so proud of you!
More visuals can be seen here.
It’s been a little quieter around these parts because I’ve been wrapping up what seems like a million different projects with Branch. When I say a million, it’s actually probably more like ten but that is still a lot when it comes to finishing identity guides, fine-tuning websites for launch and prepping print files for books! There are no complaints here, though. I’m humbled every day getting the opportunity to do what I love most — design. While I’ve been posting all of the finished projects over on the Branch blog, I think the in-progress shots can sometimes be just as interesting. So today I wanted to give you a peek into a few things I’ve been working on!
Above: This branding for a videographer just wrapped yesterday!
The first Blogcademy workshops of the new year are quickly approaching. That means custom graphics for the totes, sponsor cards and posters. See you soon, San Francisco!
I’ve been working on some abstract collages for a client’s imagery. It’s been fun exploring a more organic style.
Kat wanted an updated media kit…and then it ended up nearly doubling in size! It’s now more like a mini magazine.
This is the pattern for the videographer I mentioned above. CUT! Haha.
The week after Blogcademy San Francisco is…Blogcademy Chicago!
For the last year, Branch has been working with a fine art photographer, designing everything from her branding to a coffee table book. We did some custom collages for her website, too.
Working with Gala is always fun — her new branding officially goes live soon and this is an alternate icon. Yes, there is a postage theme throughout!
If you want even more behind the scenes peeks, I’m always updating Dribbble.