Tag design

Barbed Wire!

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting around with friends discussing patents, as one does, and my friend Ken started talking about the patents of barbed wire, and how there are many different kinds, with different barb twists or different ways of entwining the wire to create separate patents. Then he said, “Would you like to see my barbed wire collection?”

Barbed wire collection!! Boy, would I! YES! So he went away and came back with a box full of … well, look!


Some of them were labelled, and most seem to come from the 1880s. Apparently the collection and trade of barbed wire (sold in 18-inch lengths) supports quite a large community. Ken also loaned me a book, which has terrific drawings of the knots and wire formations, identified with wonderful names like “Perry’s Cross Stick, Odd Strands” and “Armstrong Doolittle’s Notched Diamond.” It then gives a brief description, sometimes a date and inventor, and patent number.


This patent thing is the surprising part of barbed wire’s history. From the Introduction of Barbs, Prongs, Points, Prickers and Stickers, barbed wire “developed into a source of wealth and furious litigation colored by impassioned charges and countercharges of patent infringement and greed.”

For most of us, barbed wire is something we know exists, but few city people have used it, and I have certainly never given any thought to it, or whether there might be different kinds, let alone that it was once a furiously competitive business. barbedwire8

Despite my genuine interest in Ken’s collection, I confess my imagination did not anticipate the extent of variation in these wires. I find them fascinating and beautiful. The one at the bottom of the image above might be Allis’ Black Hills Ribbon from 1893, and the one above it is Hallner’s Wrap, Single Cut from 1878.

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The last wire in the image above might be Crandall’s Link, Twist-Loop Variation.


I particularly like the last two in the image above. The one with the big metal bits appears to be Stubbe’s Large Formee Cross, and the one below it is Hodge’s Spur Wheel, Ten-Point Variation.

The 2nd-last one in the image above is Allis’ Ribbon, Small Saw-tooth Variation, and look at that crazily specific knot in the one below it. Third row in the image below is Huffman’s Ladder.



The last one above is Scutt’s Plate, Block and Arrow-point variation. Identifying these is hard because you really have to look at which way things twist or tie to get the exact right one. The number of turns in a wire or an extra loop in the knot can make the difference from one patent to the next. For instance there are a number of wires with that zig-zag plate running through them (second in the picture above) but notice how the zig-zag itself gets folded at certain points? That will make a difference from one to the next.


Barbed wire! Who knew? And there’s always more.

For more about the historical significance and social impact of barbed wire, read 99% Invisible’s “Devil’s Rope”

Copy Anti-Copy

There is a Facebook page called Copy Anti-Copy, which is one of my current internet favourites. I have no idea who runs it except that English is not their first language and they have an abundance of work from the middle east. Whoever they are, what they do is post images of design work (with designer and date), next to a more recent example by a different designer that may or may not be a copy of the original. Like this:


The above is a clear copy, totally ripped off a year later. But most of the posts are more ambiguous.


Initially, the above image seems not such a big deal.A musical note and plant/flower. 16 years apart, it seems unlikely to be a copy … until you notice specific details, like the shapes of the leaves/petals are exactly the same in the 2nd version as the first. Which begs the question, if you’re going to copy something like this, why would you scan the original and use the exact same shapes rather than just scribble your own petals, which would surely be easier? It boggles the mind!


The above is much more difficult because it’s not the form, but the idea that has been copied. In this case you have to decide on how common or likely the idea is: that there’s a crown that is also the top of a chair/throne. It seems unlikely to me and a probable copy.


While I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt to this one, I thought the bum with ears was a suspiciously uncommon idea. I was wrong: I’ve been told by Stefan Bucher that “Arsch mit Ohren” (“Bum with ears”) is a common German insult! That piece of cultural knowledge makes this most definitely not a copy. [Ammended June 4, 2015.]


Then there’s something like this where your first reaction is total and obvious copy! Unless … they are both using the same piece of stock photography. Aha! That is the most likely explanation (and a good reason not to use stock photography).


Here’s an interesting one, and this has come up a couple of times, when the work being copied is so fucking famous, like this piece by Shigeo Fukuda, that instead of a copy you have to consider it as possibly an homage. The 2014 designer has taken this iconic piece which s/he knows we know, and put a twist one it. Aye, now there’s a head scratcher!

Other times it really is just a similarly obvious idea, or the use of clichés.

To exercise your own judgements on these and many more (and to submit examples you have found!) I encourage you to join, or Like, or whatever it is one does on FB, Copy Anti-Copy. But, oh, don’t try to friend me, I’m pretty much only friends with actual friends so … sorry. But you can agree or disagree with me on copies!

Meanwhile, what do you do if your work is actually copied? If it’s a blatant reproduction like the first example above you should first contact the designer and the organization it was done for and alert them to the fact that it is not an original design. Second, it is often not expensive to get an Intellectual Property lawyer to send a letter, which is often intimidating enough to result in some kind of compensation. If the offending copy is turning up on the internet, you can submit copyright infringement complaints with Pinterest, (and there may be similar complaints areas on other sites). Google will also remove links from their search engine findings if you submit a report to them, with URLs of the individual images. And if it’s widely distributed advertising work for a large company? You should sue their asses.