“Hey — That’s a fantastic app. A big company will rip it off in a second! And they won’t even think twice.”

I was showing a recent design to a group of people and within a minute a zinger comment was volleyed (by a retired banker).

“Hey — That’s a fantastic app. A big company will rip it off in a second! And they won’t even think twice.”

That single comment brushed aside the weeks of work I had put into my designs. Am I just a dumb idiot toiling away so others can benefit from my designs? Maybe I am.

I’m sure others of you have faced this comment one time or another.

I am not a big believer in protecting IP. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and not worth the paper it’s written on. Defending your IP is only as good as your ability to pay the lawyers. If you don’t have the money, you lose.

So what should we, as designers, do? Stop designing because we are just fools?

Most of us will probably abandon designing projects for ourselves and hitch our wagon to a large company and design on someone else’s dollar. This is a perfectly reasonable course of action for thousands upon thousands of designers (myself included).

But I think most of us still cling to the idea of designing things without corporate constraints. Most often these ideas become side projects where monetization isn’t a key concern. They’re mainly a creative outlet for our ideas (it’s likely the reason we became designers in the first place).

So, back to the matter at hand, how should we deal with the zinger comment?

Once I got over my initial letdown, I started thinking more about what he had said.

Yes. I do agree that someone will probably steal my designs. That’s human nature.

But will this “theft” happen as quickly as he would have us believe.

I don’t think so. And here’s why.

I think it all boils down to traction.

People will only steal things that other people have shown an interest in. Eyeballs matter. And there has to be lots of them. Otherwise no one will care about your project.

Thieves (and big companies) are typically too unimaginative and process-driven to appreciate new ideas for their own sake. Get lots of eyeballs, then they will start poking around.

In the early stages, I think controlled Betas offer the best short-term defense. Make them available only to a small circle of people you know personally. And don’t go public until you are confident the project will gain traction quickly. You’ll have a split second of opportunity before the sharks circle. Count on it.

That’s my reaction to the zinger comment. I’d be curious to hear what any of you think about the issue.

Not necessarily a bad thing. For them to first notice you and then copy you, it mean it’s a problem worth solving, which probably means a large enough market - which means there’ll be niches to focus on. You just have to double-down on providing more value to your niche than the big company can. Use your speed/agility and ability to pivot to your advantage.