Inspiration vs. Replication

Inspiration is one of the most necessary tools in a designer’s arsenal. It can also be one of the most dangerous if used incorrectly. Pablo Picasso once said “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” There are a few meanings to this, but the core message is that inspiration is something that shouldn’t necessarily be chosen preemptively to the start of the process. Expressive inspiration will reveal itself after one has done their homework.

In the design world, paying close attention to the trends others are establishing and following is essential to staying modern. There has never been a successful designer who didn’t watch closely what others were making. A terrific way to do this is paying attention to what is winning awards. This watchfulness is absolutely necessary, but it can also be a trap. If one merely spends their career replicating trends, everything that person creates will ultimately be homogenized and undifferentiated.

Replication is the downfall of the effective graphic designer. Peering at works at face value and simply following those exact guidelines in their work is not how one should approach their process. The effective designer will use inspiration, but before they can use it, they must do their own studying. They need to break it down and understand what exactly about the designs they are analyzing makes them successful and if any of the same elements have a place in their project. It is entirely likely that an element that works so well in one project may completely ruin something else.

Once a designer understands what concepts will strengthen their own, this allows them to branch out from that inspiration. Branching out from here allows the designer to use their plentiful creativity to build on top of their concepts and step into new lands design-wise. At this very point, they’ve now crossed over into creating something that is entirely their own, but with a foundation of understanding good design elements. Understanding this process can be the real difference between a sufficient designer and an award winner.

Returning to what Picasso said, finding inspiration is not the first task. Developing a path that will lead a person to the most appropriate inspiration and building from there should be. The end product will be that much better because of it.