Design Essentials 2: Originality

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originalityindesignThis chapter of Design Essentials will cover the topic of  Originality in design. Originality is the ability to think independently and creatively.

So why is it so important that we, as designers, are original thinkers? Put most simply, original designs are more effective.

Let’s take a look at the concept of originality in design:

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But don’t great designers copy?

It’s been a popular topic of discussion here on Millo and throughout the design community: do great designers really copy other designers’ work? While you may or may not agree that copying other designers is admirable or correct, you have to admit that those designers who spend time copying others’ work become very skilled at the technique.
The difference between originality in technique and originality in thought and execution is enormous. While you may choose to copy other designers’ techniques by following tutorials, mimicking styles, or blatantly copying designs, originality of thought is not something that can simply be copied. It takes years of work and discipline to become an independent and original thinker.

Why a lot of designers lack originality

If it is so important that each design is original, why do we so many copied ideas and duplicated designs? I blame the internet. Don’t get me wrong–I absolutely love the internet. I love how involved designers are on twitter & facebook, on their personal blogs, etc. But I believe that the enormity and popularity of the design community are a two-edge sword. While many sites offer great tutorials on how to be a good designer, their underlying message is frequently misunderstood. You see, as designers follow tutorials, they should learn techniques that will help them as they progress in their career. Instead, a great majority of designers begin to copy, pixel for pixel, every tutorial’s design and claim it as their own.

See the problem?

Designers should strive to create their own creative methods by adapting the techniques and styles demonstrated in design tutorials all around the web.

A few tips on creating original designs

Now that we have briefly discussed the importance originality in design, here are a few great ways you can strive for more originality as a designer (please also add your tips to the list):

  • Break the rules. Going against the grain and designing something totally unexpected is a great way to be more original. Of course, to break design rules, you have to first have a firm understanding of them.
  • Broaden your scope of inspiration. A lot of designers tend to focus on one single site or a small group of web sites for their creative inspiration and instruction. Make sure you frequently bookmark and use new sites. Connect via twitter and other avenues to find fresh inspiration in places you have never thought to look before.
  • Design just for design’s sake. It’s hard to push originality to its fullest when you are limited by particular client restraints. Take an afternoon to just design something for design’s sake and I think you’ll be impressed how creative you can be.
  • Step outside your comfort zone. You might be comfortable designing for print media; try designing for the web. If you prefer logo design, try something unique like package design. You can be most creative when you aren’t stifled by the rules and guidelines you or others have set up in a particular skill your familiar with.

What else would you add?

That’s all I’ve got for now, but the topic leaves a lot to be discussed. What other originality-boosters would you add to the list above? What are your thoughts on the importance of originality in design? Share your thoughts with the rest of us.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, and the founder of this blog. You can contact him via twitter at @prestondlee.

Leave a Comment



  1. What I would like to add is don’t be afraid to encourage your clients to consider other possiblities, not get sucked into following their industry norms – but ultimatley design has to be usable.

  2. Too often when you are staring at a blank screen with the intent to come up with something original and are drawing a blank. It is much easier to find other works that are similar to what you are trying to accomplish. This is the point where you make the decision do I copy what I like about the other persons work or create my own.

    This is what I do. I copy what I like about the design.

    but wait….

    after I have copied the element that I like I then change them and make them my own. The design evolves with my personality until it looks nothing like the original.

  3. I’d like to add: try not to find inspiration only from your field (the web if you are a web designer, printing adds if you work in this area, …). There are great source of novelty and inspiration that you even wouldn’t think of, just be open-minded and you’ll find your way to make them yours.

  4. I find it very helpful to scan through good design that is similar in style or medium to what I am trying to create. This helps my ideas to flow and often allows me to come up with ideas that are not exact copies, but are inspired by the original work.

    When you are looking at a piece of design that you really like and want to create something similar, a helpful question to ask is, “Why do I like this?” Is it because of the visual hierarchy, the basic composition, the details, the typography, the layout, how it communicates, or what? If you know WHY you like it, you can shoot for your goals without just copying the original design.

  5. Great read man. Very inspiring. Doing a personal project is the only way I find that allow me to break the rules completely without affecting anyone.

  6. Noor Salah says:

    Thanks a lot for this topic

    Its really big deal these days and a lot of designers need to know how to be more original and creative.

    Thanks preston

  7. Loved the article.
    I love design, even not being a designer (yet). My main question always is what is copy and what is just a trend. I struggle with this. And sometimes I come with an “original” idea, and later I see something similar. How to avoid this? Could be a good next article.

  8. I think that designing just for the sake of design is a good point. Clients can often limit the way a design could potentially eveolve so it is nice from time to time to have complete freedom. Thanks for sharing, great post.

  9. Great post. I made your page one of my three featured links on my Design Thought for the Day blog:

    All the best, Ted


  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by prestondlee: New blog post: Design Essentials 2: Originality

  2. […] two chapters of Design Essentials, we covered topics that dealt with the quality of your design: Originality, and Attention to Detail. While today’s essential design tip will help your designs look […]


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