Innovate, Don’t Duplicate

I get this sort of thing all the time:

> Dear Steam Crow – How you do X-Y-Z with your convention display?

I don’t want you to take this the wrong way but:

Innovate your own display, don’t just “borrow” idea/techniques straight from others.

But why?

Four of my exhibitor “friends” this year came up to me at SDCC and said something like this:

“Heh… we stole our display idea (or product model) from you.”

And yeah, they pretty much did to one degree or another. They busted out the pvc and basically copied our display technique, or copied our product offerings, our price points, etc..

“Hope you don’t mind…”

Yeah well, we actually do mind.

Here’s why:

  1. We’re actually innovating. That takes us a bunch of time, thought, $$$ and experimentation. That’s not free, at least not for us.
  2. It costs money. Lots and lots of things don’t work, and the unused parts eventually get tossed in the trash.
  3. It’s differentiation for our brand. It’s what makes us different and special. When people take that from us, there’s not a lot left.
  4. More and more, our “friends” just want information, with nothing in return. Feels like being used, rather than camaraderie. Strangers don’t rip us; “friends” do.
  5. If #3 isn’t enough, please realize that people are also stealing our IP. What’s left?
  6. Take ideas from somebody who can afford it. We’re small and indie, just like YOU. If you’ve got to steal ideas, do it from someone who can afford it.

“You can’t stop me.”

Nope, I can’t. I realize that it’s a competitive field. I get it. I’ve borrowed ideas myself, but I’ve tried to change them, push them further, etc.

I won’t try to stop you, or donkey punch you, or anything like that. But, I’ll probably decide you’re a user/loser. If that doesn’t matter to you, then you probably are.

And anyway, you’re diluting YOUR brand by copying us. Your shortcuts hurt you too.

“You’re an asshole.”

Yep, I’m an asshole today. You might have seen that I spent most of yesterday trying to shut down a ripper instead of getting ready for Saboten Con, Steam Punk Street, STEAMCROWEEN, APE or DesignerCon. With the day job and upcoming travel, I don’t have time for this, sincerely. If I sound impatient, it’s because I am.

Here are some other ideas for you:

  1. Experiment with your own display/product/store. Make up products, rather than just duplicating something that you’ve seen.
  2. Innovate your display. Do it different than anyone else. You’ll go further, and it won’t be copying ours.
  3. Figure out your brand, what makes it unique, and why it appeals to others. If you do that right, it won’t look like anyone else. If you can’t do that, you still have work to do.

Okay, so my preachy rant is over.

I hope you understand our point of view, and can maybe possibly see why this might be an issue.

It’s not like I don’t already spend a lot of effort helping folks. That’s what this site is all about, as well as the TINY ARMY group I founded in Phoenix.

I want you to innovate, not just copy.



Daniel m. Davis is the co-owner (with his wife Dawna) of Steam Crow LLC,  a Phoenix, Arizona studio that creates characters/stories/goods with a monster imagination.

He also creates the Monster Commute, a 5 day a week monsterpunk adventure comic. He likes pie.

About Daniel Davis

Daniel is the co-owner of Steam Crow, a company that makes monster goods. He also makes the Monster Commute webcomic, which is updated 5 days a week. It's an Orwellian adventure story about steampunk monsters, and it isn't supposed to be jokey. Daniel lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and is the founder of TINY ARMY, a local illustrator/comic creator group.

5 thoughts on “Innovate, Don’t Duplicate

  1. It’s one thing to let an artist’s work inspire you, it is another to steal it or regurgitate it.

    As a web designer and a soon-to-be web comic creator, I am always looking out for cool ideas and techniques and I take ideas from everywhere, from the pumpkin patch down the street to Steam Crow.

    I’ve even tried to replicate some of Daniel’s poster artwork in order to figure out how he got a certain look in Illustrator… but once I’ve learned something from it, that derivative work is forever locked away in my reference files. If I ever use that technique/idea in my own projects, it will be strictly used to do something new.

    The last thing you want is someone thinking of Steam Crow when they look at your work. People won’t see you as an artist. And when I’m looking for something Steam Crow-ish, I’m going to go buy it from Daniel and Dawna… I know it’s going to be unique and quirky, the quality is going to be unsurpassed, and I’m buying from good people.

    If you feel you absolutely need to copy something Daniel does, make it his passion and hard work. It will serve you better than signage, poison bottles or Beastio ever will.

  2. First, your display is awesome =) I mean it. Though I don’t see why so many would copy it since its so specific to your brand. If I were to copy your display to a T it wouldn’t look right with my work.

    Shame on those copying your products. Its the same thing, what one may have many not work with others brand. For example, I’ll never make T shirts, cause it just doesn’t work with my stuff but I make totes.

  3. I love this blog! It’s so helpful so I decided to STEAL one of your banners and link it to your comic. ;-)

    Ugh, I used a smiley. Gross.

    Anyway, this is a great resource for people who want to run their comic like a business and make a living off their work. I commend you good sir! I am trying to take your advice and I am not disciplined enough just yet. IDK Comics’ first convention is in Jan. and I will be printing off your Convention Checklist for sure! I am constantly experimenting with techniques, ideas, and methods which is becoming quite exhausting!

    Anyway, thanks for all the help/advice. You and Tiny Army are great resources and motivators.

    P.S. Something your displays have taught me that I will steal/borrow/implement/whatever is that the convention gives you a length and a width, but not a height! I won’t make anything out of pipes like you, but it’s something I need to work on and create on my own!

  4. Daniel,
    I highly respect you and your wife for your diligence and hard work and especially for the fabulous designs and graphics that you produce. You have every right to defend your sweat and tears, and people should respect that. Unfortunately, I guess it’s human nature to copy what is already working, easier to duplicate than put in the time developing on their own. Sucks for them, cause it’s the innovators that are always gonna be one step ahead. I for one appreciate all the information and helpful hints you’ve so graciously provided here on this site and in interviews, it is really a special gift that you are giving. I don’t know you personally, but I do know that Steam Crow is passionate about this business, and you really aren’t obligated to put out your hand for anybody, but you do. A thousand thanks, keep on keepin’ on!

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