The Inspiration in Natural Selection

The Inspiration in Natural Selection

At our recent a staff retreat, we were given a day to take a deep breath, look back, ahead, and inside, think "big-picture," and engage our brains in "active recovery." Among our homework assignments to prepare for this day, we were asked to bring something that we found inspiring or provocative. Well, that challenged us each to spend some time rolling this question around our individual heads and really ask ourselves, "So, what does inspire me?"

Since our gathering I've had a few additional thoughts about inspiration. You have probably heard it said, "Nature is my inspiration." Although I have always understood the emotional sentiment of being in nature revitalizing me, I just never thought about why nature itself can be my inspiration as a designer. This last weekend I went to the Oregon coast and as I experienced inner restoration, I also found myself inspired in that way where I wanted to create, and start things, and (yes, similar to that after-cup-of-coffee coming-alive feeling) I wanted to … DO. As the inspiration was happening, I realized it, consciously thought about it, and explained it to myself. This is what I learned…

1. Nature is inspiring because it is more than I can imagine.

Take trees for example: variety, bizarre combinations, freakish diversity, nature follows its own set of rules that are not immediately obvious until they are broken. I don't think to draw trees as crooked or split or overhanging or far-reaching or to place them so precariously or so uniquely as they are in nature. A tree can go anywhere and do anything.

My inspiration lesson: Let go of self-imposed limits. Try something I haven't seen, go in an unexpected direction.

2. The colors in nature are different than any set color palette.

Need a purple for a logo? Go to nature and start there. Sample, sample again and again.

Look at a photo and you may describe it as using blue, green, brown, and yellow, and if you were to draw that picture, the traditional world of color options (from crayons through extensive color swatch libraries) offer a set selection to choose between — but there are hundreds of possibilities that exist beyond these.

My inspiration lesson: Resist being limited by what is readily offered or even my own first impression. Keep looking and don't try to find the answers too quickly.

3. Randomness and imperfection is a part of nature.

I don't question nature's imperfection because it's what I can see. It's there and my eyes give me proof of its validity. Look at the way birds line up as they run across the sand or the way foam is left scattered on the beach. Nature has a real handle on beautiful placement. When I try too hard to place things, it looks that way. There is a time for straightening and aligning, for controlled columns and balanced spaces. But there is also a time for flow and space and placement that is free-of-care.

My inspiration lesson: Disconnect from my controlling agenda and need for perfection once in a while, and let design emerge more spontaneously.

So, look around and notice that puddles aren't round, and flower petals aren't balanced, trees don't grow straight up, and grass is not just green — but yellow and brown, too. Then go out and do your own thing — whatever that is. Let go of your self-imposed rules and go do what you haven't imagined yet.