Robert L. Peters

5 December 2011

Design by Nature: Using Universal Forms and Principles in Design

Santa Fe, New Mexico

(The following is my review of Maggie Macnab’s wonderful new book).

“My father taught me that nature was beautiful, powerful, and mysterious—and always to be respected,” writes author Maggie Macnab. “Nature was the source of all that is and an infinitely creative and patient mentor.” A longtime designer and teacher herself, she delivers the theme of her latest book with eager sincerity: “Nature is the one touchstone all human beings relate and respond to… conscious observation is all it takes… the most reliable, available, and truthful mentor is right outside your door. Nature has an answer for any question you ask if you just relearn how to hear its answer.”

The title of this remarkably captivating design theory book clearly states its purpose, and the book’s structure builds on the author’s premise that “You already know nature in your heart because you are nature… most people simply have a case of modern-day amnesia caused by out-of-sync human systems that we are brought up in.”

Three sections (“Memory: Remembering What We Know; Matter: Understand and Create; and, Motion: The Experience Enhanced”) are broken into nine chapters, each of which clearly lays out key concepts, learning objectives, definitions, and exercises to help put learning into practice (this serves to position the book ideally as an educational primer). Beyond the content of the information-rich 300 pages (a visual feast, with hundreds of intriguing entry-points) innumerable additional resources and external links are provided to further empower the reader.

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. As in her previous book, Decoding Design, she draws from a remarkably wide and unexpectedly varied array of sources—from biomimicry to Jungian analysis, Gestalt psychology, Euclidian geometry, ancient petroglyphs, tessellations, Fibonacci sequences, Wabi-sabi, the grunge movement, and street art—to name but a sampling. Case studies and graphic examples include contributions by the likes of Andy Goldsworthy, Banksy, Erik Spiekerman, Kenya Hara, Milton Glaser, Marian Bantjes, and many, many more. Through it all, she weaves together a persuasive narrative to support the premise that “The appreciation of beauty is universal” and that in almost all instances, human design ingenuity can be traced to “natural” roots.

In her Foreword to the book, Debbie Millman writes “‘Design by Nature’ is a revelation. It is both a book and a bible of sorts: It investigates and illuminates the symbiotic relationships in nature, art, science, economics, philosophy, technology, and design.” It would be difficult for me to improve on this summary—in my view, this book will appeal to anyone interested in understanding our species’ deep connections to nature, and specifically the relationships between nature and designed form-giving of every kind. A must-buy for design students, clearly even the most senior and established of design practitioners (of every ilk) will advance their knowledge by reading it.

My advice: buy this book today at your local bookseller or visit

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