Inspiration or Copy?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Every season I get a handful of inquiries about essentially copying a design a potential client has seen somewhere else. It’s not an uncommon occurrence in my line of work, but it brings up a broader issue that plagues us all as creative professionals. Where is the line between inspiration + copy?

We now live in the age of Pinterest, which is an amazing tool. I use it often, and I do find it very helpful in connecting with my clients. I tell people to bring inspiration to our meetings, and sometimes they arrive with pictures of other invitations. I ask them what they like about it, and it gets the conversation going. I also get inspired by other artists’ choices on layout, technique, and more as I peruse my Pinterest feed. We must be in touch with what others are doing, while maintaining our own style + voice. But Pinterest is also an obstacle we must overcome as wedding professionals (but more on that later….).

I could go all Philosophy-101 on you and ask, in the digital era can we say if anything is 100% original? Today our world is saturated with so much visual inspiration through the web + social media. But at end of the day, we know where the line is…because when we cross it, something doesn’t feel right. {For a great article on this topic, check out this link from Nicole’s Classes. And for the record, my whole “where the line is” concept was written before that article was posted, proving their point that 2 people can have similar ideas!}

One client in a past season asked me to copy a design. It wasn’t clear that this was her intent until we were into the process, and I was at a crossroads. This person was officially my client now, and I wanted to give her what she wanted. The business side of me said it was a good client and business is business. But the artist in me couldn’t ignore the pit in my stomach that wouldn’t go away. I knew that going back on my “promise” to the client wasn’t great for business, but a clean conscience was more important. Once you put something out there, you can’t go back. In business we make plenty of mistakes we don’t foresee, and we certainly screw up due to being new, naive and nervous. But if I’ve learned anything as a small-business owner, it’s that once you gain some confidence you have to trust your instincts. Sometimes it’s all you have when you work for yourself.

One of my favorite bloggers from The Business of Being Creative wrote in one post, “If your clients just need you to do what they say, they do not really need you. What they actually need is for you to go further than they ever could.” So as frustrating as the “can-you-do-this-but-in-my-colors?” + “I-want-this-Style-Me-Pretty-Wedding-Exactly” inquiries can be, they are opportunities for us to earn our chops. We can show that client that there is something to be created that is unique to them, beyond the “pin” they love so much. It’s our job to promise that + deliver.

The “this-is-exacty-what-I-wanted” reactions are great, but the “this-is more-than-I-could-have-imagined” ones are even better.

1 comment

  • Crystal Thomas

    Awesome post and very interesting topic. This is one thing I deal with on a constant basis. I agree with you 100%. If a client comes to me with someone else’s idea, there’s nothing keeping us from taking that idea and truly making it our own. Its an opportunity to go above and beyond expectations and deliver something really unique.

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