Jordan’s last question in his post about Samsung and aesthetics looked ripe for a blog post:

Should we consider coping [sic] a part of an OS’s functionality or aesthetic as counterfeit?

The advent of digital technologies, capable of making perfect, lossless copies of any digital medium, have allowed the unprecedented sharing of information across a wide variety of mediums and platforms. But with this technology comes a caveat; with one copy essentially being indistinguishable from the next, tracing the provenance or origins of a product or idea becomes exceedingly difficult. So how do we determine the aesthetic value of something if it is a copy, or potentially even counterfeit?

I feel that before we dive into the aesthetics qualities of copies, we first need to separate the notion of copies versus counterfeits. I think Jordan hints at this with the textbook definition he  provides:

Counterfeit: ”made in imitation of something else with intent to deceive” (emphasis added)

The notion of intent in my mind drives these two terms down different paths. Counterfeiting actually has many parallels to the research I’m doing for my capstone on Dark Patterns; it involves the leveraging of practiced skills and techniques (or patterns) in order to take advantage of someone else for personal gain. Both Dark Patterns and counterfeit goods rely on the superior value of the imitated experience or product; by manipulating users’ expectations on what they think should happen, or what consumers think an authentic Coach purse or pair of Air Jordan’s should look like, the intent of these designers is made clear.

So does this make counterfeiting aesthetic? I think the application of designerly intent, even in the service of making counterfeits, is aesthetic: it reflects upon itself as an (approximate) experience of the authentic artifact, stages meaning as a “knockoff” through its relative quality (or lack thereof), and situates itself politically as a source of economic loss and legal prosecution.

Though counterfeiting is a negative application of these aesthetic qualities, that hasn’t stopped others from responding to it with designs in kind. My favorite recent example was from Saddleback Leather’s CEO, who uploaded a video detailing how to knock of his bags.


As he goes through each stage of the process, detailing where counterfeiters can cut corners in materials and construction, he simultaneously is also making an argument for the quality of his own process. This is in my mind how counterfeiting can be used to better understand aesthetics of authentic products.