April 26, 2010 / Design / Spring 2010

Inspiration is the sincerest form of flattery

Written by Becka Cremer

Yearbook designers can find inspiration anywhere, even in other schools’ yearbooks. But when the source of the inspiration is so similar to the final product, it can be hard to tell whether a designer is being inspired or simply stealing an idea.

Encourage your designers to analyze spreads they find inspiring. Ask them what they like about the spreads.

• Are you drawn to the colors?
• The fonts?
• The mood?
• Are there graphic elements that you could repurpose and make your own?

Then, ask your designers to focus on only the things they find inspiring without copying other aspects of the design.

• Is there a way to use those colors, fonts or elements in a spread that is all your own?
• What aspects of the design would feel out of place in your school’s book?
• How does the story you are trying to tell on this spread differ from the one told on the spread that inspires you? How will this affect your design?

When the spread is finished, ask designers to critique their own work.

• What are you bringing to the design that no one else would bring?
• Would the original designer recognize his work in your design?

Explain to spread designers that all creative people look for inspiration in others’ work, but that too much imitation usually falls short of the original (think knockoff handbags). With a little bit of attention to the process of being inspired, your designers will begin to notice when they are copying another designer’s work and strive to change imitation into inspiration.

Consider the following comparisons. Each original spread is followed by the two spreads I created – one an imitation and another that has been inspired by the original spread.

2009 Pride
Franklin High School
El Paso, Texas
Adviser: Jai Tanner
Editors-in-chief: Shea Houlihan and Alex Lopez
Design editor: Veronica Enriquez

Original spread

Franklin original spread

The Pride staff used a grid of squares, some filled with photos and others with color, to present homecoming royalty. The treatment on the dominant photo, what the staff calls “Warholizing,” draws readers in to the spread and helps to connect this spread to others in the book.

Copied spread

Franklin copied

This is an example of a spread that copies the Pride’s homecoming spread almost exactly. Not only are the photos in nearly the same arrangement, but also the design concept has been used to present nearly identical information. Think about how the student who originally designed this spread for the Pride would feel to see her work in another yearbook. Then identify what it is your staff likes about this design concept and use that information to make something that is unique and your own.

Inspired spread

Franklin inspired

This spread is one example of how the spread from the Pride could inspire something new. Changing the mood of the colors, the style of the fonts and the scale of a design theme make it unique. This spread uses a grid with color blocks and square photos to tell the story of the year’s major news events at a school. This spread retains the original spread’s attention to alignment and spacing and maintains the orderly, modern feel of the original without stealing the design outright.

2009 Legend
William R. Boone High School
Orlando, Fla.
Adviser: Renee Burke
Editor-in-chief: Madison Smith

Original spread

Boone original spreadThis spread from the Legend has a lot going on. It presents two separate stories, one on each page, through mini-profiles and fact boxes. One headline with a special treatment pulls the two stories together. Consider how your students could combine two profiles on one spread in a different way. Maybe the perpendicular lines on this spread inspire your designers, or the fact boxes, or the Legend’s use of color. The important thing to remember is that you do not have to use all of these things on one spread.

Copied spread

Legend copied

Changing the fonts and the arrangement of elements on a spread does not make a spread your own. In this example spread, the headline package and sidebar design of this spread was clearly stolen from the Legend. If you are unsure whether you have been “inspired” by another designer or whether you have stolen their work, ask yourself if the original designer would recognize his work on your pages. Would he wonder if you had seen his spread? Would he know? If it is clear that the designer of the original spread would know you had seen his spread before designing yours, you may have ripped off his design.

Inspired spread

Legend inspired

Simply copying a design from another school’s yearbook often does a disservice to your readers. Rarely will another school’s design have just the right elements for the story you plan to tell about your school. This spread, which was inspired by the spread from the Legend, used perpendicular lines and fact boxes similar to the original spread. However, these elements have been incorporated into a spread that is much more traditional than the one from the Legend. Also, one of the fact boxes has been repurposed from a mini profile to a bulleted list. This design presents a full-length story and two sidebars, as opposed to the two-story approach used by the Legend. Changes also have been made to the style of the lines and the headline to better suit the designer’s purpose and to avoid wholesale copying of the spread that inspired this design.

2009 Talisman
Saratoga High School
Saratoga, Calif.
Adviser: Mike Tyler
Editors-in-chief: Shawn Cho, Sonali Dujari, Stacy Ku
Graphics editors: Melissa Lin, Stephanie Tung

Original spread

Saratoga original spread

The Talisman is a clean, graphically interesting yearbook. Colored bars and word clusters add interest to otherwise traditional spread design. When looking to this spread for inspiration, consider each element separately. Is there a way your staff could repurpose the word cluster graphic idea? What about the way the Talisman uses color?

Copied spread

Saratoga copied

Flipping a spread is not enough to make it your own. In this spread, I clearly copied the original design. The colors, scale and the relationships between elements are the same as in the design found in the Talisman. Also, design elements unique to the Talisman have been copied. Notice how the word cluster graphics have been moved and set in a different font, but that this spread looks like another version of the original, not like a new design.

Inspired spread

Saratoga inspired

This spread was inspired by the softball spread in the Talisman. The fonts and the arrangement of the photos have been changed and the word cluster graphic element has been removed. Colored bars behind the headline and the row of photos near the top mimic the original spread. However, on this spread the colored bar with photos from the original spread has been repurposed as a scoreboard. Changes in the function of design elements can help you make a design your own. Encourage your designers to identify elements in others’ designs that they like, then ask, “What else could that be?”

Becka Cremer

Becka Cremer is a former yearbook adviser from Lawrence, Kansas. She now lives in Sacramento, California, where she works as a para educator and still rips pages out of magazines and collects advertisements because someday she'll need them for inspiration for some design or another.