Designers plea -Please don’t ask me to copy clip art.

I love my job. I really do. Very few people have the ability to wake up every morning and sit down to their computer or a pile of fresh, clean paper and know that today they get to be creative. As a designer, I do.

I have that luxury. For my clients I have ample opportunities to sketch, take photos, doodle in illustrator and really -be a professional child. I love where all the creativity can take me. When a client says something like, “I can’t believe you spent time illustrating that,” the truth is -I wanted to do it, even if it was something I wasn’t sure the client was going to like. Part of my job as a designer is exploring different avenues of that work. Trying new things. Sometimes that means navigating away from what I myself like and sometimes that means experimenting with things my clients may not have had in mind. But all of this is part of the creative nature of design.

Today it’s very simple and easy to “google,” for inspiration.

The difficulty with this is that many of my clients don’t see these stock images or clip art photos as inspiration, they see them and focus on them as design staples. A piece of clip art becomes a design element that gets stuck in their head as something they must have. Something that should not be changed, much. Something they want -badly.

Because of the vast libraries of clip art available, you can google thousands upon thousands of images and give it an instant thumbs up or down. We are so used to that instant gratification. For many, using this is as simple as “copy & paste.” There are a few things wrong with that when it comes to branding though.
1. Copyright infringement. Enough said. Nobody wants their business to grow and then be slammed by some copyright problem. Can’t get trademarked? Maybe someone even slaps a lawsuit on you. (Which honestly, as someone who has had another “designer,” use my work without my permission, I can understand the feelings involved that would encourage this reaction.) Running into copyright problems is no good and if you’ve hired a designer this should simply never be something you are faced with.
2. Originality. If you are using clipart or something so “inspired,” by clip art that it’s nearly the same thing, there are probably thousands of businesses out there using the same or similar items in their branding because they put it together themselves or because they hired an inexperienced designer. If you ever want to stand out this is not the way to go. Even if you go the route of using a commercial license with a piece of stock clip art… do you really want to, knowing so many others will have the same things?

With original designs they take time to create and that does not necessarily mean that a client will give a “thumbs up.” I encourage my clients to remember that that is OK.
Not everything I design you will like.
Not everything I design I will like.
Sometimes what my client and I like won’t work for the business or the market at all and we have to scrap it for something that better suits the potential clientele.

I’d like to take the moment to remind clients and others, as personal as a logo might seem -it’s more paramount that your logo and branding suit your target demographic than that it suits you personally.

Lately I’ve had something of a scourge of requests from numerous clients to mimic pieces or whole clip arts they found around the world wide web. While ultimately it’s my responsibility to make my clients happy (which in cases like this, means mimicking without copying existing works). I use all of the usual words and phrases, trying to steer clients away from this without sounding rude or pretentious. The hard truth is, once you’ve chosen me as a designer and once I’ve chosen you as a client, as an artist that specializes in art that tends to be collaborative, I’m probably going to do what you ask.

I’m never going to want to feature it in my portfolio and I’m going to pray that you don’t pass on my name as a referral (as much as I love new business, people who like your clip art styled logo enough to get one from me are probably just looking for clipart too) and I’m not going to be proud of the work I did for you, because no matter how long I spend mimicking without copying -it’s never, not ever, going to feel like my own. It’s like saying there is a difference between a “forgery,” and a “fake.” Sure, it might mean slightly different things but it still feels dishonest.

So, before I do a project for you I’m going to ask just one thing. Please don’t ask me to copy or use clip art. I want to and can do something so much better for you. Allow clip art, photos, logos and design… google or whatever search engine you are using to inspire you. Allow it to give you different perspectives, allow it to show you how many possibilities there are in the design world to follow. If you love a trend, share it with me. I want to see what you like, I want to know what you love. It helps inspire me to create something special for you.

But for the love of beautiful and original design -please don’t ask me to copy clip art.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *