1. Designs in Nature

Design Principles – Part 1 of 5

Universal Principles of Design, a book describing 125 interdisciplinary principles, is a fascinating reference. I extract 25 of those principles and offer relevant examples in a series of five blogs.

Today’s topics – designs in nature:

  1. Biophilia Effect
  2. Desire Line
  3. Fibonacci Sequence
  4. Golden Ratio
  5. Wayfinding

Biophilia Effect

“Environments rich in nature views and imagery reduce stress and enhance focus and concentration.”

Biophilia fall treesExposure to natural environments produces emotional, cognitive, and physical restorative benefits. Nature scenes appear to be the most reliable and consistent source for the general population.

In a long-term study, children who experienced the greatest increase in nature views from their windows made the greatest gains in standard tests of attention.

Biophilia DoorwaysInterestingly, the effect does not require real plants in the environment. Mere images of window views and posters on the wall have the same effect as the real thing.

Why should nature views improve concentration over urban imagery? It seems that the effect is deeply rooted in the brain and arises from an innate preference for green spaces.

Incorporate the biophilia effect in architectural environments where learning, healing, and concentration occur.

Desire Line

 “Traces of use or wear that indicate preferred methods of interaction with an object or environment.”

Desire Line path through treesDesire lines are paths where people walk – the beaten path that evolves as a shortcut to a destination.

The principle is applied more broadly to trace user activity in an object or environment in the real world.

Consider desire lines in projects emphasizing usability. Attempt to detect desire lines prior to finalizing design specifications; they represent user preference and efficiency.

Fibonacci Sequence

 “A sequence of numbers in which each number is the sum of the preceding two.”

Fibonacci Sequence in natureA Fibonacci sequence is a pattern of numbers in which each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers (e.g., 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…). Patterns featuring the sequence occur in natural forms such as flower petals and galaxy spirals.

The Fibonacci sequence is used in conjunction with the closely aligned golden mean design principle.

Fibonacci SequenceThe prevalence of the sequence in nature leads many to speculate that patterns based on the Fibonacci sequence are intrinsically aesthetic.

The sequence is deployed in classical poetry, art, music, architecture, and continues to be a popular pattern in mathematics and design, especially when used to develop rhythms and harmonies among multiple elements.

Golden Ratio

“A ratio within the elements of a form, such as height to width, approximating 0.168. ”

GoldenRatio ShellElements ranging from nature to architecture to modern design show how the golden ratio (also known as the golden mean) has been used to establish an optimum width to height proportion.

Piet Mondrian and Leonardo da Vinci used the golden ratio in their paintings. Stradivari constructed violins based on the golden ratio. Architectural marvels like the Parthenon, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and Stonehenge implemented golden ratio proportions.

And it influences today’s designs of technological gadgets like Apple’s iPhone.

GoldenRatio Mona Lisa

Recently, this principle came in handy when I was searching for a pleasing height to width ratio for a manuscript book design.

It is not known whether the golden ratio was incorporated in early art and architecture because its proportions were explicitly known or because of a subconscious preference for the aesthetic based on observations of nature.

All we know is that historical and current design makes use of this popular aesthetic.


“The process of using spatial and environmental information to navigate to a destination.”

Wayfinding involves four stages:

  1. Orientation – determining location relative to landmarks and signage.
  2. Route Decision – choosing from multiple route options to reach destination.
  3. Route Monitoring – scrutinizing chosen route to establish and confirm that it correctly leads to destination. Paths enable navigator to gauge progress.
  4. Destination Recognition – recognizing the destination.

Wayfinding map

The principles of physical wayfinding are easily translated to web navigation. Notably, the third stage, route monitoring, confirms for site visitors that they are on the right track to their destination.

Next: Part 2 – Instructional Design

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