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Comments (70) Posted 05.11.06 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Michael Bierut

I Am a Plagiarist



Left: Page from 12 T y p o graphical Interpretations, Willi Kunz, 1975
Right: Poster for the Yale School of Architecture, Michael Bierut, 2005


The New York media world has been obsessed of late with the story of Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard undergraduate who landed a two-book deal for $500,000 from Little, Brown while still in high school. Within weeks of the publication of her first novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, allegations arose that she had copied passages from books by another young-adult author. Soon schadenfreude-fueled investigators uncovered similaries to still other books. Confronted with the near-duplicate passages, Viswanathan first denied everything ("I have no idea what you are talking about."), then conceded inadvertent wrongdoing ("Any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious."), and finally admitted to The New York Times that the problem was her photographic memory ('''I remember by reading. I never take notes...I really thought the words were my own.")

Kurt Andersen, assessing the controversy in New York Magazine, observed, "Plagiarists almost never simply confess. There are always mitigating circumstances."

Well, let me be the first to come clean: I am a plagiarist.

Or am I? About a year ago, I was asked by a longtime client, the Yale School of Architecture, to design a poster for a symposium they were organizing. The event had one of the most cumbersome names I'd ever been asked to handle: "Non-Standard Structures: An Organic Order of Irregular Geometries, Hybrid Members, and Chaotic Assemblies." I was stumped. I described my interpretation of the symposium's theme — the strange forms that can result from computer-generated processes — to one of my partners, Abbott Miller, and he suggested I use a version of Hoefler & Frere-Jones's as-of-yet unreleased typeface Retina. This was a great idea. Designed for very small reproduction on newsprint, the letterforms were drawn with exaggerated interior forms to compensate for ink spread. Blown up to headline size, the font looked bizarrely distorted, but each oddity was a product of nothing more than technical requirements: an apt metaphor for the design work that the symposium would address.

Still, that was a long headline. It was hard to make the letterforms big enough to demonstrate the distortion. I tried a bunch of variations without success. Finally, with the deadline looming, out of nowhere a picture formed in my mind: big type at the top, reducing in size from line to line as it moved down the poster, almost a parody of that long symposium title. And one more finishing touch: thick bars underlining every word. This approach came together quickly. It was one of those solutions that, for me at least, had a mysterious sense of preordained rightness.

And for good reason. My solution was very similar to something I had seen almost 30 years ago, a piece by one of my favorite designers, Willi Kunz. There are differences, of course: Kunz's type goes from small to big, and my goes the other way around; Kunz's horizontal lines change size, and mine do not; and, naturally, Kunz uses Akzidenz Grotesk, rather than a typeface that wouldn't be invented until 2002. But still, the black on white, the change in typographic scale, the underscores: all these add up to two solutions that look more alike than different.

I didn't realize this until a few weeks ago, when I was looking through the newly-published fourth edition of Phil Meggs's History of Graphic Design. And there it was, on page 476, a reproduction of Willi Kunz's abstract letterpress exploration from 1975. I recognized it immediately as something I had seen in my design school days. More recently, it was reproduced in Kunz's Typography: Macro- and Microaesthetics, published just two years ago, a copy of which I own.

Did I think of it consciously when I designed my poster? No, my excuse was the same as Kaavya Viswanathan's: I saw something, stored it in my memory, forgot where it came from, and pulled it out later — much later — when I needed it. Unlike some plagiarists, I didn't make changes to cover my tracks. (At various points, Viswanathan appears to have changed names like "Cinnabon" to "Mrs. Fields" and "Human Evolution" to "Psych," as one professor at Harvard observed, "in the hope of making the result less easily googleable.") My sin is more like that of George Harrison, who was successfully sued for cribbing his song "My Sweet Lord" from an earlier hit by the Chiffons, "He's So Fine." Just like me, Harrison claimed — more credibly than Viswanathan — that any similarities between his work and another's were unintended and unconscious. Nonetheless, the judge's ruling against him was unequivocal: "His subconscious knew it already had worked in a song his conscious did not remember... That is, under the law, infringement of copyright, and is no less so even though subconsciously accomplished."

I find all of this rather scary. I don't claim to have a photographic memory, but my mind is stuffed full of graphic design, graphic design done by other people. How can I be sure that any idea that comes out of that same mind is absolutely my own? Writing in Slate, Joshua Foer reports that after Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism, she was virtually paralyzed. "I have ever since been tortured by the fear that what I write is not my own," said Keller. "For a long time, when I wrote a letter, even to my mother, I was seized with a sudden feeling, and I would spell the sentences over and over, to make sure that I had not read them in a book." The challenge is even more pronounced in design, where we manipulate more generalized visual forms rather than specific sequences of words.

In the end, accusations of plagiarism are notoriously subjective, and some people who have seen my piece and Kunz's side by side have said they're quite different. You can judge for yourself. All I know for certain is that I felt a powerful sense of unease when I turned to page 476 in A History of Graphic Design. That alone compels me to offer Willi Kunz an apology. I just wish for both our sakes that I had a $500,000 advance to offer him as well.
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This is a topic which bothers me as well. It's part of the reason that I don't keep up on things like 'Communication Arts' magazine or the annuals of countless other design publications. I know that I can't be induced to copy the latest trends if I'm not taking them in. That doesn't mean, of course, that I can't reproduce something through a more "natural" process. One might say this is splitting hairs, it is semantics. But I feel the difference is clear.

Nonetheless, to me it's a cold, hard reality that I (and any other working designer) am likely to create work which looks like something else that has already been made. For example, there are only so many letters in the Roman alphabet; what makes communication successful is familiarity to the audience, the ability to decode the message I have created. There is a common vocabulary - verbal and visual - that we rely upon as designers to get our point across.

I think the best that one can do is to be vigilant to inspect ones own work, and to avoid at all costs the conscious mimicry of pre-created forms. When a potential client comes to me requesting that I make their (business card, website, brochure, logo) just "like this one" I tell them why I can't do that and what the alternatives are (find someone who will, or let me help you develop something appropriate that doesn't rip anything off).

My last word is about intention. I don't suggest that harm can't come from good intentions. But there's a difference between intentionally copying someone's work and the alternate of creating something through one's own process that already effectively exists. Plagairism reeks of inability to or disinterest in doing the work.
Andrew Twigg
05.11.06 at 01:46

Michael,

Thanks for sharing your admission with us. I can certainly back up from this end that non-intentional plagiarism is one of my main worries in my design career. Having a healthy respect for others' original creations, I don't want to acidentally discover one day that my magnum opus is something I've subconsciously copied.

I find this personally most true as it relates to logos. (Probably because often they're abstracted to such a simple level that it can feel like "everything like this must have already been done before.") On most identity projects, I spend a great deal of time looking at the related logos in the world, not before the project, but after. It's like a double-check system to make sure that I save myself from that "hit in the gut" feeling of opening the morning paper and seeing a 5-year old logo that looks just like the one you designed yesterday.
Drew Davies
05.11.06 at 02:05

Cryptoamnesia strikes again, apparently. Not too long ago, Michael Maar came across a story titled "Lolita" by an obscure German writer, with certain similarities to that other Lolita you might've heard of, except predating it. His book, published late last year, is inconclusive but does point out other possible connections between the writers that would be pretty damning if ever confirmed.

I don't find the photographic memory bit very convincing. I seem to recall reading something once about a study showing that people's usage of language is highly individualized, even under pretty limited circumstances. If you show a group even a fairly simple image and ask them just to describe it—not even interpret—the responses will vary a lot more than you might expect.

I kind of wonder how a similar study might be structured for visual work. I suspect it wouldn't be as easy as just handing people a creative brief and telling them to go.
Su
05.11.06 at 02:20

The analogy I've used with students is if they're inspired by something, to "use it as a diving board, not a swimming pool." Of course they're asking means they're concious of the source of inspiration. Doh! Dang subconcious.
Marty Blake
05.11.06 at 02:35

Something that came to mind while reading this entry (and recalling the recent posts about "A Nation of Lawyers" and "Wacky Packages" are two quotes I've seen:

"If there is something to steal, I steal it!" Pablo Piccaso

and

"Immature artists immitate, mature artists steal." T.S. Eliot

Were they wrong?
Joe Moran
05.11.06 at 02:54

If an individual is the sum of their experiences and thier environment, and the designer draws from the visceral pool that has been created by these experiences to interpret and communicate, then it is no wonder that this phenomenon occurs from time to time. In fact, sometimes two different designers can create very similar works in tandem because their experiences and interests are also very similar.

I remember Mr. Bierut was the guest speaker at a conference, Universal Truths/Universal Myths Truths, that I helped put on a few years back. At that conference, Doug Wadden, the Head of the Design program at the University of Washington, told the tale of how he and Michael had designed a virtually identical poster within weeks of each other without ever seeing the other's work.

This illustrates that we are indeed the sum of experience and environment. Sometimes, the experience just seems to be stronger than we'd ever realized. Its not intentional, nor is it plagerism. Its human.
James D Nesbitt
05.11.06 at 03:56

Make no mistake about it, there's a difference between influence and plagiarism. People ought to know the difference.

This is especially important in the world of software design where the interface is the major differentiator between competing products. Since the technology and code is hidden from the user, the interface becomes the only connection between the software and the human. The interface becomes the software. That needs to be protected.

Lifting someone's interface intentionally is plagiarism. Using it as an inspiration is not. But designers need to be aware of the difference. It's vital for the profession.
Jason Fried
05.11.06 at 04:39

Perhaps all we ever really do is remix.

That would certainly jibe with the physical world of creation - if it's made of atoms, you can't really 'create' anything from nothing.

Perhaps this holds true with the conceptual world as well? The problem seems to be one of granularity - make sure your conceptual atoms are small enough grains that they won't be recognized for their source.

I imagine that my book will use all the same words as some other famous author used, some in the same order, perhaps even expressing the same thought. Criminal!

A good exploration of this idea is artist Sven König's Scrambled Hackz, a software that reduces music to tiny unrecognizable grains that can then be used to perform other pieces of music in real time - even speaking voices.

(see http://www.wired.com/news/columns/0,70664-0.html)
leMel
05.11.06 at 04:48

Happened to me recently... I was taking an intermediate-level typography class that focused on setting large amounts of text in book form. I had my sectioning and layout set, which included photos cropped in a trapezium shape. Not exactly the most original idea, I know, but it worked. I took a book from the library on the same subject to find some imagery to use.

Well low and behold this book—on the same subject as my project—used the same damn trapezium crop! WTF?! It made me sick to my stomach. So perhaps this idea fits within the visual language of the subject somehow and both the book designer and I picked up on it?

Jason, it's any easy distinction to make between influence and plagarism. But the LAW doesn't care even if it's done subconciously. Ask George Harrison. Ask the Flaming Lips, who were sued by Cat Stevens for simlarities between their song "Fight Test" and his song "Father & Son." They are awfully similar and Wayne Coyne of the Lips insisted it was unintentional. Nonetheless, the song's publishing royalties were turned over to Cat (now Yusuf Islam) and he was given writing credit for the song along with the Lips!

Brian Alter
05.11.06 at 05:01

George Hotelling
05.11.06 at 05:19

Oh, don't we just love labeling things? While we're at it, why don't we just say that because the eye is only capable of seeing so much, everything we look at is, ad infinitum, a plagiarism of the visible spectrum? Or hear? Or sense?

The limitations of human-ness impose this upon us, and it's scarcely worth prosthletizing over for—one, two, three...—nine paragraphs?

~Please.~

Your article smacks of "duh."
Todd
05.11.06 at 06:02

Todd- your comment smacks of "assface."
J
05.11.06 at 07:21

Michael, I admire your honesty, and in that spirit I will offer you my own honest opinion: I think that William Kunz's poster, in every way, is much superior than yours. I don't think he's sweating it, and you shouldn't either.
Patrick
05.11.06 at 08:21

Joe, as far as TS Eliot, note that several people have also suggested using prior work as inspiration(which is maybe a bit less than imitation) rather than things to copy(read: steal).
A transposable aphorism is a malaise of the urge to be witty, or in other words, a maxim that is untroubled by the fact that the opposite of what it says is equally true so long as it appears to be funny.
—Umberto Eco. "Wilde: Paradox and Aphorism". On Literature. 68.
Su
05.11.06 at 08:37

i agree with J about Todd's comment. it's easy for you to say "duh", as it is just as easy for me to say "duh" about evolution or to the fact that the earth spins around the sun. but none of these observations are obvious. so, quit being so snide.

anyways... this is definately a tricky subject, especially when it enters the visual realm. what happens when the source is acknowledged. is it only plagiarism when the designer conceals that fact? when is it appropriation? what happens when it enters the art realm and becomes conceptual? anyways.. i have no real answers or insights.. just thought i'd open up the discussion to these questions.
ketchup
05.11.06 at 08:49

The man sounds a bit irritated, but I think Patrick has an interesting point. At first I just automatically thought of it as a good-enough, slick solution to a problem. But on a second look, Michael's poster does seem lifeless when compared to Kunz's. While Kunz's has a vibrant feel (it appears like he was very much involved with his theme), Michael's is witty in a very dry sense. It's like a direct translation of the symposium's theme. I'd say it could've been done by someone who had barely any information besides the headline. Maybe the less you are involved with your subject matter, the more you should be afraid of subconscious theft. Unless Kunz's poster is a blatant, shameless copy of someone else's work, its existence seems more than justified.
David Padua
05.12.06 at 12:31

Michael, your post is a very honest one. It takes courage to put your neck on the chopping block in this way. Right or wrong, it seems there are some sharpening the axe.

My response refrains from making judgments or subjective comparisons on the two works in question. I'm simply curious to know if you have shared your realisation (regarding what you feel are similarities between the two works) with The Yale School of Architecture? And if so, what was their reaction?

Aside from that, I'd just like to add, it's nice to see a post taking the raod less travelled.
KF
05.12.06 at 03:01

I'm just aware that in this day and age, one would rarely have this amount of time to labour over one poster! Also, I get the feeling that by drawing so much attention to this one piece, Michael is maybe saying this is the only thing he's ever copied, which I doubt.
Paul Staines
05.12.06 at 03:05

Here's an argument for creative synchronicity. And some other interesting tid-bits about collective consciousness. Fascinating stuff.
Joe Moran
05.12.06 at 08:23

Everything is already invented nowdays so don't bother yourself trying to be original because you won't be, no matter how hard you try.

Anyway check the definition of plagiarism and make good use of it. "Plagiarism is the passing off of another person's work as one's own"
Fer
05.12.06 at 08:56

The layout and behavior of the Design Observer website seems oddly familiar and I can't shake the feeling I haven't seen this exact site somewhere else before, though the words and contributors were different.

Hmmm... evidence of plagiarism, or the simple reality that most "problems" only need to be solved once?
Gary R Boodhoo
05.12.06 at 11:48

blowing up retina could also be interpeted as a -ahem- steal from christian swartz, his amplitude font used the same principles. http://orangeitalic.com/amplitude.shtml

a wise old sage (well, einstein) once said that the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources... so broadcasting your 'plagerism' about some work only the most anal designers have seen on a very well-read design site is not the best way to keep accidental creative slippages hidden. but then i guess thats the point.

spike
05.12.06 at 12:51

Thanks for all the comments so far. Some quick responses:

KF, I heard from my client at Yale. He read this article and the subsequent comments, and asked, "Is there anything out there that is truly original? How can anyone create anything that is not influenced by what that person had previously seen and/or experienced? Is it possible to be a designer while clearing the mind of an entire past?" He also said he liked both pieces.

My guess is that this issue is even more pronounced in architecture. The Gutter regularly reports architectural similarities, uncanny and otherwise, under their "Gutterland Police Blotter" rubric. The same arguments ensue.

Gary, the format of Design Observer was modified from a standard Movable Type template, so no doubt you've seen it before and will see it again. No originality claimed.

Finally — as a point of clarification — the Willi Kunz piece is not a poster but rather a page from a book of experimental letterpress typography. The side-by-side illustrations above confuse things a bit by making a small thing (page) and a large thing (poster) appear to be the same height, but supported my point more effectively.
Michael Bierut
05.12.06 at 01:20

Michael don't sweat it. I design lecture posters, you have seen them, the posters, like most of my work, are influenced by European Modernism, aka, Swiss designers (many were my teachers). I don't intend to copy any of these great masters, however I work in this direction. Art and Music work in this same capacity. Can one find similarities between the Renaissance paintings of Michelangelo and Raphael? The Jazz Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, his work was formed under the influence of American Jazz masters. European Modernism has had a tremendous impact on American Graphic Design and I don't see anything wrong with it.

Congratulations on the Gold from AIGA, you deserve it.
Rocco Piscatello
05.12.06 at 01:42

Michael,

It's funny you should mention how plagiarism applies to architecture- as an architecture student, I thought plagiarism (or mere similarities even)would be more evident in graphic design because you generally see the piece all at once at a scale that allows easier comparison from piece to piece.

As an avid DO junkie, I've noticed the issue of copyright and plagiarism arise numerous times in the past few years (the post on Barbara Kruger "Designing Under the Influence" being one of my all-time favorite posts), though while some may view its frequency in the posts as stale, I beg to differ. I find the topic to be very sensitive and personal (notice how the posts on these topics receive an overwhelming abundance of comments) seeing as how I think there is a small part in all of us that would like to think the epiphany we had at 3am, that project we busted ass on that paid off, the solution that we struggled to find for so long is the product of our own "original" ideas. That being said, I'm sure most of us also hear a voice of reason chime in, reminding us of our own naivete.

And on that note, I'd be interested in hearing some opinions on a slightly different topic: that of similarities in our own individual work. From time to time, when developing a design I wonder if the ideas I'm exploring are merely a different iteration of ideas I've explored previously and in the same way. And if that's true, what am I really learning?

And so my question is this: Where is the line between developing a signature "style" and being stuck in your own aesthetic comfort zone? At what point do our design biases hinder us in exploring new ideas and growing as designers? For graphic design perhaps the answer is easier to pinpoint- if your biases get in the way of communicating your message, then you've missed the boat. And in architecture?
Shae M
05.12.06 at 03:08

I have not read all the comments, so if I have duplicated a thought, I apologize.

Fortunately Willi did it better.

Picasso once said, "Good artists copy, great artists steal". As original a thinker as he was, I believe he realized we are the sum total of our experiences and when those experiences inevitably infect our design process, attribution can become difficult (particularly when it comes to the visual).

We designers are fortunate that there has yet to be developed an economical search engine that can seek out visual similarities in our influences. Writers & poets don't have that luxury. When they are discovered they are immediately drawn & quartered (sometimes unfairly).

We could be cynical and say nothing is original anymore, but I'm more optimistic than that. I believe that the greatest art in the world has yet to be created (graphic art or otherwise)

Now when a large body of ones work can be seen as abstracted from the work of other, then a case might be made for plagiarism. The best course of action, when discovered, would be to swiftly confess your sin or at the very least offer it as an homage to your influencer, as Michael has done. Then, be a little more wary of the sources lodged in your brain (or haunted as poor dear Helen).

Regards
MSwaine

mike Swaine
05.12.06 at 03:55

To acknowledge that you are a product of your environment is not to deny the existence of originality. Yes, you are partially created by the experiences you perceive. But at the same time you are constantly recreating, reimagining, and reworking those same experiences in memory. Your recollection of the past is not concrete, by any means. As you experience more, your interpretation of past experience (this is what memory is, interpretation and not some absolute re-presentation) changes as well.

Further, can there really be any individual who has experienced anything identically to any other? To assume that all originality expired long ago is mechanistic and somewhat inane. To be sure, the broader pattern of your life may present similarities to other lives, but has there ever been you before? To abstract the internal monologue of your consciousness--something you cannot necessarily do--and suggest that your conscious and unconscious processes are identical merely because the outward appearance of your life follows a general pattern is reductivist.

Approaching the article as a whole, I'd argue that the thesis is based on a misinterpretation of "plagiarism." Plagiarism does not describe independent discovery. Newton and Leibnitz did not plagiarize each other when they both developed calculus independent of each other but concurrently. I would further say that literary plagiarism is quite different from that of the visual arts, namely because of the breadth of dimensionality of language. This is not to say that visual art is less/more than the literary, it's just to suggest that when you have over a million words in the corpus of the language, and yet paragraphs and paragraphs are identical in two works (one predating the other and widely accessible by the author of the second), it's hard to defend it as mere coincidence.
the Brightside
05.12.06 at 05:32

What's the Steve Heller quote? 'There is nothing new in design that has not already been done.' Something like that...

Also, this topic interests me but from the perspective of appropriation. Appropriation has been accepted practice in fine art for decades now. Design has never been able to stomach it or accept it. But it could be something interesting for design to look at. (I feel, in a sense, we do it anyway - as Heller says, and Michael eludes to - so might as well recognize it and see where it goes.)

Dutch designer Annelys de Vet has a philosophy about using other designs for her design. You'll have to dig through her site a bit but she has a statement on it.

I also think the model for "original" has changed as the world becoming more and more digital. Napster is gone but once an image or art or whatever is released into the "wild" it can and will be used.

Good ideas want to be free?
JC
05.12.06 at 07:39

I would actually disagree and say there is very little plagarism to be found between the two pieces. While a cursory glance might find them to "look" similar, their meanings are in fact very different.

Could we instead call the elements used in both pieces "visual homonyms?"
Derrick Schultz
05.12.06 at 08:36

Spike, Christian Schwartz's Amplitude typeface (2003) and Tobias Frere-Jones Retina typeface (2000) both acknowledge a debt to Matthew Carter's Bell Centennial typeface (1976), which pioneered the use of "ink traps" to help letterforms defend against the vicissitudes of printing on newsprint.
Jonathan Hoefler
05.12.06 at 11:55

...and Bell Centennial, by design, shares many characteristics with Chauncey H. Griffith's Bell Gothic typeface (1937), as one face was created as a replacement for the other.
Jonathan Hoefler
05.13.06 at 12:03

Michael, once again, your honesty proves useful for us all, and provokes introspection. Not just designers, but anybody producing and creating on a daily basis must withstand the challenge of originality. What is original? Does inspiration rob us of creating something unique? Your self-analysis carries merit, but save yourself the worry, because at the end of the day making something fresh means working within the discourse of design, not plagiarizing. New died a very long time ago, long live inspired, fresh design. Yummy.
Jason A Tselentis
05.13.06 at 02:50

if a designer does research, and through this research develops his/her own visual language to communicate, then the end aesthetics will be based upon and grow out of the design assignment. thus each assignment should develop its own visual language.

even though design work you have seen before will influence you, you can work in a process where by all decisions are based upon your research and the characteristics of the assignment.

designing things which are trendy, or which are based upon aesthetic reasons is an illustrative solution and will lead to unoriginality and "plagiarism." if you design through research and a conscious process you can show anyone what your aesthetic choices are based upon.
eric savage
05.13.06 at 05:45

As the world becomes increasingly cluttered with material, we are bound to see this happen more and more often. I was once told, "there is nothing new under the sun", and subsequently froze my production of anything, fearing that I will have been influenced by my subconscious and all of the visual clutter in my life to date.

As a visual person, I damn the day that I shut myself into a closet again to keep from being influenced or inspired by other work. It is at least 50% of what makes being an artist/designer a joy in life.

Imagine a world without museums, to save us from inspiration.
The planet is getting far too litigious in the battle for "what's inalienably mine and yours".

Michael, I hope the "idea creep" keeps cycling about. Where would Rodin have been without Michelangelo? And Henri Moore thereafter, Brancusi, et al?

I like the differentiation of inspiration and plagiarism. One is near verbatim, and easily rooted out. The other is human discourse.
raymond
05.13.06 at 06:37

jonathan, i concur on all your points. though to my mind, amplitude is the first typeface that embraced the nuances of ink traps in its display weights as well as text, taking the concept of ink-traps and using them as an aesthetic device as opposed to a functional one. there is no doubting the debt owed to retina and bell cent, but i still think amplitude is ideologically apart from those other typefaces.
Spike
05.13.06 at 07:24

You raise many good questions! One is certainly: Perhaps the world of design makes too much of a fetish of "originality." (Perhaps the world of copyright and litigation does too.) If we were really prissy about originality, there'd have been no Renaissance -- which, after all, was all about ripping off, er, reviving Classical forms and styles. There'd have been no Neoclassicism, which was about ripping off, er, reinvigorating a lot of given forms.

To my mind, a lot of art history is better understood as a story of recyclings and revivals (and adaptations and extensions) than it is in the usual way, as the story of a bunch of innovators and innovations. Architecture history too: Do we criticize (let alone sue) LaTrobe because he made so much of Washington D.C. look like Athens and Rome?

Overemphasizing originality is, IMHO, a terrible thing to do. It puts pressure on people, makes them nervous, creates crazy stresses ("It's gotta be new!"), and denies much of how life always and everywhere has happened (by evolution, extension, growth, refinement, and repetition). Why not chill out instead, accept our inheritance in a spirit of gratitude, get used to the fact that none of us will ever add more than a few pennies to it, and proceed on, trying to do good and honorable work?

Besides, how far do you take it? When does something become disgraceful copying? Hard to tell sometimes. Can any one hard and fast line be drawn? No writer invented the alphabet, yet they all use it. Composers who create tonal music are all working within a tradition that many, many generations of previous musicians gave birth to and nurtured. Can a contempo writer of mystery stories be sued because he didn't come up with the original "mystery story" template but is only trying to refresh it, or make it work in some other way? Is "stealing a plot" the same thing as "lifting a bunch of sentences"? Should everyone who paints a Cubist picture of a vase and a cigarette package send a donation to the Picasso-and-Braque foundations?

Granted that freshness and originality have their appeal, and can add interest. Still: let's not deny the classical tradition (recycling -- and perhaps elaborating on -- inherited forms), and let's not deny the way life actually proceeds (by repetition and very slow adaptation, with very occasional dramatic breaks). On the other hand: why get dogmatic about how there's nothing new under the sun?
Michael Blowhard
05.13.06 at 02:03

I wasn't trying to be snide or an assface—maybe a little. It's just in my nature, I guess. Either way, I apologize.

It's not that Michael doesn't make a good point; it's impossible to escape influence, but what you're talking about is hardly plagiarism.

Everything we do is embedded with that by which we are surrounded.

In a small enough (or large enough) context, Michael, by your definition, every word we write—every bit of code, even—would inevitably be stolen from somewhere.

Just consider it paying homage.

Or something.
Todd
05.13.06 at 03:11

"I wasn't trying to be snide or an assface—maybe a little. It's just in my nature, I guess. Either way, I apologize."
That was pretty big of you. Props, man.
I'm pretty sure I wear my influences on my sleeve everytime I draw/design something, but I try to put my own spin on it everytime. Originality is damn hard to achieve and I think in a lot of cases, originality happens by accident, not some grand design. We're bombarded by so much imagery that it's hard not to be influenced somehow. Y'gotta channel all that crap.
Al aka El Negro Magnifico
05.13.06 at 03:41

plagerism, in my opinion exists SOLELY with intent. If you look and copy 100% on purpose it's plagerism. If you look and copy 10% it's influence... it all comes down to the fact of intent.
vibranium
05.13.06 at 06:42

I have to agree with vibranium et al and would like to add that in North America our obsession with rewarding the 'originater' and our subsequent copyright and patent laws generally stifle both creative and technical development. Personally, I have little qualms about 'quoting' or even swiping another designer's work (especially if used ironically or as a juxtaposition) - but for me, plagerism is when someone knowingly or intentionally claims someone else's work as their own. Did Duchamp claim the mass produced objects of his ready-mades his own? No, but certainly his re-contextualization (is that even a word?) of these pieces were.
Rowdyman
05.13.06 at 07:54

"The human is indissolubly linked with imitation: a human being only becomes human at all by imitating other human beings" Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life (p.154).

What is the difference between plagiarism and influence? My understanding is, plagiarism is a deliberate copying of a work without reference to the originator, whereas, an influence, on the other hand, is informed by the idea (visual, conceptual etc.) but seeks to apply it in different ways. This somewhat ambiguous explanation can potentially generate diverse and distinctly contradictory interpretations (just look at the divided opinions on this post to date). Moreover, the defence of hegemonic power structures can further manipulate and distort our understandings, whereby; an influence for the defendant can become a case of plagiarism for the plaintiff. Therefore we should ask ourselves, who is benefiting from this internalised police mechanism-one in which the fears of ostracism can dictate the creative work we produce?
Marcus McCallion
05.14.06 at 12:03

LvK
05.14.06 at 01:01

I just returned from China where copying, plagiarism, and pirating are rampant. Though "Typography: Macro- and Microaesthetics" is already available in Chinese, Niggli, my publisher is in a constant battle defending my books "Typography: Macro- and Microaesthetics" and "Typography: Formation and Transformation" from being published without authorization in the Far East.
In US graphic design, copying ideas and plagiarism have become so prevalent that for many designers it is now a way of life. Instead of thinking about the project they are supposed to work on, designers customarily mine design annuals and magazines for ideas, a habit that has also spread among students. This constant regurgitating of "stuff" is a reason why graphic design today is in free fall.
Regarding re-purposing one of my typographic interpretation created in Basel in 1973, I wish I could get the $500.000 from you but I don't consider your "plagiarism" serious enough. I have experienced more blatant rip-offs.
Similar ingredients do not produce the same results. All designers essentially work with the same material: letters, numbers, punctuation marks, lines, and geometric elements (the interiority of typography). We could then assume that the work produced with these elements would be fairly uniform. Yet, despite the limited range of materials the typographic expressions created are very diverse. A multitude of outside factors (the exteriority) e.g. the designer's education and personal view, the type of information, the audience, the client, budget, time, etc. all influence the form of a design.
The difference between your design and mine are 30-years of time and a very different design sensibility. The informed reader will recognize this. As you write, your solution came together quickly - and it shows.
Throughout my career I have stayed close to the trajectory of modernism and it has served me well. And there is plenty more to explore.
willi kunz
05.14.06 at 03:14

Making new is inevitable. Making new is inevitable. Making new is inevitable. Different times, different contextes and states of mind always produce different meanings, to say the least.
The pleasure that comes from the thing we call originality is only the step our visual litteracy takes every time we understand something we didn't before. Don't mind the copy. She announces itself has a failure. And please, my fellow american designer, understand that intelectual property is only discussed when tons of money are involved, and that happens mainly in your country. Your government has already turned legal all idea owners and responsible ISPs to break intimacy and crack personal computers to keep culture locked in a loop, and therefore, controlable.
Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DMCA and some ancient chinese saying I didn't read yet.
Just in case... ; )
Willi! Love your work! Ooooh, I'm in the same blog!!!
João Marrucho
05.15.06 at 02:52

There is no such thing as originality. Anything we create has to be influenced by something. All of our work as designers is built on the work of others. So we are all plagirising, all of the time. That's what it means to be part of a tradition. You can make it less obvious by casting your net wider for your source of influence, but ultimately, there will always be, in every piece of design or art created, something of what has gone before. Today it is more of an issue as authorship decides who gets the profits. Check out this BBC Radio discussion on the matter for an intersting take on how and why the concept of originality developed.
sam
05.15.06 at 04:59

Dear Sam, I think we are saying the same thing.
In nature, nothing is lost, and Man and its culture are a part of the transformation process.
I just don't want culture makers to think copying is stealing and that inspiration, or whatever you want to call the moment you have an idea, is plagium.
Kind regards.
João Marrucho
05.15.06 at 12:54

There certainly is such a thing as unconscious "borrowing"; as an artist, I'm certain I've done it, as a writer, I've probably done it, in the way that both art(the line)and writing(the word, phrase or metre)have in common-making a deep impression in mym memory.

But that's NOT plagiarism. It's really very, very simple: if this young woman did as I believe she did--as she's accused of doing, and had other books lying open next to her word processor, re-typing them with slight differences to fit her other, surrounding text, she stole. She plagiarized. And if, as the Comics Journal used to show(sans comment)in a regular feature, examples where one illustrator had copied, prop for prop, the exact pose of the figure in the same context, with maybe--maybe!--a change of hairstyle or the type of shoes. Where that second artist was obviously looking directly at an earlier work and trying to crib from it, THAT is artistic plagiarism. NOT dimly remembering a style, approach or even the size of an object in reference to one's own. I just don't see much reason for a head scratching-debate about this. When something's been outright plagiarized in the true sense of the word, "steakling", it's plainly obvious. There's a reason that we don't sue for ideas or generalities, but that the infringement law takes a dim view of recopying paragraphs word for word.
Jen
05.15.06 at 02:45

What if she recopied paragraphs word for word. Dis the first author looses his idea? No. He wins 15 more minutes of fame. One has to know the moment he puts something out, publishing it, that it's no longer controlable. We are not talking about a car parked on the street... And even if we were, would we mind someone would copy it and had a better journey? Ideas do not fit in the same market standards of paper, so plagium must be another thing we count with in the complex territory of communication and use in the best way, be us plagiarists or plagiated.
For example: Michael Bierut did it well this time by intelligently quoting the source.
João Marrucho
05.15.06 at 04:34

The New York media world has been obsessed of late with the story of Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard undergraduate who landed a two-book deal for $500,000 from Little, Brown while still in high school. Within weeks of the publication of her first novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, allegations arose that she had copied passages from books by another young-adult author. Soon schadenfreude-fueled investigators uncovered similaries to still other books. Confronted with the near-duplicate passages, Viswanathan first denied everything ("I have no idea what you are talking about."), then conceded inadvertent wrongdoing ("Any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious."), and finally admitted to The New York Times that the problem was her photographic memory ('''I remember by reading. I never take notes...I really thought the words were my own.")

Kurt Andersen, assessing the controversy in New York Magazine, observed, "Plagiarists almost never simply confess. There are always mitigating circumstances."

Well, let me be the first to come clean: I am a plagiarist.

Or am I? About a year ago, I was asked by a longtime client, the Yale School of Architecture, to design a poster for a symposium they were organizing. The event had one of the most cumbersome names I'd ever been asked to handle: "Non-Standard Structures: An Organic Order of Irregular Geometries, Hybrid Members, and Chaotic Assemblies." I was stumped. I described my interpretation of the symposium's theme — the strange forms that can result from computer-generated processes — to one of my partners, Abbott Miller, and he suggested I use a version of Hoefler & Frere-Jones's as-of-yet unreleased typeface Retina. This was a great idea. Designed for very small reproduction on newsprint, the letterforms were drawn with exaggerated interior forms to compensate for ink spread. Blown up to headline size, the font looked bizarrely distorted, but each oddity was a product of nothing more than technical requirements: an apt metaphor for the design work that the symposium would address.

Still, that was a long headline. It was hard to make the letterforms big enough to demonstrate the distortion. I tried a bunch of variations without success. Finally, with the deadline looming, out of nowhere a picture formed in my mind: big type at the top, reducing in size from line to line as it moved down the poster, almost a parody of that long symposium title. And one more finishing touch: thick bars underlining every word. This approach came together quickly. It was one of those solutions that, for me at least, had a mysterious sense of preordained rightness.

And for good reason. My solution was very similar to something I had seen almost 30 years ago, a piece by one of my favorite designers, Willi Kunz. There are differences, of course: Kunz's type goes from small to big, and my goes the other way around; Kunz's horizontal lines change size, and mine do not; and, naturally, Kunz uses Akzidenz Grotesk, rather than a typeface that wouldn't be invented until 2002. But still, the black on white, the change in typographic scale, the underscores: all these add up to two solutions that look more alike than different.

I didn't realize this until a few weeks ago, when I was looking through the newly-published fourth edition of Phil Meggs's History of Graphic Design. And there it was, on page 476, a reproduction of Willi Kunz's abstract letterpress exploration from 1975. I recognized it immediately as something I had seen in my design school days. More recently, it was reproduced in Kunz's Typography: Macro- and Microaesthetics, published just two years ago, a copy of which I own.

Did I think of it consciously when I designed my poster? No, my excuse was the same as Kaavya Viswanathan's: I saw something, stored it in my memory, forgot where it came from, and pulled it out later — much later — when I needed it. Unlike some plagiarists, I didn't make changes to cover my tracks. (At various points, Viswanathan appears to have changed names like "Cinnabon" to "Mrs. Fields" and "Human Evolution" to "Psych," as one professor at Harvard observed, "in the hope of making the result less easily googleable.") My sin is more like that of George Harrison, who was successfully sued for cribbing his song "My Sweet Lord" from an earlier hit by the Chiffons, "He's So Fine." Just like me, Harrison claimed — more credibly than Viswanathan — that any similarities between his work and another's were unintended and unconscious. Nonetheless, the judge's ruling against him was unequivocal: "His subconscious knew it already had worked in a song his conscious did not remember... That is, under the law, infringement of copyright, and is no less so even though subconsciously accomplished."

I find all of this rather scary. I don't claim to have a photographic memory, but my mind is stuffed full of graphic design, graphic design done by other people. How can I be sure that any idea that comes out of that same mind is absolutely my own? Writing in Slate, Joshua Foer reports that after Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism, she was virtually paralyzed. "I have ever since been tortured by the fear that what I write is not my own," said Keller. "For a long time, when I wrote a letter, even to my mother, I was seized with a sudden feeling, and I would spell the sentences over and over, to make sure that I had not read them in a book." The challenge is even more pronounced in design, where we manipulate more generalized visual forms rather than specific sequences of words.

In the end, accusations of plagiarism are notoriously subjective, and some people who have seen my piece and Kunz's side by side have said they're quite different. You can judge for yourself. All I know for certain is that I felt a powerful sense of unease when I turned to page 476 in A History of Graphic Design. That alone compels me to offer Willi Kunz an apology. I just wish for both our sakes that I had a $500,000 advance to offer him as well.
vibranium
05.15.06 at 08:35

For whatever value it may have, I offer the following observation:

Mr. Bierut writes that, in designing a poster, he has been influenced (he refers to himself harshly as a "plagarist") by Mr. Kunz - to the extent that he feels the need to apologize. Mr. Kunz posts his acknowledgment of that influence and his understanding of the differences between the two pieces in question.

I am a bit surprised that no one has mentioned that Mr. Kunz's piece was arguably influenced by Mr. Weingart.

I wonder if this addition to the discussion would insert a new perspective or merely extend it in its current trajectory. At the very least, it might mean that Michael doesn't need to apologize after all. The family tree of influence has deep roots indeed.
Mark Jamra
05.16.06 at 12:36

This is a really interesting post. What's really interesting to me as well is the entire idea of ownership of ideas. I recognize that cases of blatant plagiarism should be brought to light, but what happens when the line is blurred? For example, I have been discussing a current design project with several friends and family members, and when I told them the concept I am pursuing they said that a similar idea had crossed their minds. This could either mean that it is too obvious and therefore not good, or that it is the perfect solution because it is so universal. But considering that we all had similar ideas independent of one another, does one of us own that idea? Is it a matter of beating each other to the punch? As graphic designers, it's really important to not let our work become derivative, but it's also inevitable that some work will end up looking similar to something that's already been done.
Jessica
05.16.06 at 03:03

Shae M,

I enjoyed your comment regarding individual style. I think biases come from comfortable solutions to repeated problems. Once you solve it particularly well, it's easy to keep doing it that way. I don't think you learn unless one actually plays with the conceptual aspects of the design elements.

To keep myself in check, I use the "domino review" as taught in undergrad studio arts by Bill Welu (MFA, Notre Dame):

You simply lay down each of our own visual output like dominoes. Your first study goes on the center of the floor. (The height is necessary to get perspective.) Your second study/piece is placed next to it. The third is placed next to the one containing the most similar design elements, and so on. The actual order of creation is arbitrary, just a starting point. Each offshoot becomes a path with all your own answers to a specific situation. At the end of each brach is a piece with all variations leading up to it. This formally identifies the similarities within your own work by categorically differentiating it.

You get a sense of your individual "style" rather quickly. Page texture, color sensibilities, imagery are a few things that are easier to identify. The harder things are like "line quality," where it's easier to see how sensitive an artist may be by examining their body of work. The designer's vocabulary differs because of the execution: it's a culmination of weight, whitespace within a typeface and layout; not simply a light-weight font selection. Heck, line quality for a graphic designer is almost a direct result of the printer!

It might suprise you how much you rely on certain techniques, elements and arrangements. These are what you generally identified as a solution to recurring design problems that you face. (Not everyone faces the same problems, not everyone uses the same solutions.) You see patterns of aptitude and areas that need improvement.

I consider it a personal responsibility for the artist or designer to push ALL the areas you identify (strengths and weaknesses) to a new level of abstraction on their own, aka PLAY WITH IT.

When you make a discovery about your own work, there usually follows some kind of philosophical inquisition/resolution, too. Do we copy ourselves? Yes. But, by definition, we cannot plagarize ourselves.

---

A connection I see to Mr. Beruit's piece, is Barbara Kruger's work: horizontal bars wth sans-serif text. Here the bars are black and adjacent to the text, but they carry equal page weight as italicized red ones.
Whenever I see computer highlighting around text (be it CSS backgrounds or mouse highlighting) I cannot help but think of graphic design's earlier text-boxing contributions.
Benxamin
05.16.06 at 01:12

Love it! So True!
I use other people's art as inspiration, designs or not. Is it wrong? I don't think so. It helps kick start your brain, maybe it makes you think of a problem a different way. It's like brainstorming. Is it plagiarism if you're talking to someone about a design problem and they have an idea that triggers a resolution? We're expected to produce designs in such short amounts of time, sometimes there's no time to search to make sure what you're doing hasn't been done before. A poster lives for a month or 2, then it's gone. A logo it's a bigger issue, it may live forever. This "plagiarism" will never stop unless you move into a cave. Any type of stimuli influences us, from colors to music to designs, to furniture and architecture. A good designer takes those influences, uses them as stepping stones and builds from that.
Juan Cano
05.16.06 at 01:23

Mark Jamra mentions how the posters have connections to Weingart.
I was thinking it also has strong connections to the Constructivist, De Stijl, Moholy-Nagy typographic work with bars and, perhaps more so, specifically to the Polish constructivists and Mechano-faktura.
Meggs says about Polish designer Berlewi: "Believing that modern art was filled with illusionistic pitfalls, he mechanized... graphic design into a constructed abstraction that abolished any illusion of three dimension. This was accomplished by mathematical placement of simple geometric forms on a ground."
So, designers now work on machines which function based on math and we tend to do geometric forms on a ground.
We create based on the past. No problem. Just know your history and know the roots of the visual language you use.
JC
05.16.06 at 01:46

Check this out. Creative synchronicity?
Joe Moran
05.16.06 at 02:36

plagerism, in my opinion exists SOLELY with intent. If you look and copy 100% on purpose it's plagerism. If you look and copy 10% it's influence... it all comes down to the fact of intent.

Like most such conversations, plagiarism, copying, and copyright infringement have been confused in this discussion. They do not differ by percentages or degrees. They are different realms.

Plagiarism is the use of others' work as one's own. Plagiarism is not copying, it is the lie of claiming (explicitly or implicitly) to have created something that someone else in fact created. You can find some discussion of this in "Generation Ex" in Step inside design volume 21 number 4, July/August 2005 (and, last time I checked, on the Step website), my article that grew from another DO copying discussion.

The term "plagiarism" also covers instances of a lack of due diligence where another's work is presented as one's own by mistake so conscious decision is not required for plagiarism.

Copyright infringement is strictly a legal matter but there is, contrary to art school urban legend, no percentage where copyright fades away (copy 10% or redo 10% seem to be the legendary magic numbers but I've never found anyone who could explain how one could make such calculations even if the claim were true.)

One can infringe on a copyright without plagiarizing and one can plagiarize without infringing copyright.

in North America our obsession with rewarding the 'originater' and our subsequent copyright and patent laws generally stifle both creative and technical development

US copyright laws were originally very limited and had the clear intent of encouraging creative development. European (and IP corporate) influences have changed the basic notion from limited protection of expression to "moral rights."
Gunnar Swanson
05.16.06 at 06:06

Here's an entry from a fashion design blog that's seven months old. More creative synchronicity. Fascinating, no?
Joe Moran
05.16.06 at 07:08

I think the bottom line in regards to my definition of plagiarism, like the previous post, is about intention - but this in itself can be beg more questions than answers.

I'd argue that hardly anything is an original concept these days. A particular designer's style is something which is borne from experience and the output on any particular job starts out with the designer's methodology.

So how can one have millions of snapshots of ideas and images in their head and not be influenced by them? I'd argue that it's almost impossible. I mean as a designer, I've pretty much trained myself to take 'snapshots' in my head of everything and anything that catches my eye and (hopefully) store it for later use. As a junior working you're way up under different senior designers and art directors, you're style of work is often dictated by their direction ... this too has the potential to leave an impression on your design approach.

So ... the intention ... is it black and white or are there shades of grey? Is is plagiarism to be 'inspired' by and use a style/technique? For instance if I see something I really like - I might potentially incorporate the essence of it into a project but my intention would never be to blatantly rip it off. Perhaps it comes down to people's definition and degrees of intention. Here's an example ... I've worked in newspapers in my times as a freelancer and under the pressures of daily deadlines I've often had to "dig deep" for ideas - how many ways is there to illustrate the same subject matter? Under these circumstances, I'm pretty sure I've incorporated some ideas and techniques I've seen in the past whether it be something from a magazine or some image or montage I've seen somewhere else.

So is this plagiarism?

These days I hardly ever look through books before I start a job so its not like I look at something and say "Wow, this looks really great I'm going to do this...". The intention isn't there but what's to stop me from using ideas I've stored away in my mind - is it any different from the above? Probably not but as always, for me, its the intention.
Hoges
05.16.06 at 10:21

Plagiarism ( the horror, the horror )

Surely the problem with plagiarism is merely that we live in the age of the individual and being egotistical little nerds we comfort ourselves with the incredible conceit of artistic "Genius. This solves several issues, it provides an instant pecking order good for business and good for youthful ambition (I've just got to be a somebody...)

This externalising or "worship" then becomes even more distorted when the proponent becomes less human - achieved by being: Foreign, Exotic or Dead and if your all 3 thats real genius material.

Essentially what Im getting at is that in a world of strictly only a few ideas plagiarism is enivatable, or as a genius once said "it's only a problem if you make it a problem"
Zietguest
05.17.06 at 09:45

Yo - i jack peoples stuff left and right! beats having to really work on some BS project... Y'all too sensative... chill out and STFU...
Psssht!
05.17.06 at 01:25

Maybe an obvious point: there's a difference between an allusion and plagiarism. With an allusion, you want people to notice. (With comic intent, this is done all the time with the graphics for Comedy Central's The Daily Show.)

With plagiarism, you're passing off anothers work as your own; that is the key feature of plagarism.


I was only 13, but I can look at the Kunz original and think, "Oh yeah, 1975."


To me, that means that others were working with similar elements in that same year. In 18th century, many composers worked in sonata-allegro form. In the 20th century, many people played the blues. Both forms are points of departure. I'd say your work is derivative, maybe, but not plagiarism.
Chris
05.18.06 at 11:36

Plagiarism is rampant in all areas of art and design. After several years as a copyright and licensing manager (fighting infringement is a never ending battle), I returned to grad school and I'm currently finishing a masters program in design. Everyday I see students getting an assignment and immediately turning to the web to google keywords from the brief to find "inspiration" and coming in the next day with almost identical sketches. The biggest problem with plagiarism is allowing it to happen. Instead of telling students, artist, and designers to stop, we buy and sell their artworks, their designs, their services because they are cheaper than the originals. We are enabling corrupt and unoriginal practices. For every high profile Kaavya Viswanathan, or Ben Domenech, there are countless students and professionals passing off others' work as their own. If you see it happening, speak up.
Kenn
05.18.06 at 10:12

Re: the works in question: I can't really see what all the fuss is about - they're not THAT similar -hardly 'plagiarism'- both are debatable pieces of graphic design, OK one is a well-considered layout (for a page), the other a poster which, to me at least, looks a bit heavy-handed. Quite rightly, Herr Kunz has nothing to worry about. I wouldn't even consider the latter as modern day interpretation as it's been created in a very different context.
Coming up with something original? now that IS difficult. Coping somebody else's idea? - less - the art is not letting on to your influences, somehow 'disguising' the original in some other form, but you have to be good, sure, there are many who get away with it. It's fun, like an in-joke (often at a clients expense). but it does get a bit boring if for the most part it's the only means to an end - 'oh! yet another Paul Rand idea.......'
Over the years I've collected a lot of these 'similarilities', some are classics, though I've still to research the true intents. origins and the whys behind them......hmmm...now that would make an interesting design book.
Derek Stewart
05.19.06 at 08:37

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.
Thomas Jefferson
05.19.06 at 08:33

Infringements into the social realm of just about every aspect of the last 2000 years has all but ceased to arise in any such criminalisations. At the very less, most terra firma top wavers are always going to be looking into their own reflection and seeing things that look the same. Draw your face you smacked out seeps. Take this image to God and ask if him knows you to be a Plagarist.
Helften Cleft
05.26.06 at 09:11

A little over a year ago, Michael had written a blog about a student who came in to interview with him and had a piece that stylistically recalls Barbara Kruger. When pointed out the student said she'd never heard of Kruger. The ensuing discussion touched on the issue of plagiarism. It's ironic to me how this issue comes back around. At the time, most of us were ready to condemn the student as a liar and a plagiarist.
Nipith
06.02.06 at 11:56

I don't think it is even possible to create anything truly original anymore. There are only so many combinations possible. We have grown up around design, everything is designed, we have studied and emulated design and so we will inevitably have subconscious caches of design that we draw from. However, I believe that if you truly believe the design to be your own, without concious knowledge of any stylistic or elemental copying, and the design is the best solution for the project then there shouldn't be any problem. This is very hard to prove, and therefor we should not persecute people for coming to the same conclusions, unless there is an overwhelming similiarity to a complex/expensive problem.
Crystal Bianucci
06.14.06 at 03:07

I like Willi Kunz's version better. Your underlines are much too thick.
Gina
06.24.06 at 11:27

hmmmmm. plagiarism I think not. It seems more like Willi Kunz's piece inspired that one, The elements, though similar, are arranged to an entirely separate effect.
wilmo
06.29.06 at 02:15

Thats greatx
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oussie
06.07.07 at 07:28


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Bierut studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati, and has been a partner in the New York office of Pentagram since 1990. Michael is a Senior Critic in Graphic Design at the Yale School of Art.
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DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Michael Bierut

Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design
Princeton Architectural Press, 2007

Looking Closer 5
Allworth Press, 2006

Looking Closer 4
Allworth Press, 2002

Looking Closer 3
Allworth Press, 1999

Looking Closer 1
Allworth Press, 1994

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An elegy to the makeready — those sheets of paper, re-fed into a press to get the ink balances up to speed, leaving a series of often random, palimpsest-like, multiple impressions on a single surface — in the digital age.

Cranbrook Commencement Address
"I come to you, like all commencement speakers, as an emissary from the future." The commencement address delivered by Julie Lasky at the Cranbrook Academy of Art on May 9, 2008.

Greening the Grocery Store
It turns out that the "recycling symbol" at the bottom of my yogurt container had nothing to do with its recyclability. So why was it there? My curiosity led to findings around which I built a design class.

O.H.W. Hadank
Paul Rand held Hadank in the highest esteem because he practiced modernist formal principles even though he did not follow its dogma or style. And most important, as Rand said “Hadank was then and always an original. A profile of O.H.W. Hadank by Steven Heller...