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Good artists copy, great artists steal

Timeless Design: Knowledge based on psychology and sociology
Timeless Design: Knowledge based on psychology and sociology
July 30, 2019

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Good artists copy, great artists steal

We gain timeless knowledge and skills through continuous learning

If we were only to focus on today’s technology and design trends, our knowledge would soon become outdated and we’d end up constantly following in the footsteps of other designers rather than being innovative and leading the way.

When we gain timeless knowledge and skills through continuous learning, we will be able to stand on the shoulders of history’s design giants.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

– Isaac Newton, who discovered the laws of gravity, was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, alchemist, inventor, theologian, and natural philosopher.

By doing so, we’ll be able to see much more, and much further, into the field of design and technology—and we’ll also be able to actively draw upon the successes and failures of our design predecessors to such an extent that we create innovative products for the future.

A prominent figure in design history, Steve Jobs, also believed in standing on the shoulders of giants, although he worded it in a slightly different way:

Every great artist, every great designer, is influenced by what has been done before his/her time. It essentially means that if you want to be a great designer, it’s not enough to look at today’s trends and new innovations. In this video, Steve Jobs emphasizes this fact by quoting Pablo Picasso, who famously said: “Good artists copy; great artists steal.”

Copying is, as it sounds, unimaginative, in an industrial or design context. It can result in anything from ridicule to legal trouble. Stealing, ironically enough, is not anywhere near as bad—at least, it’s not as bad in a design sense.

That’s because “stealing”, in the sense of what Steve Jobs said, requires you to modify the original item or idea by adding your fresh, unique interpretation.

Continuous learning will expose—and help us learn from—the very best designs. And it will help us make use of the learned knowledge in our day-to-day design practice. At the same time, we’ll also learn how to avoid the worst—and sometimes fatal—design errors of our predecessors.

“Technologists are not noted for learning from the errors of the past. They look forward, not behind, so they repeat the same problems over and over again.” – Donald A. Norman, inventor of the term “User Experience” and Chairman of the IDF Executive Board

By grounding ourself firmly with timeless design principles that explain past design successes and failures, we will thus be able to prevent the increasingly common problem of being caught up by the latest trends (and repeating the same, avoidable mistakes).