2 min read
This topic can split people into two very distinct groups. On one side you’ll have people who believe it is just plain wrong to use other people’s designs and try to pass them off as your own. On the other side some people think everything is fair game, and if they can make some money by copying a design, making it, and selling it to a client— then they’ll do it without hesitation. Most furniture doesn’t have a patent or copyright, although some do. If you’re not breaking any law, you’re not doing any thing wrong… right?
NO NEW IDEAS
I stand somewhere in the middle on this issue. People have been designing and making woodwork for centuries. It’s extremely difficult to be completely innovative. There are very few completely new ideas. I am a product of my environment. I am a product of all the things I have seen throughout my life. If I sit down to design a piece, I am influenced by every piece of woodwork I have ever seen. I might pull an element from one piece and a couple of elements from another to make up what I consider to be a new piece. The only way I could be completely original is if I had spent my life in a completely white room and not had any outside influence. Then if I designed some furniture it would be completely original. And probably white — so I guess there’d some influence.
But my (presumably white) piece probably wouldn’t be very good. By drawing inspiration and influence from other designers and makers, you’re constantly trying to make a small improvement or innovation. You’re standing on the shoulders of giants so-to-speak. So your work will more often than not end up copying other work whether you realise it or not.
I’m also 50:50 on the websites that sell exact copies of an Eames Lounge Chair for example. They completely rip off the design and sell it for a fraction of the cost it would be to get one from Hermann Miller. On one level this seems unscrupulous. But on another level I wonder whether the vision Charles & Ray Eames had for their designs aligns with how it exists today. Was their intent to be a premium design where only the wealthy could afford one of their chairs? I’m not so sure. Would they have used moulded plywood for example if their intent wasn’t to design a comfortable beautiful lounge chair for everyone? I’ll never know.
By producing exact copies of Eames Lounge Chairs, or Klassen River Tables, or Maloof Rockers, or Nakashima Conoid Chairs, we probably do ourselves a disservice. We don’t give ourselves a chance to be creative or grow and develop our craft. I know I’d much rather make something beautiful that I created and developed myself, than a direct copy of someone else’s work. I feel like this allows me to grow as a person, not just as a woodworker.
Like all things in design (and life in general!) there are huge grey areas. If you’re completely on one side and see this as a black and white issue maybe it’s time to chill and try to see other points of view. Maybe you copy designs and see nothing wrong with it. Maybe you’ve had your designs copied. Where do you stand? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments, or on social.
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