Design ideas: 'Good artists copy, great artists steal'

Picasso said "Good artists copy, great artists steal." But what's really being copied and stolen? Form, rather than function, according to designer Jeff Veen.

In a speech at a recent Ignite event, designer Jeff Veen looks at artist Pablo Picasso's infamous quote, "Good artists copy, great artists steal," and applies it to the technology world.

Take the Apple iPhone, for example: lots of icon-based touchscreen smartphones have followed in the wake of the original device. (Or, for that matter, the iPad.)

Here's Veen:

Every so often, there’s a product that works so well, that gets technology so right, that it appears almost to be like magic, and almost immediately, competitors do these superficial… knock-offs of the features that they see, hoping that they too can cash in on that success.

Is this bad? For every wonderful derivative work, you get a knockoff.

Veen summarizes the problem as follows:

Shouldn't copying something be easier than creating it? The problem is that the work on the original is invisible. The copier doesn't know why it looks the way it looks.

But Apple CEO Steve Jobs has gone on record stating that Apple too has taken ideas from others. "We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas," he says in the following video:

So what's the answer? Veen hits it on the head:

The key here is to be intentional with what we steal, to look at what the principles are behind the things that are successful, and steal those, rather than just a superficial copy.

Here's Veen's entire presentation:

Savvy readers will note that Picasso himself stole the aforementioned quote from T.S. Eliot: "Immature poets imitate. Mature poets steal."

Follow Jeff Veen on Twitter.

[via Smashing Magazine]

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