When I find it more of a challenge than usual to come up with ideas, it helps to return to design in its most natural form.

A basic human skill is the ability to interpret patterns. We use them to gauge the past, present, and future in all kinds of things: the layers of earth that allow archaeologists to date their findings, or the movement of pressure systems that enable weather predictions.

tree trunk patternDendrochronology can date the time at which tree rings were formed.

We also use patterns to articulate messages in design. Think about a few logos that are seen everyday, and how they use pattern to inform.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden logoBrooklyn Botanic Garden logo by Carbone Smolan, 2004.

National Aquarium Baltimore logoNational Aquarium Baltimore logo by Tom Geismar, 1980.

Brooklyn Historical Society logoBrooklyn Historical Society logo by Pentagram, 2005.

Patterns are at the very existence of life as we know it — the spiral of a hurricane, rippling sand dunes, waves in the ocean, circular volcanos, winding rivers, a plant flowering, the lines on the palms of our hands, the prints on our fingers, the crystals in snowflakes. But with so many distractions, so much worry about not enough time, we kind of blank them out, which can be a shame.

"As we develop ever more sophisticated technology, we become more disconnected from nature and less able to understand and appreciate its patterns. We forget that the human form itself is a construct of natural pattern — embedded in our DNA as the double helix of evolving life — and it is essential to everything related to our existence."
— Maggie Macnab

When I get creative block, I find it helps to return to design in its most natural form, and the video embedded below is one of the most mesmerising examples I've seen. Give yourself a break for 7 minutes, dim the lights (or close the blinds), hit play, switch to HD 1080p (button appears after clicking play), bump to full-screen, watch, listen.

On YouTube: Cosmic Journeys: What an Astronaut's Camera Sees.

Beautiful. Just wanted to share that.

For further insight into how graphic designers use patterns, Maggie Macnab's book is worth a look: Decoding Design: understanding and using symbols in visual communication.