The Line Between Design Inspiration & Stealing

Katie Allred

The Line Between Design Inspiration & Stealing

Katie Allred

Let’s be truthful- for us to learn; we have to learn from elsewhere. We naturally get inspired and imitate what we know as we learn from it. That’s just the way it works. The journey of almost every artist starts with imitating other creators. The experience has led them, over time, to explore and discover their own style. Most concepts are interpretations of something original. Subconsciously, we all pick up on stuff that we have seen from others. But there’s a fine line between being inspired by others’ works and just stealing them in the creative world. Some people cross it. There’s nothing wrong with getting inspiration from someone else. But as we create our wonderful projects, we can follow these best practices that could help us avoid crossing over the line between design inspiration and stealing.


Copy from many sources

Getting inspiration is great. Learning from others’ experiences and what has worked will help you establish your design and creativity. But if you only know from an individual source, it may lead you to steal their style and be completely unoriginal entirely. This, in hindsight, will not help you in your goal to stand out from others.

To combat this, gather lots of inspiration from different sources before you start on your project. From that, get bits of ideas from these works that you can craft into your work. By pulling together inspirations from various references, you are more likely to create a piece that looks different from your inspiration.


Compare output from “inspiration.”

It is not really that hard to see for yourself if your work is very much like someone else’s. You have lots of opportunities to avoid complications and issues regarding plagiarism. Reevaluating your creations before publishing them will definitely help you in the long run.

Once you finished your project, try to reassess the references you’ve gathered. Assess each of them and compare them with your own output. If you think that there is something in your work that looks too similar to someone else’s, you probably need to reconsider and change your design elements.


Always add, subtract, and modify something.

In every design that you create based on someone’s work, don’t just limit yourself to recreating it entirely. Instead, always remember these 3 things—add, subtract, and modify. Having a reference or inspiration isn’t wrong or illegal. We can ensure that we aren’t completely stealing another piece of work by following these simple guidelines. Because, again, we can follow these best practices that could help us avoid crossing over a line between design inspiration and stealing.


First, you can add more elements from the original work, like a simple textured background or an icon that could upgrade the initial design. Second, you could subtract details or sections of the reference artwork, removing elements that you don’t necessarily need with your intended output. Last but definitely not least, modify. Tweak the remaining original details such as their colors, placements, size, and more. Do not limit yourself to the initial design. Learn how to play with it and alter it to create something new from it.


Tips from our fellow church communicators

“Rather than using one image as the only source for inspiration, try using 2-3 that you like and combining the elements – colors, typography, spacing, layout… Creating a mood board can be really helpful to ensure that you are pulling from as many different places as possible. You can also try studying the image that you like, writing down what you like about it, and then putting it away when you are actually designing. Clipping the exact colors, finding the exact typeface, and tracing specific shapes isn’t allowing your own creativity to flow into the project.” – Rachel Evelyn Woolard.

“It’s sporadic to get a completely original design. Somehow or way, it’s going to look similar to someone else’s design somewhere. The key is to use an idea and make sure you add your own flair and include the necessary components requested by the client…” – Jeremy Victory.

“The inspiration might be in the look and feel or in the concept. But it would help if you always made it your own. Use your own words or your own background, or your own concept. Then, if you must, apply what you liked from another designer to your idea. We all learn from one another, but recreating (or using) what you saw someone else do is essentially plagiarism.” – Yvette Hunt.

“Look at the design carefully and determine what you like (the clean lines; the beautiful photo; the font—serif, san serif, brush, hand); etc. Once you clarify what you like, you can transfer those concepts into your own unique design.” – Ann Papenfuss.

“Such a great question. I’m in the same place. Not a graphic designer by trade but charged with the look for all of our communications. I found it helpful first drafting a brand guide – logo, colors, fonts, etc., and putting examples of photography (I love and social posts on a large bulletin board. I started to see commonalities that I could draw on to craft my own vision board. It’s a bit time consuming, but I found it so worthwhile. It’s also important to connect it to the overall atmosphere you’re creating in worship (warm, friendly, contemporary, etc.). I hope that helps a little.” – Mary Brogdon Wessel.



As multi-tasking church communicators, we get creative burn out which makes it hard to design even a single communication material. And so we resort to finding inspiration. When you are already burned out, it is easy to cross the line between design inspiration and stealing. With this in mind, we always have to be aware and respectful in creating graphics by remembering the three tips – find more than one source, compare your output with the sources, and always modify.




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