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Thursday, 17 May 2012
ImageIn her latest book, New Mexico author/designer/instructor Maggie Macnab reveals the natural human impulse to design
By Cristina Olds
Maggie Macnab thinks we are all designers deep down if we just open our eyes and hearts to the best teacher possible: nature. She believes this so passionately that she’s written a book to encourage the masses to tap into their creative side and make the world a more aesthetically pleasing place. Design by Nature is Macnab’s lovely soapbox for this and several other big concepts that challenge us to think differently about design.

“I feel like all human beings are inherently designers,” Macnab said in a recent interview with Local iQ. “We could be building beauty, meaning, functionality and all you have to do is look to nature as a mentor to instruct you in what works and what doesn’t, instead of trying to fit nature into our plans.”

Macnab’s resume includes more than 30 years in commercial design, most of it based in Albuquerque and her hometown of Santa Fe. Being raised by “Unitarian nudists,” as she called her parents, gave her freedom to be creative. She credits her parents’ non-traditional approach with shaping her beliefs about nature-as-muse. Her architect father helped design St. John’s College, and her mother, now in her ‘80s, still writes poetry in Albuquerque.

As an identity designer — primarily creating brand identity and logos — Macnab fills a very challenging niche market. Over the years, her work has appeared in Communication Arts magazine and has been recognized nationally. She is respected as an expert in the field in part because of her first well-received book, 2007’s Decoding Design.

One valuable aspect of Design by Nature is the “guest designer studies,” essays by Macnab’s contemporaries in the field that illustrate her design and philosophical concepts. She contacted friends like artist Joel Nakamura, and others volunteered to lend their names, like Debbie Millman, past president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA).

Macnab also emphasized her inclusion of student work and “putting it into practice,” with exercises reinforcing the content. “I wrote this book with teaching in mind and for others to self-teach,” Macnab said. She plans to offer workshops, like the upcoming “Creating a Personal Symbol” class on May 29 (see for details on this and other workshops).

Macnab teaches design at UNM Continuing Education, Santa Fe University of Art and Design and Santa Fe Community College. She has presented for TEDxABQ and speaks nationally at design conferences. Design by Nature is soon to be translated into four languages, something Macnab feels especially appropriate for the material. “With this book, I wanted to address the global market of creative thinkers because we need them now,” she said, alluding to the use of art to affect political change.

In April of this year, Macnab was a keynote speaker for the Fuse Design & Culture, Branding Identity conference in Chicago. The topic of her presentation, “Remembering What We Know,” exemplifies her theory that we are born with design intuition if we can remember it.

The new book includes accessible descriptions of some major design principals found in nature, such as simplicity, patterning and balance. But she dives deeper, examining high-yield, low-impact efficient design and serving the greater good with ethical design, to name a couple of concepts.

Written over nine months while the author was rental hopping after her Santa Fe abode was undergoing renovation in the wake of a fire, Design by Nature isn’t a light read. It is academic, inspirational and a call to readers to evolve.

“We’re here to create beauty and to love what we do,” Macnab said. “All this artificial stuff needs to be sorted from what is truly meaningful to us.”

Design by Nature: Using Universal Forms and Principles in Design
by Maggie Macnab
2011, New Riders Press • Paperback, 312 pp. $44.99
ISBN-13: 978-0321747761
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