The Impossibility of Originality

Earlier this year, Tokyo pulled the plug on its Olympics 2020 logo amid claims designer, Kenjiro Sano, had copied Olivier Debie’s 2013 Théâtre de Liège logo design. It sparked a debate about whether originality in design can exist. We are all constantly absorbing our surroundings – creative people more so than anyone, taking in what they see and storing it away for future use. Whether consciously or not, designers take in the visuals they see around them every day; from posters and adverts, to shop signs and websites.

The creative process often works subconsciously. A design brief from a client could trigger the memory of a logo a designer has seen somewhere before, and this can trickle down into their design without them even thinking about it. Does our visual, vibrant, and constantly evolving culture make originality impossible?

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing” – Salvador Dali

Designers, and creative people in general, strive to hear their work described as ‘original’, but to create something completely original is pretty much unachievable. Design, in particular, involves rearranging existing elements into something new. There are only so many shapes and symbols that exist, but a good designer has the ability to rearrange them and tweak them into something creatively different that fits their client’s brief.

Can a design really be plagiarised?

For graphic designers, there is always a fear of being accused of plagiarism. This can sometimes preoccupy designers from creating something great. Ignoring inspiration can of course have a negative impact on design. Every idea must spring from somewhere. A design brief in itself will have taken inspiration from another source, as the client will have an idea in their head of what they want based on something they’ve seen another brand do.

Plagiarism in design is extremely hard to prove, and can be extremely frustrating for both the accused and the accuser. Graphic designers use similar tools so it is no surprise that they reach the same conclusions and end up producing similar ideas, particularly when it comes to logos.

Concept over style

While establishing that in a visual sense it is almost impossible to be completely original in design, the place where one can be completely original, is in the concept behind the design. The reasoning and decision making behind shooting ‘that image’ in ‘that way’. The reason behind using ‘that graphic’ or ‘this wording’. Basically the reason behind communicating the key messages visually and how to accomplish that.

This area is what makes a great design. To be effective in communicating an idea to an end consumer, only 30% is style and the rest is concept. Style is still important as it sets the tone for the concept and helps to bring relevance and comfort to the viewer, but to stand out from the crowd the concept needs to be king. Keep the style simple but the concept clever and you’ll be a winner.

There is no doubt that the line between influence and plagiarism is fuzzy, and we think it’s an interesting topic very much open for debate. At Digital Glue, we believe in putting our own unique spin on everything we do, but we look for inspiration everywhere. We might see a website layout that we think would be perfect for a client, for example. If your brand could do with a refresh, you can rely on Digital Glue to deliver exciting ideas. Click here to have a chat with us.


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