Numerous researchers have examined text plagiarism, and programs to detect textual plagiarism, such as Ithenticate and Turnitin, have been developed and adopted by many higher education institutions. However, there have been few investigations into non-textual plagiarism, principally in the field of visual forms of communication. Visual forms of communication are related to the visual aspect and signification of physical configuration as images. Communication here is based on the aesthetic characteristics of a designed image.
Whereas the most public, visual forms of communication have some logic and copyright parameters, the specific concerns of academic visual plagiarism are much less visible (Blythman et al. 2007). Subsequently, visual plagiarism has proved much more difficult to manage, and programs to detect this form of plagiarism are not as common or effective. For example, while Google programs are often used as the main way to detect visual plagiarism, these programs apply simple methods. TinEye, another example, can search by image or perform a reverse image search.
Interior design involves a complex process of conceptualisation and implementation through which space is used according to a function. Nussbaumer (2013, p. 194) mentioned that an individual’s behaviour is constructed in these spaces that psychologically and physically affects people. In this context, two complementary dimensions of design space can be emphasised. The first is related to the ‘implicit dimension’ and includes, in terms of the theoretical orientations, conceptual thinking and an idea. The second is related to the ‘visual dimension’ and the results of the perceptive process, including the tangible visual-spatial design of space, line, form, shape, texture, time, colour, and light. These two dimensions are parallel in the designer’s mind during the design process; the first leads to the second, yet they alternate until the space is ‘formed’, the project is ‘designed’, and the design is ‘implemented’ and takes its form. The second dimension only appears as the space is used as a combination of forms (outcome) that produce a ‘user reaction’. The same may apply to the ‘research analyst’ or ‘reader’ who must study a space’s visual aspect to access its design.
Here, the ‘designed space’ can be defined by its characteristics from the visual and implicit aspects. Given the bifurcation of these two aspects, each with regard to its own competence and the complexity of their interaction, this study focuses on the visual aspect in terms of exploiting the mechanisms of analysing space as an ‘image’. Moreover, Alawad et al. (2020) demonstrated the necessity of combating plagiarism in students’ design projects by making them aware of the primary methods, types, and causes of plagiarism. They encouraged students to confront repetition, fight stagnation, stimulate creativity, and preserve the rights of designers. Academic interior designers and educators play crucial roles in dealing with such events, particularly through their knowledge, experience, and integrity.
This study also focuses on the visual properties that represent plagiarism sites in interior design through the images that form the basis of a designed interior space by testing their effectiveness and ensuring their clarity among academics.
Introduction to visual plagiarism
Violations of academic integrity are a cumulative and widespread issue in the academic community. One of the main reasons for this spread is the development of the Internet, which has led to an increase in media (both in form and space), the multiplicity of academic resources, and the easy and permanent availability of information for students (Alawad et al. 2018; Van Heerden 2014; Park 2003; Howard 2001). However, technology can be positively exploited to support an anti-plagiarism student culture and prevent, determine, and help recognise plagiarism that cannot be identified through other means (Garrett and Robinson 2012a).
As a form of academic integrity violation, plagiarism is defined as copying the work of others in its original form or by altering its contents or slightly altering some of the contents without any appropriate or adequate recognition or citation of the original work (Caplan and Redman 2018; Starovoytova and Namango 2016). Plagiarism occurs in different media and forms, including texts, ideas, data, graphs, tables, figures, spoken words, graphics, music, pictures, poetry, art, audio clips, and video clips (Starovoytova and Namango 2016).
There are various reasons behind student plagiarism, including a lack of understanding of the meaning of plagiarism or confusion over instructions regarding acceptability (Blythman et al. 2007, Starovoytova and Namango 2016; Cleary 2017). There is also confusion regarding the difference between copying and artistic interpretation (Walker 2009); laziness (Cleary 2017); avoiding punishment in the form of not disclosing or acknowledging plagiarism (Starovoytova and Namango 2016; Cleary 2017); mitigating penalty; or lacking institutional guidance, policies, and procedures (Garrett and Robinson 2012a; Starovoytova and Namango 2016).
Other reasons for student plagiarism are easy access to online resources (Alawad et al. 2018; Hurtík and Hodáková 2015), anxiety and stress over academic work (Cleary 2017), and poor time management (Cleary 2017). Alawad et al. (2018) classified five main elements (5S) in the causes of plagiarism by students: student, supervisor, study, aspect, and society. They also explained that plagiarism threatens innovation and development in interior design and indicated that, from the academic perspective, student plagiarism could be attributed to a fear of renewal, especially when they have a successful inventory of work (Alawad et al. 2020).
Simon (2016) argued that higher education institutions should seriously consider their academic integrity and plagiarism policies (applicability and written context). Developing a plan of action focussed on preventing plagiarism is now a necessity (Walker 2009). Researchers such as Alawad et al. (2018) and Park (2003) have called for educational institutions to develop methods for managing student plagiarism. These methods are based on prevention supported by transparently and continuously applied robust detection and punishment methods that are fully consistent within the academic community (Alawad et al. 2018; Park 2003). Furthermore, Dalal (2015) emphasised the importance of how plagiarism is confronted and argued that it is not possible to reduce plagiarism without changing the behaviours that originate from opportunistic values.
In addition to text, plagiarism can occur in images, which are a vital part of implemented design projects. Ryerson University (n.d.) provides an interesting reference for this as it has many rules about visual plagiarism (e.g., photographs, maps, screenshots, graphs, charts, tables, and logos), artworks (e.g., paintings, sketches, designs, and sculptures), digital creations (e.g., graphics, illustrations, collages, and memes), videos, and animations. Alawad et al. (2018) indicated that, while there are several programs for the detection of plagiarism, most only detect text plagiarism and cannot be used with images. Therefore, academics struggle to determine the originality of visual images because images cannot be aseptically tested to detect visual plagiarism.
Van Heerden (2014) also demonstrated that there are currently no effective detection methods for plagiarism available to photography teachers in higher education. However, Google™ SBI, which photography teachers use to detect functional visual plagiarism, was found to be relatively effective by examining whether the program could differentiate between matching images, plagiarised and original, from the Internet (Van Heerden 2014). Hurtík and Hodáková (2015) have also proposed another technical method that relies on a specific mathematical method to search for ‘stolen’ images in a specific database. However, such methods always require the availability of a database of images on the Internet to detect similar and identical images.
Moreover, in the world of visual arts, less research has been conducted to discover visual plagiarism compared to text-based plagiarism, largely because of this difficulty in identifying and detecting plagiarism in visual materials. Simon (2016, p12) argued that, in ‘the situation in the visual arts, there are no clear guidelines to help distinguish between plagiarism on the one hand and homage, parody, visual referencing, and related practices on the other’. Simon also suggested that the concept of visual plagiarism remains unclear because of the ‘artistic and commercial practices; the perceived lack of consistency in approach between colleagues, courses and disciplinary areas … ’ (2016, p 31). This context adds to the complexity academics face when recognising and verifying visual plagiarism (Garrett and Robinson 2012a).
Accordingly, the process of diagnosing and identifying plagiarism depends on the knowledge and experience of academics (Garrett and Robinson 2012b; Alawad et al. 2020). This can cause conflicts of disclosure, approaches, policies, and practices (Garrett and Robinson 2012b). Van Heerden (2014) also demonstrated that effective methods for detecting visual plagiarism need to dissect composite images by isolating their discrete features to detect the unauthorised use of these images in composite materials.
In interior design and research on plagiarism, in particular, academics at any educational level must be provided with students’ past work to monitor students’ development at other levels and detect plagiarism (Alawad et al. 2020). Blythman et al. (2007, p5) argued that ‘[w] e can do this by changing in some way that has a unique effect: scale, colour(s), juxtaposition of styles, content, meaning, lighting, feeling, materials, placement’. However, Hoepner (2021) shares his take on the issue in Architectural Digest: ‘The Internet today is awash with shiplap-panelled walls, herringbone tile floors, and reclaimed wood either layered onto a ceiling or fashioned into barn-style doors. Are all of those rooms copies?’ Timothy Corrigan, a designer, declared that ‘[n] o one can say that they designed something totally out of their own imagination …. Everything comes from an earlier source. So, it is a little tricky how you attribute ownership of design’ (quoted in Hoepner 2021). Designing within any definable style, he argues, necessarily involves a degree of imitation (Hoepner 2021). It is necessary, then, to define what separates appropriate imitation in visual media from plagiarism.
Visual expression of interior design and visual reading mechanisms of space
The concept of visual expression establishes the formative dimension in interior design. It involves the methods and means of installing the various physical elements of space, line, form, shape, texture, time, colour, and light. These create expressive properties through an aesthetic formulation whose components are subject to fine creativity according to a series of interlinked relationships. As Nussbaumer (2013, p. 128) stated, these relationships are primarily perceived through vision and the interdependence of the rest of the senses, which are used to comprehend what is contained in space. In this context, the architect Abu Auf (2014) argued that architectural design is a creative cognitive science that depends on the formation of various elements that form the space, the interior spatial relations, and the relationship with the external environment. Additionally, this creativity is complemented by the external formation.
Plastic expression in building and installing the design of an interior space occurs on several levels. The first is the consistency of the aesthetic aspect in the design of interior spaces, which is crucial because it often represents a goal pursued by the interior designer who builds an aesthetic harmony allowing the space to perform its primary function. This enables users to carry out related activities. Another consistency is the formative aspect of the interior design space, which usually represents the basis for adapting the users’ attitudes, building their reactions, and forming their unconscious behaviours. Between the designer’s goals and the user’s aspirations, the aesthetic aspect of interior spaces represents the most important common denominator in which the physical elements of the space interact. This combination contains formative frameworks that support the desired functional mobility and establish the meanings of interaction and life in the space.
The visual reading of a space is based on several concepts. The most important of these is the ‘clarity’ of the physical structure of a space and the resulting sense of ‘comfort and safety’. This concept is fundamentally related to the process of use and its management in an effective framework. The use process represents the essence of the relationship between the structure of the space that must be formed in this context and the user. Abu Auf (2015) argued that, regarding the visual reading of a space, design is a collection of spaces with disciplined relationships that carry all of the properties meeting the comfort and safety needs of their users and visitors. This is achieved by setting the best performance when forming entities with identities resulting from specific combinations of light, shadow, colours, and details. It can also be created using construction materials and methods that achieve the product’s durability properties and provide it with engineering aspects that meet vital requirements and bear the properties of quality and sustainability.
Gosling et al. (2013) described the challenge researchers face in terms of how to aseptically record the features of places because of the difficulty of documenting space. To address this challenge, researchers must define a method that is amenable to quantitative analyses, allows comparisons across spaces, and is flexible and comprehensive enough to be applied to various spaces.
Gosling et al. (2013) further explained that this context is difficult to analyse quantitatively and cannot be easily compared across spaces. Thus, delineating design elements would be helpful. Kilmer and Kilmer (1992, p. 96) state that the traditional design process taught in schools is divided into two parts: the first summarises the seven design elements (space, line, form, shape, texture, time, colour, and light), and the second includes the eight principles of design (balance, retheme, emphasis, proportion, scale, unity, harmony, and variety).
Furthermore, Gibson (1977) argued that the environment provides a list of materials beginning with simple things and ending with complex things. Supporting this suggestion, Gosling et al. (2013) expressed that the interior environment could be conceived as consisting of materials (such as steel, wood, and glass) and surfaces (such as floors, ceilings, and walls). Within his proposal, Gibson (1977) arranged the materials, surfaces, and planning of these surfaces that the environment provides. In this way, the functions of the environment can immediately be discovered before it is realised that they are useful for a specific purpose (Gosling et al. 2013).
According to the studies mentioned above, plagiarism exists in various places. This research will focus on the visual properties that represent plagiarism sites in interior design through the images that form the basis of a designed interior space by testing their effectiveness and ensuring their clarity among academics. To the best of our knowledge, no research has been conducted on plagiarism in interior design. Additionally, the few existing studies about visual science differ from research in interior design in terms of the data they use; therefore, they can only be used in certain and limited cases because of the specifics of the interior design field. At the level of programs, the situation is unique to interior design as the work of students or designers examined to verify plagiarism is not necessarily published. Consequently, specialists must develop their own methods to detect plagiarism.
Thus, in this study, the following research questions were developed to reveal the concept of visual plagiarism in interior design:
Q1: Is visual plagiarism evident to academics through the visual properties of interiors (design elements and principles)?
Q2: What are the acceptable limits of plagiarism from the academics’ points of view?