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Maggie Macnab has been recognized as an innovative design communicator and logo designer for over three decades. She has written two books on design theory, Design by Nature (New Riders, 2011) and Decoding Design (F+W, 2008), and most recently hosted Designing Effective Logos, a logo-design training video series. Maggie is a design educator at various universities and colleges, and gives workshops on designing with nature in mind. She is committed to beautiful, functional design and creative problem solving based in nature's richly practical process.
Galileo knew it. Every ancient culture that left traces of knowledge in their art knew it. Basic shapes compose the fundamental geometry of the universe. We can take credit for a lot of things, but human beings did not invent geometric shapes. We discovered them through the observation of nature. Understanding basic shapes and their functions have taught us to mark time and space in a variety of ways, inspiring mathematics, technology, language and ever-evolving civilization.
A handful of simple shapes have been used throughout time in the art of all cultures: the circle, intersecting lines, the triangle, the square and the spiral. Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien researched and documented commonalities in cultural art forms over several decades and found consistent geometric shapes embedded in all art. She called them the “five universal shapes.”
There are only a handful of fundamental patterns that create all of the natural diversity around us. Nature’s patterns perform three basic tasks that get the work of the universe done by moving, storing and connecting energy.
Nature communicates within an interconnected and intricate system of checks and balances to weave patterns and processes together for perfect and purposeful outcomes. Nature is the ultimate economist when it comes to creating so much from so little. Everything gets used in this supremely elegant system. Nothing is wasted. And all of it happens in the moment. We covered Symbols, Metaphors And The Power Of Intuition in the first post of the series last week; this week let's take a closer look into nature's patterns.
No designer creates wow work 100% of the time. There’s no question that creating good design takes significant exertion, but generating the wow factor in your work can also be fairly effortless. Many designers follow their intuition during the creative process and incorporate universal symbols and metaphors simply because it “feels right.” Intuition — accessible to all people and most especially useful to those engaged in creative pursuits — guides designers towards solutions that align with a universal knowing.
Adding a universal quality to a logo provides the broadest communicative reach, what almost all identities are intended to accomplish. The intellectual exercise of connecting the dots of “thinking” is not irrelevant in design, of course — particularly when it comes to branding — but by combining the intuitive immediacy of symbols and metaphors with strategic thinking, you integrate essential information that helps your logo stand out and be remembered.
The ambigram is one of the few modern letterforms that engage both your intellect and intuition simultaneously. It reads as a word while also communicating a deeply familiar pattern. This is something beyond the ambigram’s obviously clever construction. I’ve thought quite a bit about why I love this word-image hybrid, and I’ll set out here to uncover just what it is about the ambigram’s design and structure that makes it so captivating.
My primary design background is as a symbolic logo designer, so I begin with what I know: symbols. I look to nature to create my work as a matter of practicality as well as aesthetics, because symbols are derived from nature and are the first language of all humans. Symbols engage us deeply as expressions of the organic principles and forms that life embodies. Nature is common to everyone, and when it is used symbolically in visual language, the chance of creating a relationship with the audience is significantly elevated because it mirrors the relationships within and around us. Nature even embeds symbols that mirror universal processes directly in our DNA.
Symmetry is the ordering principle in nature that represents the center of balance between two or more opposing sides. As a fundamental design principle, it permeates everything: from man-made architecture to natural crystalline formations. In nature, symmetry exists with such precision and beauty that we can’t help but attribute it to intelligence–such equal proportions and organization would seem to be created only on purpose. Consequently, humans have borrowed this principle for its most iconic creations and symbols.
There are several types of symmetry, but the most basic are translation, reflection and rotational. Each of them has specific and practical expressions in nature, and each can be used to communicate intuitive principles when appropriately and subtly integrated in a design. As a simple aesthetic, these opposites that work together can add visual appeal.