Sample (n)- A portion, piece, or segment that is representative of a whole.
The documentary Copyright Criminals examines the creative and commercial value of musical sampling, including the related debates over artistic expression, copyright law, and (of course) money. I recently had the pleasure of viewing this documentary and it really made me start thinking about the current state of design. Continue reading for my full thoughts…
Copyright Criminals tells the story of the early days of Hip-Hop sampling – the process of taking a portion of another artist’s music and using that to create your own music. Is this art? Some people view the process of sampling as theft and believe that it should not be a respected art form. Others give credit to the artists for creating a whole new way of making music. It is possible to argue both sides of the story. In the film, there is an interview with Chuck D of Public Enemy and he is showing his production notes from when they recorded It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and on one track none of the music is theirs. Every drum, every horn, literally everything but their lyrics is made up of samples.
For the past few years in the shoe industry there has been a huge trend of sampling old designs, primarily from the 80’s. Nike, Reebok, Adidas, New Balance, Converse…many companies have released heritage product. It has been executed in numerous ways, the easiest being a complete reissue of the shoe. Some companies have been taking a “classic” upper and updating it to modern times or putting that classic upper on a new sole unit. The company is showing their roots and paying homage to where they came from.
The company that may be most known for this would be the Jordan Brand. A great example from them is the Spizike, which features different elements of past Air Jordan’s. The Spizike uses the tooling of the Air Jordan III and the upper combines the Air Jordan III, IV, V and VI to create a blend of the early Air Jordan’s. They sampled these classic Air Jordan’s as a means of paying homage to the commercials that Spike Lee directed and starred alongside Michael Jordan as Mars Blackmon.
adidas recently released their TS Supernatural Creator and TS Supernatural Commander, which is a new interpretation of their Feet You Wear concept from the late 1990’s. The way they sampled Feet You Wear was less about aesthetic and more about performance. They saw their Pure Motion Technology as the modern version of Feet You Wear and chose to use their heritage to style it.
There are many directions one can take when designing a product. Some believe in a revolution and others believe in an evolution. I believe design is about growth. It is about learning what has come before you and determining what is coming next. You have to know and understand the rules so you can break them. This can best be described as design sampling. The designer is taking what has already been learned and pushing it forward. This is accomplished by sampling and improving what has been created before.
I have nothing against design sampling or showing heritage; I actually believe it is necessary. If you don’t know where you came from, you don’t know where you are going. My problem is when this sampling becomes oversaturated. When every product shows your “heritage” the story isn’t fresh. What makes a great sample in Hip-Hop is when an artist finds something no one expected and creates a whole new sound with it. The best examples of design sampling create a whole new look and take that category to the next level.
While the design trends over the past decade are not directly related to hip-hop, I still can’t help but think that it is connected because the two cultures influence each other so much. So much of these two cultures are about knowing what came before; being an O.G. Twenty years from now are we going to be looking at this era of design as art or as theft?
Brett Golliff is a Designer 1 at New Balance
Check out previous “Design Insight With Brett Golliff” posts: