Archive for March, 2007

Inspired or Stolen?

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

The online design community has been in an uproar this week (and rightly so) over the apparent thievery of Dan Cederholm’s logo design for his design studio, Simplebits. There are several opinions on the matter, and I felt compelled to share mine.

Innocent coincidence?

Was the Simplebits logo stolen, or was it pure coincidence that the company in question, LogoMaid, happened to have a logo very similar? This is the same question that software giant, Quark, was asked over a year ago about their new logo design. Not long after it was unveiled, the creative community uncovered a number of similar designs. The public reaction to Quark was similar to the reaction LogoMaid is receiving. Did Quark, or more specifically the agency that designed the logo, steal the idea from someone else?

I think this is a good spot to examine the business model of LogoMaid. LogoMaid offers pre-designed logos to businesses for a modest price. The selling point is that you can save a lot of money by getting a premade logo as opposed tousually spending more with a design studio or advertising agency to custom-design one for you. Their parent company, Vilords Media Network, operates another company with the same principle, Design Galaxy, but with the slant on web template design.

LogoWorks, another mass-produced logo manufacturer, has run into similar accusationsover the years of stealing ideas from established logos. Their mantra is to pay freelance designers a small fee to design company logos that they resell at modest prices as well. It begs the question, is it coincidence or theft? If theft, who’s to blame, the company itself or the actual designer?

Let’s face reality. The number of self-proclaimed graphic designers in the world are staggering. People will seek out other professional work to get inspired. Some will even go so far as to steal a design from another as a quick solution to a cheap buck. Companies like LogoWorks (and I assume LogoMaid) use a large number of designers to do their work. Can you honestly expect them to know if each and every design they buy is legitimately original?

Who to hold accountable

They say the true character of a person is shown when faced with diverse circumstances. With that in mind, let’s compare the responses between the Quark and LogoMaid situations:

Within six months after the logo contraversy, Quark unveiled a new logo. According to Glen Turpin, the company’s director of corporate communications:

“Quark listened to the feedback we received from the design community in relation to our re-branding initiative in September and decided to create a new logo that is both an evolution of our visual identity and a strong representation of the new Quark… Changing the mark to avoid any perception of similarity enables us to further define our unique identity.”

Compare that response to that of Paul Viluda of LogoMaid:

“The main shape according to our designer is a font symbol and you do not have the rights to claim ownership to freeware font symbols. Other than the actual shape, I see no relevance. Our logo was registered at c-site, the registration has been approved. According to c-site, we own the copyrights to that actual logo. We do not need to steal anyones ideas.”

And this:

“According to (Simplebits) website, you did the rebrand in December, correct? Please check the screenshot for RH Restyling (company from Holland) we did in October I believe. Hmm, I am just currious how it would be possible to “copy” your logo when your “rebranding” was done in mid December. You’ll find out the logo we sell at logomaid.com is one of the concepts the customer didn’t choose to use. We are strongly considering a lawsuit against simplebits not only because of the logo, but also the fact that you are harming our goodwill.”

Designer Nathan Smith, who has a similar issue with LogoMaid wrote that he received “a series of rude emails from Jan Kalvan and Peter Olexa of LogoMaid.” I don’t presume to know exactly what the people at LogoMaid are thinking or how they conduct their business, but the words and tone of their response in this matter casue me to be very suspicious of the legitimacy of the work they sell. Quark, in my opinion, had no intent of stealing someone’s logo design, and wanted to salvage their reputation and credibility with the very people they serve. This is evident by their willingness to redesign their logo without slinging mud at anyone else.

The reaction to companies like LogoMaid would have been completely different if their response was similar to Quark’s … apolgize for the coincidence and remove the logo under question. What would it have hurt them? Certainly removing a handful of questionable logos would not have hurt their bottom line and their “amazing collection of 3700 pre-designed logos” would it? To respond in such a defensive and threatening way questions their desire to be viewed as a legitimate design resource.

The solution

Unfortunately there isn’t a simple answer to design thievery. Regardless of how much the design community tries to regulate it, there will be people out there trying to profit off the hard work of others. I also, don’t think that lawsuits, as appealing as they seem, will solve the answer either. Copyright violations are difficult and extremely expensive to prosecute. The reason large corporations like Apple can do it effectively is because they have the resources to make it possible. Small studios and individuals like Simplebits, quite frankly, don’t have the time or resources to carry it through. And with the global nature of the internet, international enforcement of copyright is next to impossible. So what can we do?

I was asked last year about my thoughts on gas prices reaching $3.00 per gallon and what I felt should be done about it, especially when oil companies reported record billion-dollar profits. As much as I believe that the prices were the result of corporate greed, those prices were also being dictated by demand. As long as consumers would not change their driving habits (more fuel-efficient vehicles and public transportation), things would not change. Why should they? Consumers need to collectively bring the change against corporate injustice. Only then will companies truly listen.

I feel the same way about dealing with shady companies like LogoMaid. When businesses refuse to work with a company that has questionable ethics and practices, then they will either change or go out of business. Paul Viluda of LogoMaid said it himself:

“It’s about the market…if people wouldn’t be interested in our products, we wouldn’t provide it…as simple as that.”

This call is to all businesses out there that seem intrigued by companies like LogoMaid. Do your research. If they have a reputation of questionable business practices like this, avoid them. If you do buy stolen work, your company can be held liable as well if it would ever get to that point. Why would you want to risk your company’s reputation to something like that?

Books for Starting Web Designers

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

I’ve been asked to do the difficult task of recommending books of how to learn good web design by a few people lately. It’s difficult for several reasons. First, there are a number of quality books out there, it makes it hard to keep the list short. Second, this industry has changed and grown so much during the time I started designing web sites (late ’90s) that a lot that I read starting out is dated and no longer considered “best practices.” Lastly, the particular knowledge of the reader needs to come into play. Does the reader have any experience at all with designing web pages? Is their background more design or development?

To keep this short, I’m limiting my selection to only three books. With that said, here’s other criteria I heavily weighted in making my selections:

  1. Books aimed toward the designer and not the developer
  2. Assume the audience has very little experience with web design
  3. The three books should give a well-rounded exposure to good web design
  4. Limit selections to books I’m personally familiar with

With those factors in consideration, here’s what I recommend:
DWWS cover

Designing with Web Standards by Jeffery Zeldman

A must have for anyone wanting to learn the proper way to design and build web sites. This book does an excellent job of explaining why web standards and CSS is vital to effective web site design and development. Once you understand the “why,” the “how” falls into place nicely. It compares the options out there and how web standards and CSS are vastly superior to them. The second half of the book gives a nice walk-through of the basics of CSS and how to properly execute it.

According to Zeldman, the book is aimed toward the company decision-makers and why they should embrace standards. I believe anyone associated with designing, building or making any type of decisions regarding web sites needs to read this book.
Web Designers Reference cover

Web Designer’s Reference by Craig Grannell

This book is exactly what it claims to be — a step-by-step approach to the different aspects of building a web site. this book covers everything from basic layout, typography, working with images, and adding multimedia. There are several CSS reference books out there. To me, what makes this one stand out is that it’s written with the designer in mind instead of the programmer. Meaning, it’s easy to read, follow, and find what you’re looking for. Another thing that stands out from this book that I find missing in others, is that Grannell covers the little things that make a difference in a well-built site. A few he covers are robot visits, using PHP for mail forms, and comments. These things won’t necessarily ruin a site if not present, but it adds those little things that are often overlooked.
Web Standards Solutions cover

Web Standards Solutions by Dan Cederholm

Web Standards Solutions has its origins from the entries posted on Dan’s personal web site, where I personally learned a lot of the nuances of web standards. Its not surprising, then, that I found this book a great tool for CSS-based design. Dan uses a lot of what I like in the previous books I recommend. Like Zeldman, he begins with explaining the why of using web standards. And like Grennell, he writes with the designer in mind and uses a step-by-step approach in explaining the execution of standards in web design. What I like about Dan’s book is that he covers some areas either missing from the first two, or covered in much greater detail (forms, image replacement, print styles).

There’s my top three recommendations for learning web standards and CSS. Again, there are a number of other books out there that are helpful as well, but these three are a great place to start. If you get a good handle of the material covered in these three books, your skills in designing and developing web sites will put you in a small, elite class of designers.

For the web designers out there that are using CSS and standards currently, I’d like to hear which books have helped you or that you would recommend in addition to these three. Leave a comment and let me know.