Using Nature as Divine Design Inspiration

We've probably all experienced that day in our childhood, lying on the front lawn, when the clouds overhead reminded us of something—a dancing elephant, Ben Franklin's profile, or that '52 Packard.

For many, finding form and function inspired by nature has played a significant role in creating brilliant design. For me, nature is at the heart and soul of nearly everything I do and create, and it often provides metaphors that have led to solutions that have subtle impact.

Several years ago, I was working on a project from hell in Paris and had just left yet another depressing meeting. I was walking down a boulevard back to my hotel when I happened upon some picture perfect leaves lying on the sidewalk. Call it divine inspiration or just a vision amidst a desperate need to be cheered up, but those leaves reminded me immediately of my kids. I still can't precisely put my finger on it. I guess it had to do with how the seasons relate to generations—maybe a family tree? Something about those beautiful leaves triggered a connection that was powerful.

leaves

I picked up an assortment and brought them home. I knew they were to become an artistic element in the portraits I had been painting of my daughter, Bridget, and my son, Joseph. I love the textures they created and the unspoken layers of meaning they provided. To this day, I continue to design many portraits with elements from nature; these elements suggest the many dimensions and characteristics of my subjects.

kids

To me, there's nothing like a hike, run, ski, or ride through the woods to inspire new design ideas. I go outside to be inspired. It's some of the most enjoyable "research" I can take part in, it's literally good for my heart, and it always inspires and fills my soul. Nature never fails to produce something new and interesting. Connecting my love for nature and for being outdoors with my craft keeps me content, fulfilled, and grounded.

For this reason, one of my design heroes is Andy Goldsworthy; his work creating design in nature is nothing less than breathtaking. If you haven't seen this, do go out and rent it. Better yet, buy it.

Last weekend I was hiking through the woods in Northern Wisconsin and I happened upon nature in a way I had never seen it before. This happens more often than you might think. The rhythms of the elements and how they interact to create totally new visual inspiration are constantly changing and playing tricks with my expectations. It's why I have to constantly get out and see what Mother Nature's cooked up for my hungry brain.

At any rate, this time out I was treated to a totally new natural color spectrum. It had snowed the night before, just enough to create this random patterning with the autumn leaves that were at peak color both in the trees and along the forest floor. I had never seen autumn colors so vivid before because I had never seen them mixed with a stunning, sun-lit, super sharp white before. I snapped a few quick pics that don't do the scene justice and got back to the studio and started mixing paint—divine inspiration!

forest

Lastly, I've selected a few designs—a few of ours, but mostly from others—and the imagery of nature that I suspect served as divine inspiration.

Enjoy...and get out there, be inspired!

nature inspiration

[Cell cuff, David & Martin; Newton Sneaker packaging, TDA Advertising; Roses on the Vine table lamp, Swarovski; Loppet poster, Duffy and Partners; Bamboo chaise, Ezri Tarazi; Birdhouse, Azul Amuchastegui Bari; Thymes Azur packaging, Duffy and Partners]

Read Joe Duffy's blog Duffy Point of View
Browse blogs by other Expert Designers

Principal and chairman of Duffy & Partners, Joe Duffy is one of the most respected and sought after creative directors and thought leaders on branding and design in the world. Joe's work includes brand and corporate identity development for some of the world's most admired brands, from Aveda to Coca-Cola to Sony to Jack in the Box to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. His work is regularly featured in leading marketing and design publications and exhibited around the world. In 2004 he founded Duffy & Partners as a new kind of branding and creativity company, partnering with clients and other firms in all communication disciplines. Also in 2004, he received the Medal from the AIGA for a lifetime of achievement in the field of visual communications. His first book—Brand Apart—was released in July 2005 and in 2006, he was recognized as one of the "Fast 50" most influential people in the future of business by Fast Company.

Add New Comment

2 Comments

  • Charli Jessup

    I have always been fascinated with the textures to found in nature and am always trying for that perfect photo that does it justice.

  • Elizabeth Kuehnen

    Thanks for a beautiful article! I loved the Nature Conservancy exhibit at Copper-Hewitt (where the bamboo chaise was on display).