About the Book

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapters 1-3
Chapters 4-5
Chapters 6-7
Chapters 8-9
 

 

FOREWORD by DEBBIE MILLMAN

Debbie Millman is president of the design division at Sterling Brands, President Emeritus of the AIGA, and Chair of the Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She hosts Design Matters, the first weekly radio talk show about design on the Internet. She is also author of Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, Look Both Ways, How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer, and The Essential Principles of Graphic Design.

CHAPTER SAMPLE

From the first section, Memory: Remembering What We Know

EXCERPTS FROM CHAPTERS 1-9

A glimpse from each chapter of Design by Nature.

 
1 Aesthetics: Enjoy the Ride...more
more
 
2 Efficiency: Go With the Flow...more
more
 
3 Nature’s Ethics: Everyone’s Business..more
more
 
 
4 Patterns: Nature’s Dynamics...more
more
 
5 Shapes: Nature’s Vocabulary...more
more
 
6 The Elements: Nature’s Sensuality...more
more
 
 
7 Structure: Building Beauty...more
more
 
8 Symmetry: A Balancing Act...more
more
 
9 Messaging: A Meaningful Medium...more
more
 
Additional excerpts have been published on Graphics.com:
Energy Visualized
 
The How and Why of Meaning

Reviews

"Maggie writes with a bold confidence born of experience, a deep understanding of her subject matter, and a passion for sharing the “why” behind nature-inspired form." —Robert L. Peters, Past President of Icograda (Int'l Council of Graphic Design Associations) and Principal of Circle read more...

"Maggie deftly [uses] color-coordination, introduc[es] key concepts by chapter, and...[narrates] case studies of practitioners from around the world including Stefan Sagmeister (USA), Albert-Jan Pool (The Netherlands) and Igendesign (Hungary). Her book is punctuated with devices that will appeal to various learning styles, including engaging call-outs, practice exercises, interesting “biofacts”–did you know that our eye structure evolved from merely detecting movement into the camera-like contraption to balance light (and color) with movement? These really help connect the dots between natural manifestation and our perception of “good design." —Center for Cross Cultural Design, read more...

"If you liked Maggie’s previous book, Decoding Design, you'll love this." —David Airey, Designer and Blogger read more...

"In the process of learning more about how we can learn from nature to create compelling and meaningful design communications, this book concurrently teaches us about ourselves—and to me, this is possibly the book's greatest strength." DesignTaxi, read more...

"Design By Nature brings [intuition] to the forefront, providing designers with clearer understanding of the world around them. This understanding is a powerful tool for developing sound solutions to client problems." —Neil Tortorella, Marketing Consultant, Author read more...

 

About the Author

 
 

MAGGIE MACNAB has owned Macnab Design since 1981 and has been a strategic visual communicator for over three decades. Her work has been published in design industry publications and has received international honors. She teaches design theory at the University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM, USA) and Santa Fe University of Art and Design (Santa Fe, NM, USA), and is past president of the Communication Artists of New Mexico. She also speaks for conferences, guest lectures at schools in the US and abroad, gives workshops on integrating symbolism into design, and consults on developing strategic and creative identities. Please This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for information regarding speaking engagements or workshops.

Her first design theory book, Decoding Design: Understanding and Using Symbols in Visual Communication (F+W, 2008), was released worldwide to critical acclaim and has received two awards. Maggie is committed to beautiful and functional visual communications and to creative global problem solving using nature as mentor.

Chapter 1 AESTHETICS: ENJOY THE RIDE

 
In the realm of aesthetics there are different cultural approaches to a “messy” or unorganized design style. In Japan, the term “wabi sabi” refers to the beauty of ordinary objects no matter how imperfect, incomplete, or humble they are. It is an acceptance of life’s impermanence. Although the idea of decay or incompletion has a negative connotation in western culture, Zen Buddhism interprets this inevitable predicament as a transcendence of worldly concerns; it is seen in the positive perspective of liberation. From a philosophical standpoint, wabi sabi is the recognition of worldly things exactly as they are in the present moment without judgment about what they used to be or might become. In western culture, the chaotic style of grunge breaks the rules and rebels against cultural mores when they become too restrictive. From surfer to punk, grunge design has been used as a visual antithesis to materialism and superficial values. The difference between the outlooks is significant: Grunge tears down or interrupts in a reactive way, whereas wabi sabi passively appreciates the reality of the living process.
 
Art Chantry, United States
 
Chapter 2 EFFICIENCY: GO WITH THE FLOW

 
Structural adaptations were made to the Shinkansen train in Japan to minimize tunnel exit sound levels to meet environmental standards. Eiji Nakatsu, an engineer with JR West and a birdwatcher, observed the splashless water entry of kingfishers. Kingfishers move quickly from air, a low resistance (low-drag) medium, to water, a high-resistance (high-drag) medium. The kingfisher’s beak provides an almost ideal shape for such an impact. The beak is streamlined, steadily increasing in diameter from its tip to its head. This reduces the impact as the kingfisher essentially wedges its way into the water, allowing the water to flow past the beak rather than being pushed in front of it. Because the train faced the same challenge, moving from low-drag open air to high-drag air in the tunnel, Nakatsu designed the forefront of the Shinkansen train based on the beak of the kingfisher. The more streamlined Shinkansen train not only travels more quietly, but it also travels 10 percent faster and uses 15 percent less electricity…through the observation of nature’s efficiency. From AskNature.org.
 
KingFisher Photo: Charlie Hamilton Jones/UK; The Shinkansen 500 Series at Shin-Osaka Station: 663highland/Japan
 

Chapter 3 NATURE'S ETHICS: EVERYONE'S BUSINESS

 
Nature operates without waste or excess: it’s a straight up exchange policy. However, this is not the case for many human-based systems that exploit nature without regard for future impact on the environment. British Petroleum caught the world’s attention in April 2010 when one of their oil rigs exploded in the Gulf of Mexico and uncontrollably spewed oil into the ocean for months. BP’s website declares their brand was designed to “symbolize a number of things—from the living, organic form of a sunflower to the greatest source of energy…the sun itself.” The brand’s design and intent are out of integrity with the company’s actions that resulted in the worse marine spill in history. The internet has brought more transparency to the workings of our systems by exposing actions that are not in accord with our home, the environment. Thousands of designers rallied to rebrand BP independently and through organized efforts such as that hosted by Greenpeace UK. By aligning image to fact, they brought more awareness to the disaster and the outrage it elicited.
 
BP Logo Redesign: Brian W. Jones, USA
 

Chapter 4 PATTERNS: NATURE'S DYNAMICS

 
Duffy & Partners created the identity for the Islands of the Bahamas with distinctly atypical and vibrant characteristics of form and color in mind. Although the design reads as an organized grouping of independent shapes, it is following the pattern of a meander. This isn’t a usual pattern to use in logo design because it is so loosely organized, but in this case—as a descriptor of travel, fun, and spontaneous island hopping—it works perfectly. The tendency to think of a meander as a connected, linear form is prevalent because this is how they are usually seen in nature: meandering streams and hilly loams follow a sequence of connections. The logo represents the connection of the island chain, though much of it is submerged below the ocean. The designer picked up on the meander pattern from maps and expanded upon it to create a playfully inviting romp in the colorful Caribbean.
 
The Islands of the Bahamas Identity: Duffy and Partners
 

Chapter 5 SHAPES: NATURE'S VOCABULARY

 
The circle is the most archaic of the five archetypical shapes, and is used in all cultures as a basic template for art, architecture and design. It symbolizes wholeness, completion and autonomy—so commonly, in fact, it is used almost always in religious iconography to represent a higher being or the spiritual association of “wholeness.” In Christianity it is the halo, in Judaism the kippa headgear, in Taoism the Dharma Wheel, in Islam Sufis perform the whirling dervish dance, and in Native American spiritualism, the underground kiva provides a circular structure within which to perform ceremonies, tell stories and delve into the earth for more access to the spiritual source. The five universal shapes are archetypes used in all cultures and all eras with common meaning. The circle is analogous of reconciling opposites into a single agreement: as an archetype ("original kind”) it includes what is within and excludes what is without, and represents everything and nothing (as in zero).
 
Photo of Casa Rinconada at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, USA: Dr. Tyler Nordgren, University of Redlands
 

Chapter 6 THE ELEMENTS: NATURE'S SENSUALITY

 
We interpret nature through our sensual perceptions that process color and the elements, or “nature’s sensuality.” Color and elemental associations give significant information to design that can influence mood, prioritize order, call attention to a specific thing, or recede subtleties into the background where they are processed intuitively. Colors can be culturally specific, but many of them have universal associations: red is elementally warm and emotionally passionate; blues are cool and associated with intangibles such as the sky or ideas, and detachment. Elements are universal as fundamental metaphors: water is feminine, receptive, and emotionally related; fire is masculine, projective and intuitive. Design that integrates the subtleties of nature’s sensuality has more reach because it gives more ways—and more depth—to the internalized processing of external information.
 
Ad Campaign for Martini Asti by Ars Thanea, Poland, Creative Director: Peter Jaworowski
 

Chapter 7 STRUCTURE: BUILDING BEAUTY

 
Elements define design by describing it with the visual adjectives of line, shape, color, size, and typography. Even background components, such as texture, values (gradations or tints), and white space (emptiness) can be elements of your work. Elements are the things of your design—nothing in this case would also be a “thing” (the phrase “form is emptiness; emptiness is form” is a Buddhist saying that represents the necessity of form to be contained by emptiness). The form and color that make up the intricate elements of Charis Tsevis’ illustration of the national Brazilian football team star, Robinho, are based on the Brazilian flag. By constructing an image of the country’s most popular sport using the relationships between elements—the symbol and colors of Brazil’s national identity—the soul of Brazil is embedded in an exuberant expression of pride. Gestalt is a word that describes the organization of elements and includes the subsets of proximity, figure/ground, closure, similarity and continuance.
 
Illustration: Charis Tsevis, Greece
 

Chapter 8 SYMMETRY: A BALANCING ACT IN TWO OR MORE PARTS

 
Symmetry is the framework that underlies life’s propensity of diversity and movement. These qualities must be continually balanced and ordered within the laws of time and space to work within the bounds of nature. Without symmetry, diversity and movement would succumb to inherent chaos. Movement would meander without purpose, and diversity would never settle into agreement. We’re really quite organized considering the alternative! There are three basic organizing structures of symmetry: translation that repeats side by side, reflective that mirrors itself, and rotational symmetry that rotates around a center point two or more times. The image shown here has reflection symmetry in the logo itself, which has been appropriated and expanded into a five-fold rotational design to reinforce the graphics as a collateral background pattern.
 
Identity Design for Amor-e-Moda: Igor Duibanov, Russia
 

Chapter 9 MESSAGING: A MEANINGFUL MEDIUM

 
Meaning-making is the constant and unconscious human activity of organizing the unending stream of information integrated and processed by your sensory perceptions. What you observe (the qualities of external information), what you are taught (learned opinions and beliefs from family and society), and what you exist within (the cultural environment around you), synthesize your responses to the events of life, from the smallest to most important matters. A quality of interpretation is based in the aesthetics of phi, a measurement of pleasing proportion that is found in many organic forms. Phi is also called the golden mean, ratio, rectangle or spiral, and is used to define aesthetics and repeating patterns in architecture, art, book design, complexity study (theoretical physics), music and psychology. The Apple logo contains some phi relationships as demonstrated in this illustration. You might be surprised how often this proportion occurs in everyday matters, from the proportions between ascenders and descenders in typography, to the EKG spacings between normal heartbeats.
 
Apple Logo Design: Rob Janoff; Viral Internet Phi Rendition: Anonymous; Illustration Production: Maggie Macnab
 

Chapter 1 Aesthetics: Enjoy the Ride

 
In the realm of aesthetics there are different cultural approaches to a “messy” or unorganized design style. In Japan, the term “wabi sabi” refers to the beauty of ordinary objects no matter how imperfect, incomplete, or humble they are. It is an acceptance of life’s impermanence. Although the idea of decay or incompletion has a negative connotation in western culture, Zen Buddhism interprets this inevitable predicament as a transcendence of worldly concerns; therefore, it is seen in the positive perspective of liberation. From a philosophical standpoint, wabi sabi is the recognition of worldly things exactly as they are in the present moment without judgment about what they used to be or might become. It is an awareness and acceptance of life’s endings. In westerns culture, the chaotic style of grunge breaks the rules and rebels against cultural mores when they become too restrictive. From surfer to punk, grunge design has been used as a visual antithesis to materialism and superficial values. The difference between these two cultural outlooks is significant: Grunge tears down or interrupts in a reactive way, whereas wabi sabi passively appreciates the reality of the living process.
 
Punk Posters: Art Chantry, United States
 
Chapter 2 Efficiency: Go With the Flow

 
Structural adaptations were made to the Shinkansen train in Japan to minimize tunnel exit sound levels to meet environmental standards. Eiji Nakatsu, an engineer with JR West and a birdwatcher, observed the splashless water entry of kingfishers. Kingfishers move quickly from air, a low resistance (low-drag) medium, to water, a high-resistance (high-drag) medium. The kingfisher’s beak provides an almost ideal shape for such an impact. The beak is streamlined, steadily increasing in diameter from its tip to its head. This reduces the impact as the kingfisher essentially wedges its way into the water, allowing the water to flow past the beak rather than being pushed in front of it. Because the train faced the same challenge, moving from low-drag open air to high-drag air in the tunnel, Nakatsu designed the forefront of the Shinkansen train based on the beak of the kingfisher. The more streamlined Shinkansen train not only travels more quietly, but it also travels 10 percent faster and uses 15 percent less electricity…through the observation of nature’s efficiency. From AskNature.org.
 
KingFisher Photo: Charlie Hamilton Jones/UK; The Shinkansen 500 Series at Shin-Osaka Station: 663highland/Japan
 

Chapter 3 Nature's Ethics: Everyone's Business

 
Nature operates without waste or excess: it’s a straight up exchange policy. However, this is not the case for many human-based systems that exploit nature without regard for future impact on the environment. British Petroleum caught the world’s attention in May 2010 when one of their oil rigs exploded in the Gulf of Mexico and uncontrollably spewed oil into the ocean for months. BP’s website declares their brand was designed to “symbolize a number of things—from the living, organic form of a sunflower to the greatest source of energy…the sun itself.” The brand’s design and intent behind it are out of integrity with the company’s actions that resulted in the worse marine spill ever. The internet has brought more transparency to the workings of our systems by exposing actions that are not in accord with our home, the environment. Thousands of designers rallied to rebrand BP independently and through organized events such as that hosted by Greenpeace UK. By aligning image to fact, they brought more awareness to the disaster and the outrage it elicited.
 
BP Logo Redesign: Brian W. Jones, USA
 

Chapter 4 Patterns: Nature's Dynamics

 
Duffy & Partners created the identity for the Islands of the Bahamas with distinctly atypical and vibrant characteristics of form and color in mind. Although the design reads as an organized grouping of shapes, it is following the pattern of a meander. This isn’t a usual pattern to use in logo design because it is so loosely organized, but in this case—as a descriptor of travel, fun, and spontaneous island hopping—it works perfectly. The tendency to think of a meander as a connected, linear form is prevalent because this is how they are usually seen in nature: meandering streams and hilly loams follow a sequence of connections. The logo represents the connection of the island chain, though much of it is submerged below the ocean. The designer picked up on the meander pattern from maps and expanded upon it to create a playfully inviting romp in the colorful Caribbean.
 
The Islands of the Bahamas Identity: Duffy and Partners
 

Chapter 5 Shapes: Nature's Vocabulary

 
The circle is the most archaic of the five archetypical shapes, and is used in all cultures as a basic template of art, architecture and design. It symbolizes wholeness, completion and autonomy—so commonly, in fact, it is used almost always in religious iconography to represent a higher being or the spiritual association of “wholeness.” In Christianity it is the halo, in Judaism the kippa headgear, in Taoism the Dharma Wheel, in Islam Sufis perform the whirling dervish dance, and in Native American spiritualism, the underground kiva provides a circular structure within which to perform ceremonies, tell stories and delve within the earth to provide more access to the spiritual source. The five universal shapes are archetypes used in all cultures and all eras with common meaning. The circle is analogous of reconciling opposites into a single agreement: as an archetype (original “kind”) it includes what is within and excludes what is without, and represents everything and nothing (as in zero).
 
Photo of Casa Rinconada at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, USA: Dr. Tyler Nordgren, University of Redlands
 

Chapter 6 The Elements: Nature's Sensuality

 
We interpret nature through our sensual perceptions that process color and the elements, or “nature’s sensuality.” Color and elemental associations give significant information to design that can influence mood, prioritize order, call attention to a specific thing, or recede subtleties into the background where they are processed intuitively. Colors can be culturally specific, but many of them have universal associations: red is elementally warm and emotionally passionate; blues are cool and associated with intangibles such as the sky or ideas, and detachment. Elements are universal as fundamental metaphors: water is feminine, receptive, and emotionally related; fire is masculine, projective and intuitive. Design that integrates the subtleties of nature’s sensuality has more reach because it gives more ways—and more depth— in how to process it.
 
Ad Campaign for Martini Asti by Ars Thanea, Poland, Creative Director: Peter Jaworowski
 

Chapter 7 Structure: Building Beauty

 
Elements define design by describing it with the visual adjectives of line, shape, color, size, and typography. Even background components, such as texture, values (gradations or tints), and white space (emptiness) can be elements of your work. Elements are the things of your design—nothing in this case would also be a “thing” (the phrase “form is emptiness; emptiness is form” is a Buddhist saying that represents the necessity of form to be contained by emptiness). The form and color that make up the intricate elements of Charis Tsevis’ illustration of the national Brazilian football team star, Robinho, are based on the Brazilian flag. By constructing an image of the country’s most popular sport using the relationships between elements—the symbol and colors of Brazil’s national identity—the soul of Brazil is embedded in an exuberant expression of pride. Gestalt is a word that describes the organization of elements and includes the subsets of proximity, figure/ground, closure, similarity and continuance.
 
Illustration: Charis Tsevis, Greece
 

Chapter 8 Symmetry: A Balancing Act in two or more parts

 
Symmetry is the framework that underlies life’s propensity of diversity and movement. These qualities must be continually balanced and ordered within the laws of time and space to work within the bounds of nature. Without symmetry, diversity and movement would succumb to inherent chaos. Movement would meander without purpose, and diversity would never settle into agreement. We’re really quite organized considering the alternative! There are three basic organizing structures of symmetry: translation that repeats side by side, reflective that mirrors itself, and rotational symmetry that rotates around a center point two or more times. The image shown here has reflection symmetry in the logo itself, which has been appropriated and expanded into a five-fold rotational design to reinforce the graphics as a collateral background pattern.
 
Identity Design for Amor-e-Moda: Igor Duibanov, Russia
 

Chapter 9 Messaging: A Meaningful Medium

 
Meaning-making is the constant and unconscious human activity of organizing the unending stream of information integrated and processed by your sensory perceptions. What you observe (the qualities of external information), what you are taught (learned opinions and beliefs from family and society), and what you exist within (the cultural environment around you), synthesize your responses to the events of life, from the smallest to most important matters. A quality of interpretation is based in the aesthetics of phi, a measurement of pleasing proportion that is found in many organic forms. Phi is also called the golden mean, ratio, rectangle or spiral, and is used to define aesthetics and repeating patterns in architecture, art, book design, complexity study (theoretical physics), music and psychology. The Apple logo contains some phi relationships as demonstrated in this illustration. You might be surprised how often this proportion occurs in everyday matters, from the proportions between ascenders and descenders in typography, to the EKG spacings between normal heartbeats.
 
Apple Logo Design: Rob Janoff; Viral Internet Phi Rendition: Anonymous; Illustration Production: Maggie Macnab
 

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