Art and design are somewhat incestuous, with practitioners remixing their peers and paying homage to their forefathers and the world around them through pastiche. Some of the time, it is hard to tell what may have influenced an aesthetic decision. Other times it is plainly obvious. Perhaps the designer latched on to a trend, or they may have overtly aped their competitor's aesthetic to try to secure the same brand recognition that had been built up. Often, it can simply be tough to create something that has an air of uniqueness, something seemingly new. In this roundup, I examine some striking similarities in modern design.
During Google's recent I/O conference, Google unveiled their new Fingerprint ID technology. It has been pointed out that the glyph for Google's technology (2015) is quite similar to Apple's Touch ID glyph (2013). What was most striking though was how each detail was meticulously repeated in the two companies' presentations: both were symmetrical down to the presenters' body language.
Since the May 2015 launch of the much-discussed Google Photos service, some have taken note of the resemblance between Google's icon and Apple's, which was shown publicly during their June 2013 announcement.
Google's Jelly Bean operating system refresh came out in 2012 (left). On the 2013 release of iOS 7, Apple launched their interpretation of dynamic wallpapers and a newly designed lockscreen that was unmistakably Google (right).
Given that they both center around news functionality, it should not be surprising that Facebook's Instant Articles branding (2015) bears resemblance to Apple's Newsstand icon (2013). On the other hand it is strange that the Facebook Groups app (2014) takes significant cues from Apple's Game Center app icon (2013) because the subject matter of both apps is entirely unrelated.
In May 2014, the email service Campaign Monitor presented a brand refresh for their mobile apps. Just a few short months later in October 2014, Google launched their iOS companion to Gmail: Google Inbox. I reached out to the two companies. Here's what Campaign Monitor had to say:
While Sparrow was hardly the first company to use a paper airplane as a metaphor for email, they undeniably popularized the airplane in their app icons on desktop and mobile.
In 2012, designer Jean-Marc Denis published aesthetic directions for the iOS icon refresh for Sparrow. He later went on to join the Inbox team at Google after Sparrow was acquired. Interestingly enough, the specific orientation, perspective and proportions seem to have reappeared today in the newly released Spark email app (2015).
In a recent comment thread, it was insinuated that Alex Griendling, the designer of the new May 2015 revision of the Horizon calendar app, had copied the icon of another calendar app, Sunrise (Sunrise's current icon was designed in Jan. 2014). It seemed strange that both calendar apps now feature similar depictions of the sun and its reflection on water. In response to this assertion, Griendling explained, "I mean, it's similar to Sunrise's in that they're both circles, and...that's about it?"
However, one should note that in 2013, the initial icons for the two calendar apps each boasted a visually differentiated aesthetic. In my search to discover some of the influences for these icons, I have found a clear design lineage.
Illustrated sunrises passing over the horizon have been part of design vernacular as far back as the 1980s, when would-be vacationers envisioned the idealized summer sun sitting above the ocean. In recent years, this aesthetic has been popularized best by graphic designer and musician, Scott Hansen, following the release of his 2011 album Dive.
In the past several months, interest in this genre of design has become a significant trend, taking the community by storm.
There are obvious tradeoffs in taking a similar approach to one's competitors, and for some, it may seem there is no other choice. It is true that every design stands on the shoulders of giants, but there are limits beyond which it can be agreed that a designer has not sufficiently differentiated their creations.