New at Core77: Don’t be a Design Thief


My latest column at Core77 discusses how to navigate the thorny world of borrowing design elements from others and how to attribute those influences.

The column, “Be Honest About Your Inspiration – or Else,” can be read for free via this link.

Most furniture designers I know take the wrong approach to attributing designs. They usually ascribe it to some historical piece (without doing the research) or simply omit any discussion of their influences.

Both approaches dump you in the deep end of the pool without your inflatable swimmies.

In the article I offer a short exercise that I use to help me avoid problems. The exercise also offers a roadmap for deciding when I can call a design my own.

As always, I am grateful to Core77 for allowing me to write on these topics. Next month’s column is likely to get me roasted. The working title: “How to be an Anarchist Designer.”

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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15 Responses to New at Core77: Don’t be a Design Thief

  1. These are shaping up to be a very useful series of articles, thanks Chris.
    Now excuse me while I delete all the hastily written descriptions of furniture I’ve ever built.

  2. stlww18 says:

    Incredibly timely piece for me, thank you for posting it. I had a customer ask me to create a table with a certain functional element to it, based on an item they’d seen elsewhere. I incorporated that functional element into a design of my own. The person who’s table inspired my customer found my piece and asked me to stop selling it. After doing hours of USPTO research, the design and function have long been off-patent. I told them I’d stop selling if they obtained a patent, out of respect for their design. To me, that felt like the best way to handle it. Your post gives me something to think about though.

  3. John Kunstman says:

    Excellent article,

    You said that you are always concerned of the possibility of being sued in the future. I am too. In cases where the original designer is still in business would you recommend contacting them to get their permission to copy or use their design as an influence?
    I use everything in my power to contact the original designer and gain their blessing so to speak. Not only to protect myself and my reputation. But to also show respect.

    • If the person is still selling the design that inspired me, I definitely reach out to them to say: “Hey, here’s my piece and obviously the legs look like your legs. Is that OK? I’m going to credit you.” This works. When people do the same favor to me I always say: Cool. Go with God.

      • stlww18 says:

        What would you do if they never get back to you? Your post changed my perspective, but I already have a few projects ongoing. I’ve now reached out to original designer, but unclear if I’ll ever hear back

        • Then it is a judgment call on your part. It’s perfectly reasonable and natural for elements of a design to influence you. The point is to acknowledge them. But if you are taking their design whole-cloth, then that’s for your conscience.

          • stlww18 says:

            Thanks, really appreciate the insight. Not whole-cloth, more influenced. Want to make sure I do what’s right

  4. nrhiller says:

    Wonderful article. It should be required reading for anyone who makes anything.

  5. Ken says:

    I just made a table. It has square (tapered) legs and a rectangular top. Rectangular aprons are mortised into the legs. Who should I attribute it to? My first thought is Robert Wearing because I followed his directions but I’m not sure that he invented this style of table.

  6. antinonymous says:

    “Steal Like An Artist”

  7. Jeremy says:

    Great article. If only everyone gave as much careful consideration to these themes instead of only seeking a quick buck. (great Chairs btw)

  8. 技術を盗…”…To steel from the Master…”

    Great article Chris…I don’t believe that enough time is spent validating the muse behind what many “think” they are creating…Some even present as offended that anyone (?) or anything influenced them and that some grand afflatus takes place for them. What they create is theirs…”and theirs alone.” Sometimes (perhaps?) but seldom common, I do think?

    An article to be bookmarked for sure…Thank You!

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