Copying or Innovating?

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Coming from a culture where people are able to copy and replicate almost everything, such as movie posters, cell phones, food retailers, clothes, as a Chinese, I am usually confused with the distinction between innovating and copying. I feel even more confused when I tell myself that I want to be a designer in the future.

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PROM Backstage Curtail. © 2017 Leon Liu, Jianle

Searching for references on websites like Pinterest is always the first step of my design process. Once I tried to come up with ideas purely by myself, it did not work out. The first thing comes to my mind was still the favorite designs I saw before. It is really hard to innovate completely on my own and it is even impossible if I have to output two or three good posters every month instead of one every year.

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Virtually, copying is not a step we should avoid but a critical step we should actively adopt in order to output more creative design. The world first-class designs or movies also copy. My recent favorite movie La La Land makes references to many iconic scenes from classic movies such as Moulin Rouge! (2001), Singin’ in the rain (1952) etc., but none of us criticizes La La Land for copying them. Why is that?

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A good innovation usually finds a balance among copying, transforming, and combining old ideas. In La La Land case, director Damien Chazelle not only copies but also transforms and combines modern music and new production-design techniques in the movie, which help to define the next generation of iconic scenes which probably will become the one I will copy, transform and combine when filming my movie. However, in China, we criticize copycatting, because there is no transforming and combining but just copying.

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