It All Started With A Stolen Logo Design

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, personality, or business into a simple and iconic design. There’s a real art to it. 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 design style was influenced by the surf, skate, and alternative music cultures of the 90s. So naturally, I wanted to work within those industries. However, it’s difficult landing paid design projects in the surf, skate, and music scene. As a result, I created several personal designs for my portfolio that I felt would be attractive to brands that I hoped to work with.

Among my personal designs, I had a favorite. The logo 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 logo design that spawned an NFT collection.

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.

However, somebody beat me to the punch, and plagiarized my 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 going to get away with stealing my work! Or so I thought.

But they did, again and again.

Friends in online logo communities alerted me to other instances of my stolen design. Each time, the work was used without my permission. So again, I reached out asking for removal.

Eventually, 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 and IP rights 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 could never truly own anything I shared 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. Eventually, NFTs caught my eye.

When I finally took the deep dive into NFTs, 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 completely hooked. For those that don’t know what generative art is, this article may help provide some clarity.

In the case of the NumbSkulls collection, the generative art requires designing hundreds of separate layers for eyes, nose, mouth, and head shapes. Then, code is executed to combine the different layers, and generate thousands of unique designs from millions of possibilities.

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, and I became obsessed with creating a collection.

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

I knew I wanted to create an original NFT collection. Something that was unique, and reflected my personality and style. Derivatives ain’t my thing.

Subconsciously, I gravitated toward my “X” logo as a starting point. The design’s plagiarized past never crossed my mind.

I began creating simple variations, and using a modified version of the open source Hashlips Art Engine to run generative tests.

The first test generations and early experiments.

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. However, I felt many of the colors and experiments overly complicated the results.

I wanted 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.

Results from early black and white test generations.

Later, I included variations with 4 additional colors — gold, red, blue, and green. I felt minimal color usage would be impactful on primarily black and white designs. So, I developed every color to be rare. Meaning, the generative results are most likely to produce black and white designs. However, colors occasionally emerge.

The most rare designs within the collection feature all 4 colors, and I programmatically ensured only a small number of the randomly generated NFTs contain all the possible colors.

As the collection evolved, the NumbSkulls were born.

The NumbSkulls arise from the dead.

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. Without realizing it, I’d come full circle. Now, the offspring of my plagiarized design can live forever on the blockchain.

It’s an ironically fitting end for my “X” design, and a personal 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 they finally provide a proof of ownership for digital artists, musicians, and creators of all kinds.

I love digital art. I believe it has been historically under-appreciated by the art community. I also believe in the power of the blockchain, and the utility NFTs will provide far into the future. That’s the reason I entered this crazy game, and it’s why I remain committed to NFTs, despite the bear market.

The NumbSkulls NFT collection is currently in the promotional phase before mint. If you’re interested in learning more about the project and signing up for the Premint allowlist, please visit our website.

NumbSkulls Collection Animation

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