After landing in Phoenix last night, my traveling companion and I stopped in Scottsdale for some late night mexican food. A necessity after spending half the day on a plane. On the way to Glendale, around to my hotel, we drove through what I now know understand to be “New Scottsdale”, the “ritzy” part of town; lots of new finished construction and that sort of thing. Two and three story buildings full of Neiman Marcuses and Crate & Barelses and trendy places to eat with obscure spanish sounding names, full of slick modern architecture built out of cheap looking materials and painted in dark and neutral colors. All things that make me feel like they are trying so very hard. Too hard, almost.
Why is this new part of town with the new money trying so very hard to emulate what we’ve seen in so many other parts of so many other cities that are perceived as “upscale”? The truth is that this sort of perception works. This is where the marketing and fiduciary statistics works against the creative process. They see a product succeed and want that success for their product, so they mirror the design with hopes of mirroring the success.
Pablo Picaso famously said “Good artist copy. Great artist steal.” I often tell new designers that when they go to look through a magazine or on the web for inspiration to look at what makes the thing they like the thing they like. That is to say, find out what makes that great design great, whether it’s composition, color, the way it works in the space they’re given or even the way you interact with it, and then use that as a lesson to apply in they’re design. You’re not stealing or copying, you’re learning from what works. It’s definitely a step up from just outright “creative theft”.
Jeff Veen gives this 5 minute Ignite presentation that touches on all of this. I enjoyed his parallel between iPhone knock-offs and the “cargo cults” that developed after WWII.
So, if good artist copy and if great artist steal I submit the best artists (and in this case, designers) are the ones worth stealing from.