As I was reading Adam Gopnick’s “Talk of the Town,” “Why Wage a War on Christmas” in the January 1, 2018 New Yorker, I came across a word I didn’t know, “syncretist”, which comes from “syncretism.” I love learning new words! Little did I know how relevant this new word is to design.

Syncretism is “the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures or schools of thought” (Dictionary).

I wanted to compare syncretism with another well known term, “eclecticism”. Eclectism is “a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a simple paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases” (Wikipedia).

That made me think about the controversial term, “appropriation”. Appropriation is “the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission” (Dictionary). It’s from the Latin – appropriare – to make one’s own. Gopnik’s article used this word, too, but it didn’t jump off the page like “syncretist.”

Appropriation usually has a negative connotation but it is now used in a positive way by musicians who incorporate the work, style, or other bits by others into their songs, with or without the copyright holder’s permission, and then make it into their own style. Shepard Fairey got in trouble when he appropriated an Associated Press photo of Obama, and then made it his own work of art. The courts sided with Shepard Fairey.

But where should or do musicians, artists and designers get their ideas? Where is the inspiration from? Inspiration is “a product of your thought, like a brilliant idea.” It can also mean “a sudden intuition or idea, or something that arouses your desire to take action” (

Houzz or Pinterest are two of many websites that allow users to save images of projects by others. These photos serve as inspiration for other people’s projects. Some designers and homeowners or party givers, etc. appropriate (copy) the images intact; others use the images for inspiration.

At Leslie Saul & Associates, we are not purists, we prefer eclectism over a rigid theoretical approach to design. We also understand that we prefer syncretism as we make our own design theories from multiple cultures and schools of thought. We probably have appropriated ideas of others without their permission and have made them our own. And without a doubt, we find inspiration from other designers and architects, but even more so from nature, art, music, theatre, and fashion. We are inspired by the world around us, and we design for the real world. Life is messy, and so purity seems inappropriate to us.

Do any of these words have meaning to you? As a life-long learner, I would appreciate learning about what’s important to you. Feel free to comment here or email me here at

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