Design it like Jimi Hendrix

Today I received an interesting question:

Scott, how do you feel about the thought of “stealing” ideas and designs? [One of my professors] told me to look at ads that won awards (like in Communication Arts magazine), and to copy them, but change the image, copy, brand, and concept. I like the idea because it helps me to see how things should look, but I’ve hit an ethical boundary. And, am I learning less if I take other people’s designs? What are your thoughts?

My reply: James, it all depends on the amount that you take from the original ad (from the magazine).  If you copy everything except change the brand name and the logo, you are not being creative… you are stealing. If you are inspired by the other work, and you apply your own thoughts to it, you’re being creative.

Everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) influences everyone’s work. There has never been a totally original good thought that was not based on anything before it.

Another POV is that you are in the VCU ad program to learn advertising. Studying the work of successful ad people is a great way to learn how to do good work yourself. Can you imagine a music major who never listens to The Beatles, Bach, Mozart, Oscar Peterson, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Wonder?  And when she hears how Jimi Hendrix took the classic blues tunes and added his flare to it… don’t you think Jimi might influence how she composes her own music? For sure.  Is she copying Jimi Hendrix?  Maybe in some part, but not really.  And the reality is that Jimi copied many of the old-time blues musicians and the rock-n-roll trailblazers of the early 60s.

I cannot imagine any legitimate music experts saying that Jimi Hendrix crossed over ethical boundaries and was really a fake. I know for a fact that he used other musician’s licks… but his music is his. Jimi Hendrix is an original.

So, James… when you are working on your next project, design it like Jimi Hendrix plays the guitar. And I bet you’ll be proud of the results. I hope that helps.  — Scott

What are your thoughts on this issue? Please add a comment to let me know.

2 Responses

  1. Also, this Jim Jarmusch quote expresses some of what you’re talking about:

  2. […] current favorite is by another VCU colleague, Scott Sherman, who has cooked up a great blog that is his reflective space for sharing ideas about teaching advertising.  Scott has embarked on […]

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