Design Inspiration For Brand Innovators

Jerome ConlonDecember 17, 20153 min

Ideas for brand innovation can come from anywhere. More and more leading brands are finding ways to layer and integrate the right features, functions and benefits to appeal to the widest possible audience.

Where did the concept of integrating form, function and beauty into a single design come from? Toby Lester’s ‘Davinci’s Ghost’ tells the story of Vitruvian Man: Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing of a man in a circle and a square. This symbol is deployed today to celebrate subjects as various as the nature of genius, the beauty of the human form, and the universality of the human spirit. This figure appears on everything from coffee cups and T-shirts to book covers and corporate logos. It has become one of the world’s most famous cultural icons, yet almost nobody knows anything about it.

Leonardo didn’t summon Vitruvian Man out of thin air. He was playing with the idea, set down by the Roman architect Vitruvius, that the human body could be made to fit inside a circle, long associated with the divine, and a square, related to the earthly and the secular. To place a man inside both of those shapes was to imply that the human body was the world in miniature.

This idea known as the theory of the microcosm, was the engine that had powered Western religious and scientific thought for centuries, and Leonardo hitched his sense of proportion in his work to it. Yet starting out in 1480 he started to do something unprecedented. If the design of the body truly did reflect that of the cosmos, he reasoned that by studying its proportions and anatomy more thoroughly than had ever been done before — by peering deep into both body and soul — he might broaden the scope of his art to include the broadest of horizons. He might, in other words, obtain a divine perspective on the makeup of the world as a whole, where form, function & beauty work together seamlessly.

Most artisans and craftsman in Leonardo’s time and now wouldn’t dream of concerning themselves with such things…and as a result the designs of most products today for almost everything are unintelligent and not aligned with our earthly nature or universal principles.

The Future Belongs To Brands That Are Aligned

Much of what passes for design today merely inhabits the realm of surface appearance or functional utility without regard for natural harmony and beauty. But given the times we live in – where consumer consciousness is rapidly becoming more informed and elevated – companies and industries that are out of alignment with nature and human nature – that is what gives greater life, with what enhances life – have come under greater scrutiny and their fortunes and business models are being forced to change. This is true now for every industry.

Leonardo – the unlettered craftsman, the artist-engineer, the playful tinkerer, the visual thinker – was obsessed with the idea of learning the hidden codes within the microcosm of man and nature, then applying them in other domains, such as drawing, painting, architecture and in the invention of machinery. Leonardo’s approach to art & architecture was grounded in this natural philosophy. Modern man desperately needs to develop a new version of a natural philosophy linking business, the arts and natural principles to find answers to both the sustainability question and to questions about what really enhances and supports greater life and higher levels of purpose, passion and meaning. Leading marketers are influencing and in some cases driving this conversation.

Leonardo Da Vinci can be thought of as the father of the natural philosophy movement, where form, function and beauty work seamlessly together. The symbol for this natural philosophy is his Vitruvian Man, a source of inspiration for leading brands, marketers and designers. I expand on this in Soulful Branding.

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Jerome Conlon

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