How to Take Inspiration Without Copying
They say that imitation is the best form of flattery, but when someone actually copies one of our ideas, flattered tends to be the last thing we feel! Instead, it’s frustrating when someone else benefits from what should have been our unique idea, and it makes the copier look bad for having no imagination of their own. This is why it’s considered sacrilegious to copy a friend’s choice of wedding venue or color scheme!
But taking inspiration from others is a different matter entirely. That is flattering, and it’s also a great way to create something new. Indeed, most schools of psychology believe that all original, creative works are actually based upon existing ideas, just combined.
So the question is, how do you successfully navigate that fine line between inspiration and copying and ensure you stay on the right side of it?
Direct Copying Versus Homage
The first thing to do is to make sure that you aren’t getting all your inspiration from one place. If you have been to someone’s wedding or visited someone’s website, and you wish yours was the same, then consider taking one thing that works from them and one thing only.
In other words, don’t have the same venue, same color scheme, and same first song. Take one thing you liked, asking permission first, of course, and then, be careful to demonstrate novelty in other areas.
Asking permission is important, but so is giving credit where it’s due. You can do this by making something an homage or a nod to your inspiration. You’ll often see films that do this. When a film has taken heavy inspiration from another blockbuster, it will often acknowledge this by including a line lifted from that film or by having a character mention that they’re a fan of the director. This way, the filmmakers are winking at the audience, while acknowledging that something wasn’t theirs. This way, it feels much more like flattery and much less like copying.
Finding the Feeling
Better yet is to be inspired by themes, feelings, and tones. Be inspired by abstract concepts, rather than by concrete choices. A great example of this might be the colors on a website or at a wedding. Don’t lift the color choices directly, but consider choosing contrasting colors in the same vein as your inspiration, or ‘cool’ colors, or ‘warm’ colors.
Likewise, if you went to a wedding you found was very lighthearted and fun, as opposed to formal and serious, then you can try and emulate that tone without taking anything directly from your inspiration. Create something that feels like the inspiration, rather than something that looks like the inspiration.

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