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There’s more than one way to treat “Nature” as a designer. Here are some ways to be big, bold, and unexpected, while still exploring the ecosystem that gives our world its beauty.

1) Who says Green has to be Green?

Amp up the drama with unexpected palettes

Can you do green design without the color green? Can you celebrate the natural world in a way that doesn’t default to big blue globes and pink flowers? If designers reframed depictions of nature in an unexpected way, would that change the way we see the natural world around us?

Be it for a brand, packaging, or even web design – if you can celebrate a starker view of nature, it instantly adds drama. And who doesn’t love drama?

2) Between a Rock and a Sharp Place

Emphasize the edges of the natural world by simplifying and abstracting

When we think of natural forms in design, we assume we mean curves, waves, and beautiful amounts of detail at even the most basic levels. But what if we take that myriad complexity and abstract it to something geometric? By tapping into the hard angles of the world around us, we see that nature is both soft and gentle and furious and fierce. We could all use a little ferocity now and then.

Abstraction takes a world that seems impossibly complex and reminds us that, at its core, we see the same lines and basic shapes in a million different ways every day.

Abstracted Nature images

3) See More than the Forest or the Trees

Celebrate the parts of the natural world that aren’t trees, leaves, or flowers

Nature has its messiness, its ugly edges. That’s part of what makes it beautiful. You know what’s way more unexpected than a beautiful flower? Fish. Cobwebs. Duck-billed platypi. Those things are nuts. And that’s why they’re great! Symmetry and serene beauty is one thing, but since Nature doesn’t make mistakes, celebrate the unexpected side of the natural world.

Unexpected animal imagery

4) Turn natural forms into patterns

Find the power in repetition by layering natural objects into seamless patterns

By collaging multiple elements together, zooming in intensely onto an image or, conversely, pulling way back, we can gain a new perspective on forms we take for granted. A pattern that makes the viewer need to think twice – to say, what is that, exactly? – takes extra steps to be memorable. And that’s something that always pays off.

Images of natural elements as patterns


5) Emphasize Sustainability

Save the planet before ever putting pencil to paper

Lastly, there’s no point in emphasizing the natural world if there’s no natural world left. As designers, we have an ethical responsibility to consider the cost to our planet in our designs. In a digital era, it might seem that designers play a limited role in sustainability. But, in both materials and message, it’s as much our responsibility as anyone else’s – maybe even more.

A recent article pointed out that the massive energy used in web design means that, if it were a country, the web would be the fourth largest CO2 emitter on Earth. Sustainable design in the digital age means remembering that every click your user has to take is extra energy. Every large image over a small one means more processing power used. Sustainable Web Design gives a great overview of the small and large ways designers can impact their planet.

For non-digital designs, consider more than just eco-friendly materials that can be recycled or reduced. Think innovative strategies for reducing the footprint of the products you design, including eliminating packaging all together. Consider new biomaterials like plastic alternatives and soy inks. Take steps to green your office by recycling, reducing waste, and considering alternative energy options.

As long as we live on this planet—until Elon Musk gets the whole Mars thing figured out—every day is Earth Day. Celebrate the natural world, and help those around see it in a new light. Just, you know, an LED light. Better for the planet.

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Emily Tartanella
Emily is a designer with a passion for worthy causes, pop culture, and the ins and outs of good design.