Thou Shalt Not Steal

2020 - Design - Hannah Carlile

Hannah Carlile is a graphic designer based in London. Her work is clever, playful, and concept-led, often drawing from the everyday and seeking to reframe our surroundings in such a way that changes the viewer’s perspective. She aims to ensure that her work is accessible and inclusive, especially to those outside the art and design world. Her work is unpretentious, taking big ideas and executing them in a way that opens the door for the viewer to learn and think differently. Hannah’s practice is led strongly by a sense of curiosity and the urge to remain playful. Her projects often seem like what ifs, inviting the viewer also, to be imaginative and to go on a speculative journey.

‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ 

Text by Emma Crabtree

Though her visual tone of voice is extremely consistent, Hannah’s methodology puts an emphasis on the idea at the heart of a project. Aesthetics always come second to a good idea, and every design decision is informed by research and the specific needs of the project. The sign of a good idea executed well, every one of Hannah’s projects can be explained effectively in a couple of concise sentences. This is not to say that the work is simplistic, however. Her projects are well-researched, make sense from beginning to end, and her outcomes are always clever and functional.

Hannah is a fervent list-maker. Having multiple lists on the go at any one time, she is always on the hunt for a project. On her computer, she has a ‘swipe file’, in which she keeps ongoing visual research, and any project starters or nuggets of ideas get stowed on the ‘shelf’.

I have chosen to write about the publication ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’, which is the culmination of Hannah’s dissertation exploring the subject of copying in design. The essay seeks to question the strict rules surrounding copying within design, and wonders aloud in what circumstances copying is in fact vital to the history, and future, of design.

‘In my essay I challenge the negative connotations surrounding the imitation of design, and argue instead, that we should not be afraid to steal, learn from and develop what already exists, so long as we respect creatives rights and give credit.’

Clever and playful design skills are used to create a publication which appropriately houses the text, ensuring that every design decision is informed by research and rationale. Many of the elements of the publication design intentionally mimic a Penguin book, going so far as to incorporate a bootlegged logo on the cover, and boldly stating ‘This essay has been copied without permission’.

She uses the familiar copyright logo throughout the text to signpost any quotations or paraphrasing. Some spreads are photocopies from books she references, playing with the idea of Copyleft. By doing this, Hannah aims to transparently illustrate the source of her ideas, signposting from where, and from whom, the inspiration for each part of her writing has come - in this way she celebrates copying. Hannah has even published her essay online so it can be accessed and read by anyone.

The essay represents a lot of Hannah’s working beliefs, and as she states in the introduction, the subject is important to her as a designer, who knows the importance of copying as a way of learning, while wishing for her own work to always be respected and accredited. She argues that in the internet age, when images and information are readily available to us all, the subject of copying in design is becoming increasingly relevant.

Essentially, Hannah argues the case for the role of copying to be recognised as one of the fundamentals of design, arguing that nothing is original and that ‘iconic creatives, [such as David Bowie, Picasso and Jim Jarmusch] who are deemed original by general consensus, openly argue that stealing and creativity go hand in hand.’ Every piece of design builds on something that came before it and in the same way, Hannah openly invites us to copy from and reinvent her own dissertation, publishing it online so it can be accessed read and edited by anyone.

Arguably my favourite development in the project is the ‘alternative publishing’ of this work on Wikipedia. ‘Wikipedia is famous for being copied from and since it's contents fall under copyleft license, it is the perfect platform for my dissertation - here my words can be freely copied, modified and redistributed.’ The page was removed soon after its publication by wiki administrators, and Hannah’s account has since been blocked due to ‘persistent vandalism’. A possibility to take the notion of bootlegging her own work further, Hannah tells me, would be to next photocopy the whole work as a black market edition. Again, there are rules on how much of a publication you can photocopy and distribute, and it’s an interesting idea to play with infringing the copyright surrounding your own work.

Later this year Hannah will be moving to Amsterdam to work with the graphic design studio Kesselskramer. There she plans to make more lists for more projects, and of course, keep copying.

Read Hannah Carlile’s essay on Emma Crabtree’s work HERE

Published 01/07/2020