Homage vs. Rip-Off

This comparison between a bunch of modern Apple devices and older products from Braun is making the rounds, the idea being that Apple is a corporate hypocrite for decrying and suing the pants off Samsung for ripping off Apple’s designs when it’s clear that Apple itself has repeatedly ripped off Braun.

This is the subjective line between homage and rip-off. The old joke is that homage is when you copy someone else; a rip-off is when someone else copies you. But to me, it’s about the difference between drawing inspiration to create something new, versus slavishly copying to create something derivative. That’s the difference between great artists stealing and bad artists copying. Apple’s products are in different categories than the corresponding Braun devices, and are separated by decades. But there’s no denying the inspiration. Jony Ive himself has readily acknowledged the influence. In my iPhone 4 review, I wrote:

The overall build quality seems impossibly good. The iPhone 4 is beautiful to behold and feels like a valuable artifact. It’s like a love letter to Dieter Rams.

And Rams himself seems flattered by Apple’s work, not taken advantage of. Writing for The Telegraph in 2011:

I have always regarded Apple products — and the kind words Jony Ive has said about me and my work — as a compliment. Without doubt there are few companies in the world that genuinely understand and practise the power of good design in their products and their businesses.

Or see Rams’s remarks on Apple in Gary Hustwit’s Objectified documentary.

I very much doubt there is a single designer at Apple who has felt flattered by Samsung. And, on the flip side, I doubt there is a single designer at Samsung who sees their work as homage to Apple.