Lessons in Creativity


Yesterday one of my favorite clients sent me a text message with a screenshot of their logo. After taking a closer look, I realized that it wasn’t really their logo but a rip off of the one that I had designed for them last year. My heart started beating fast and after calling her I found out that another company was using it as their own. Seriously. TOTAL rip off (but poorly done). Obviously legal actions could have been taken but instead I chose to blast the company by sending a tweet and posting a comparison shot on Instagram for all my followers. I instantly received feedback and the company at fault was getting cc’d on everything. I felt instantly validated and waited for them to respond.

After a few hours, they did respond. Privately. They told me that they had taken it down everywhere and that they had hired a designer that had obviously ripped everyone off. Ultimately they were hurt by the entire experience. I realized in that moment that I had acted too impulsively and felt pretty crappy. As the evening progressed, I realized a few things…

When you are constantly making content, you will be imitated.

This kind of copycat situation never happens when you aren’t making anything to begin with. I am constantly making new things. Whether they are designs, side projects or businesses…I’m putting myself out there and online. I remember in art school seeing painters getting influenced by other painters in a very literal way. Sites like Dribbble make it easy to see what’s trending and can lead to lots of rip offs. We’re told, as designers, to steal. It’s easy to do and if you’re making a lot of work…it will probably happen more often than you know.

Public shaming is crappy.

There’s a fine line between being a bully and standing up for yourself and others. After last night, I felt like a bully. I used my social media network to publicly shame another small business and I won’t do it again. Ever. I should have messaged them directly and asked for more information. Why didn’t I? Because I was afraid I would look weak or that I would fail my client. I didn’t want them to have the upper hand and so I took the first punch. (PS: It doesn’t make you feel better).

The Internet is actually a small world after all.

On the other hand, this experience has also taught me that the Internet is super small. We are all connected and it’s almost impossible to rip someone off without them knowing about it sooner or later. It also is a small enough world that with one Google image search, you can probably find out your competition and what’s popular in your industry. If you hire a designer or someone making original content for your business – you should also be doing a bit of work/research. Demand that your designer do the same.

Designers, get your sh*t together!

Quit copying each other. Quit acting like you’re the bomb dot com. Do solid work and stop making it hard for the rest of us. I would say that 70% of my clients came to me after a really, really bad situation with their last designer. They’re hurt, they don’t fully trust me and they’re hesitant to hire someone new. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Yeah our last designer just fell off the face of the earth.” Step up and do good work. We can’t always guarantee our designs are 100% original but you sure can try to find out.

So that was my lesson(s) learned. I apologized to the company last night and hope that I didn’t do any damage. I know what it’s like to run a small businesses and reputation is everything. And yes, I am trying to find out who their designer was. A little private conversation needs to happen. Have you ever had something like this happen to you? How did you handle it? 

A Consideration

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Comments (16)

  • I barely caught this yesterday. Sorry to see that happen to you, Allie! I’ve had someone steal from me recently, a firm in town, and while awful somewhat empowering to know your work is excellent enough to be stolen.

    I wrote a blog post on this topic around Christmas if you’d like to read; my thoughts are similar: http://bit.ly/1006X5L

    Best of luck! I’m sure this will work out!

  • great insight, thanks for sharing your experience!

  • I’m a little confused, is the client and the company who stole the logo, two different unrelated items? Like is this client alerting you to the fact someone stole your work? Or were they using the stolen work?

    Oh man nothing worse than finding out someone ripped you off. Such a horrible feeling. I’m glad they realized it was an issue and took everything down to help remedy the situation. I have to agree that there are a lot of shitty freelancers out there. I’ve dealt with some and even Scott has had to deal with it. It sucks and does make it hard to want to work with another person in that capacity. Great tips on how to handle it in the future though!

    • No, my client essentially found another company that was using a rip off of their logo (the one that I designed). They had a search set up for keywords on Twitter and saw it. Good catch though, right?

      It is such an awful feeling. You want to yell, “They copied!” like you were back in middle school haha. It’s so disappointing to me that so many freelancers handle themselves so poorly!!

  • Oh wow and holy crap! Yes that was a great catch by the company! Dang, I just can’t believe people sometimes.

  • So sorry this happened to you, Allie, and I really appreciate that you took time to provide honest reflection on a really crappy situation.

  • wow, great honest truths here! thanks for sharing

  • I love your humble take on this experience Allie! I would like to take you off the hook a bit here and put some of the blame on the company who hired the designer that ended up ripping them off in the end… you will always, always get what you pay for. Paying for less than design work deserves means that your designer will likely cut corners somewhere. Completely outside of cost, it’s also important to take it upon yourself to do your own research after a designer submits content, especially when that content will be your brand logo. Your name is on the line and ultimately you’re responsible for what’s put out there, regardless of whether your hands were the one who created (or copied) it. So happy they were cooperative in your case. :)

    • Aw thanks Ashley. That does make me feel better. I still take responsibility for MY actions but it’s hard not to be angry when stuff like this happens. And I agree, it’s a lesson that we’re all responsible for the business we take part in. Anyways, thank you so much for commenting!! Made me smile.

  • Excellent points. It can definitely be hard not to copy when constantly skimming through ideas all day. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’ve done it because we’ve just got so much inspiration swirling around in our heads (although I know there are people out there who do it on purpose). I’ve found it can be helpful when searching for inspiration to wait a day before acting on any inspiration. That gives it time to swirl around in your head and merge with other sources of inspiration (thereby becoming something new) rather than just acting on it right away (and probably copying pretty heavily, even if you didn’t fully intend to).

    As far as other people copying me… I figure if they do it, it’s on their conscience. Also they won’t have the same inspiration/feeling going into the design that I did when I made it, so it won’t have the same vibe that mine did anyway. Copycat items rarely have the same heart to them that an original item does, so if someone tries to copy, I just chalk it up to flattery and figure that they’ll move on to copy someone else later and/or finally come up with their own designs at some point. It’s not worth it to me to worry about confronting them b/c I know that they aren’t passionate about my design in the same way I was so it probably won’t stick w/ them for long anyway.

    • It is SO difficult to not pull inspiration directly and apply them to your designs. I love your method of waiting after browsing. I am definitely going to “steal” that from you ;)

      Great attitude about being copied too. I love your attitude! Thanks for the comment, Jennifer!

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