Concept Copying – A Primer (Part 2 of 3)

In part 1 of our discussion about concept copying, we defined concept copying, and illustrated an example, from an Apple patent application.

Concept copying is a very important subject in the design community – both for professionals and non-professionals. After all, while it’s commonly accepted that all design is inspired by other design, mere copying is NOT inspiration. But it also should be said that not everything we create is unique. We are influenced by our culture, our history, and our environment. But there is a very clear difference between inspiration and influence, and outright stealing.

Let’s continue our discussion by looking at an example – the logo design for askville, a question and answer service from Amazon that was launched to compete with, among others, Google Answers.

Long before Amazon published the above design, another company, eventful (an events website), had already been publicly using, for some time, the following logotype:

Did the designer who created the askville logotype simply copy the eventful logotype? After all, both use arial rounded fonts, both use lowercase type, both use two identical colors, and both switch colors for each morpheme. [NOTE: the original logo for askville had the term “ask” in blue and “ville” in green].

There are differences – the eventful logotype uses more compact letter spacing and a brighter blue, as well as a darker green color. There is also Amazon’s branding on the askville logotype. Are those differences meaningful?

Could we agree on ANY of the following?

  • that the eventful logotype is the first ever to have each morpheme be a separate color
  • that the eventful logotype uses an original font.
  • that the eventful logotype is the first ever to use all lowercase type
  • that the eventful logotype is the first ever to use green and blue colors
  • that the eventful logotype is the first ever to switch colors for each morpheme

I believe that two people couldn’t agree on any of those things, because the eventful logo was NOT the first design ever to have those elements. And it’s perfectly plausible (but not very likely) that the designer of the askville logo had never seen the eventful logo.

What do you think? Is this a clear example of concept copying? Or does this example underscore the real complexity of concept copying?

More on this issue, and some suggestions, in part 3 (early next week).