• Steven Heller

Copy Cats, 1915

For a dozen years I contributed a small feature in each issue of Print called “Separated At Birth.” The concept was simple: To reveal (or call out, if you prefer) design and designers who were (knowingly or not) overly influenced or had decidedly copied another person’s design or illustration. Similarly, Mirko Ilic frequently posts on Imprint examples of commonly repeated design tropes and cliches (often found in movie posters). Together we authored Icons of Graphic Design and Anatomy of Design, each addressing how repetitive visual language fosters look-a-like results. Copy cats prevail in every art form, but in graphic design they seem to take extra liberties. And this is not a contemporary phenom.

In 1915 the German design revue, Das Plakat, published a special supplement devoted to plagiarism (and influence) titled Plakat und Plagiat. It compared a variety of posters, advertisements and publicity that overtly, covertly and cleverly copied work produced by others. Sometimes it was clear as a bell. Other times, it became clear that the designers or illustrators traced parts from this or that image and pieced them together. We now call that “sampling.”

For your enjoyment and edification, I present some of the examples from this 1915 document. You decide whether or not the editors’ indictments were fair or not.

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