Founder, Designer, Developer, Surfer

How A Plagiarized Logo Spawned The NumbSkulls NFT Collection

In the mid 2000’s, I worked as a freelance designer. I provided web design, flash animation, and logo design services for a variety of clients. The logo jobs were my favorite.

I thoroughly enjoy distilling the essence of an entire brand, business, personality, or project into a simple and iconic design. There’s a real art to it. But it’s easy to take great logos for granted because good design is invisible. A good logo provides clarity, and captures the soul of a brand on a subconscious level. At a glance, you should know if the logo represents a business that sells microchips or skateboards. You should know if it’s an exciting company — or a boring company. A great logo tells a story, even if you don’t realize it. At least, that’s what I aim to achieve in my designs.

My personality and style were influenced by the surf, skate, and alternative music cultures. However, it’s not easy landing design projects within those industries. As a result, I created several personal designs for my portfolio that I felt would be attractive to the brands I wanted to work with.

Among my personal designs, I had a favorite. It was striking, bold, and iconic, yet so simple. I referred to it as the “X” skull design. It captured an aggressive and anarchist mood, and I imagined it representing an alternative lifestyle brand. I added the design to my online portfolio, and displayed it in online logo galleries and design communities that were popular at the time.

The origin logo of NumbSkulls.

The logo received a lot of attention. Designer friends expressed how much they liked the design, and the work was featured on several websites. I was proud of my stupidly simple skull design. I thought, maybe, I’ll use it for a business of my own someday.

Then, somebody plagiarized the design.

When I first discovered that my work was stolen, I was pissed. I contacted the thief, and asked them to remove my logo from their portfolio. They agreed, probably shocked that I found them in the first place, and removed the design from their website.

Nobody was getting away with stealing my work!

But they did, again and again. Friends in the logo community sent me links to websites with a message like, “Isn’t this your design?” Sure enough, it was my work. And each time it was used without my permission. Again, I reached out asking for removal. I stopped looking, but it didn’t end there.

I received a contact through my website, offering to buy the “X” logo. It felt like a nice change of pace. The design wasn’t making me any money otherwise. Plus, I was too busy to continually “police” my work. So, I replied, agreeing to sell the design for $300 — which I thought was very reasonable. I never received a response. Later, out of curiosity, I investigated the website of the contact, only to find they were using my design anyway. This occurred multiple times.

On some level it was flattering, but mostly it was a mild annoyance. Eventually, I stopped responding. Finally, I stopped caring altogether.

I came to realize that I can never truly own anything I put online.

I wasn’t going to become one of those artists that plasters hideous watermarks all over their work in a futile attempt to prevent plagiarism. So, I embraced the realization, and my friend and I built an open source software company within the WordPress industry. If I couldn’t prevent my work from being stolen, I would just give it away.

When we entered the WordPress industry in the late 2000’s, it was full of idealists, degens, anarchists, and a whole lot of nerds — similar to the NFT world today. I felt at home amongst the community. We were going to “change the world” by giving everything away.

It doesn’t take long to realize that you can’t make a living by giving everything away. However, unlike logos, software is more complicated. Even if the design and code are free, many people are still willing to pay for support and expertise. As a result, we built a successful business upon this model.

As the years passed, the WordPress industry changed. We continued to innovate in the space, but our friends in the industry were leaving.

I was too busy to notice. I kept spinning my wheels in Web 2.0. Working in a bubble. Designing and developing great new products that nobody cared about. It was disheartening.

Unbeknownst to me, my colleagues were migrating to Web3. Finally, NFTs caught my eye.

When I eventually took the deep dive into NFTs and the blockchain, I quickly realized the power of the technology. Plus, it provided a way to share and sell digital art, without it being stolen!

It was a powerful moment. Now, I “can” truly own the work I put online.

Once I discovered generative art collections, I was hooked. For those that don’t know what generative art is, this article may help.

The skills required to create a generative art NFT collection just happened to be the same skillset I’ve nurtured as an artist, designer, and developer for the past 15 years. It felt like destiny. I became obsessed with creating a collection.

But where should I start? What kind of collection? What style?

Subconsciously, I gravitated toward my “X” logo as a starting point. The design’s plagiarized past didn’t even cross my mind. I began creating simple variations, and using a modified version of the open source Hashlips Art Engine to run generative tests.

The early tests were extremely minimal in form, and included a variety of bold background colors. As the work progressed, I began experimenting with filters, patterns, colors, and rarity. Some experiments were interesting, but overly complicated the results. I knew that I want to achieve a minimal, bold, and iconic aesthetic. So, I regularly shifted my focus back towards simplicity.

Ultimately, I decided the skulls should be primarily white, on top of a black background. Additionally, I chose to include 4 other possible colors — gold, red, blue, and green. I felt the minimal color usage would be impactful on a black and white design, so I developed every color to be rare. However, the most rare designs within the collection contain all 4 colors, and I ensured only a small number of the randomly generated NFTs contain all colors.

As the collection evolved, the NumbSkulls were born.

After months into the development of NumbSkulls, my wife said in passing, “How funny is it that this whole project originated from your stolen design?”

The thought had not occurred until my wife brought it to my attention. I’d come full circle. Now, the offspring of my plagiarized design can live forever on the blockchain.

I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. And it’s an ironically fitting end for my “X” design. It’s a reminder of how far the internet has come, and I have come, in a relatively short time.

I love NFTs. Not because I’m bullish. In fact, I cringe every time I hear the word bullish. I love NFTs because it finally provides a proof of ownership for digital artists, musicians, and creators of all kinds.

The NumbSkulls NFT collection is currently in the promotional phase before mint. If you’re interested in learning more about the project, please check out the website.

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