Mar 21, 2012
Zelda Harrison

Book Review: Design By Nature

XCD gives the thumbs up to Maggie Macnab’s Design by Nature.

Biomimicry, derived from the Greek for “imitating life”, is a growing field that looks to Nature for problem-solving and processes. It’s therefore no wonder that the quintessential visual problem-solver, the Designer, is embracing this “new field” as a source of inspiration, or more accurately, openly acknowledging Nature as creative muse. Maggie Macnab has tapped into this current in her new book, Design by Nature , where she attempts to formalize the Natural World’s impact on the design process.


This is a daunting task, particularly when one considers that for over approximately 3.8 billion years, Nature has gone through a process of trial and error to refine the living organisms, processes, and materials on planet Earth. But Maggie is no stranger to dissecting the impact of an environment on the Designer’s subconscious mind: in her previous book, Decoding Design: Understanding and Using Symbols in Visual Communication (F+W, 2008) and reviewed by XCD, Maggie explores the iconography of various cultures (both corporate and ethnic) and its impact on contemporary identity and communication design.

The material Macnab covers is rather dense, rendering her book more functional as a reference manual or visual Chapbook. Maggie deftly addresses this with color-coordination, introduction of key concepts by chapter, and by illustrating her narratives with 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”.


And if you’d like to take your new visual reference guide out for your daily commune with Nature, there’s a dash of poetry too, as this photo caption indicates:

“The last dandelion seed clings
precariously to the flower head awaiting
the right breeze at the right time,
to blow it into its next state of being.”*

Download this pdf for a preview of Maggie’s introduction to Design by Nature or check out some sample chapters where Maggie evaluates the use of patterns by Nature and the sensuality of Nature.*

*Excerpted from Design by Nature: Master Design Basics Using Nature’s Universal Shapes and Patterns by Maggie Macnab Copyright © 2012. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and New Riders.


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.

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