James Cosper. Knowing When To Stop Copying


James Cosper
Minimalism and the Personal Agenda

When considering minimalism and the personal agenda we should examine an area that cannot be eliminated. There are many tools we may utilize to make work easier but no tool is so useful as practice. Experience with a process or program speeds future uses. Similarly, studying the past will hopefully enable us to avoid mistakes others have made. Minimalisation can be found in the restraint a designer shows while incorporating new practices and elements from existing designs.

Jeff Veen is a web designer that has given a small talk about design and critical thinking. In this short lecture he talks about the cargo cults that arose in the south Pacific after World War II. The story is that during WWII the American military moved onto islands that had never encountered Westerners before and brought with them the wealth of industry. The indigenous people associated the planes and the practices of the Army, this was before the Air Force existed, with the bounty but did not understand what was needed to create the goods and services. When the military left so did the goods so the natives created bamboo planes and practiced behavior mimicking what the Army personnel did while there. They are referred to as the " cargo cults ."

He uses the iPhone as an example of designers influencing other Smartphone manufacturers in the same manner as the technologically advanced people inspired the cargo cults. Though two Smartphones may have a similar appearance they may not function in the same manner because the imitator fails to understand the working of the original.

He presents the idea that " great designers steal
," itself a paraphrase of Picasso's statement that "Good artists copy, great artists steal." The concept is that great designers will steal from a design that works and incorporate the principles and elements of the original into something new. An example of this is the " iPad
from Apple. Bell calls it "an act of aggressive tech convergence" that combines tablet computer, net book, e-reader, and media player into one. Here Apple has taken elements from other devices and joined them with the brand equity of the Mac to create a device that creates longing in consumers. Apple has shown restraint in minimalising the number of features the iPad incorporates from netbooks and tablets, however. Like the elimination of the floppy drive in late '90s Macs the iPad does not have a disc drive for media. Right now this may be a hassle but will be seen as an innovation in the future as more software and media is delivered wirelessly over the web.

An example of a copy, however, is found in the new Nook Color from Barnes & Noble. Nook Color has not been given a full review since CNet has just been given a preview device. Overall they were impressed but from my point of view Barnes & Noble is moving away from the strength of the e-reader. The original Nook, like the Amazon Kindle, used an e-ink screen to enable reading without the eyestrain or the difficulty of reading in sunlight of an LCD screen like the iPad. The new device uses an LCD screen like the iPad and adds a number of Android operating system features that may enable more functionality like a tablet computer but not as many as the iPad. This will result in unfavorable comparisons, which anecdotally occurred even when the device was black and white and a quarter of the price of the iPad. Before the Nook was a strong e-reader but by copying the iPad they may be reducing the usefulness of the device's key feature. I believe the designers at Barnes & Noble would be better served by taking only the elements of the iPad that make for a better e-reader rather than copying as much as possible. The restraint shown would illustrate an understanding of their device and help stand apart from competitors.

Works Cited:

Bell, D. (2010). Apple ipad (64gb). Retrieved from

Carnoy, D. (2010). Barnes & noble nook color. Retrieved from

Veen, J. (2009). Great designers steal. Retrieved from

Veen, J. (Unknown). Jeffrey Veen. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (Unknown). Cargo cult. Retrieved from


The video you posted was great. I personally think that it is very easy for designers and non-designers alike to blindly copy other good work, considering how accessible CS programs are. We really do have to take the extra step and use great work as inspiration for something new and original.

Your post made me think of the new Dell laptop; the Dell Duo tablet folds down to basically look like an iPad so you can use it in "tablet mode" which is essentially what the iPad is... http://news.cnet.com/8301-13924_3-20023252-64.html I think it's interesting how so much of design seems to be copying. I see so many phones that are just like the iPhone in the colors and the way they are designed yet people complain because they do not have the same ease of use. I guess sometimes when other people are doing things right it's hard not to copy them when you see their sales boom.

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This page contains a single entry by cospe002 published on November 9, 2010 11:34 PM.

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