I recently returned from a trip to Amsterdam to see an exhibition of Rembrandt’s works. As an opportunity to be inspired aesthetically, it doesn’t get much better than room after room of the master’s works. I wanted to share what inspired me from the trip as a designer, and how it applies to the design work we do at MAX.
My day to day job is creating products that visually communicate information through various mediums. Once you realise that most things we look at are doing just that, whether created by humans or nature, inspiration becomes something that flows into you constantly as you walk around.
My main reason for this trip was to see the great works of Rembrandt, and it wasn’t a disappointment. Putting aside is sublime draughtsmanship, his ability to focus on what he was important to him and reproduce that sense of focus in the viewer is incredible. I couldn’t get enough of his sketches as I am fascinated by the process of creating art almost as much as the final piece. Being able to capture a moment in time with all it’s mood, emotions, environment and circumstance with such fast fluid stokes of the drawing tool being used was a good reminder that it’s often what’s left out that that gets the message across.
While in the Rijksmuseum I couldn’t resist visiting the other amazing exhibits and it was interesting to look upon other great artists work after spending so long viewing Rembrandt’s.
Amsterdam is well known for being a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s canals lined by beautiful buildings. What always strikes me when I visit is the way they lean on each other and seem to balance precariously. The other incredible feature of Amsterdam’s buildings are it’s windows, the elevations are dominated by large areas of beautiful panelled glazing of perfect and elegant proportions. In terms of design, it reminds me of the beauty of imperfection, asymmetry and the use of blank space and light in composition.
Every day, we would walk through Vondelpark surrounded by nature (and an endless flow of people on bicycles, rollerblades, joggers and dog-walkers), from the water features with their willow trees seemingly lying down on the bank so they can dip their branches and leaves into the water, to the cranes in their nest serenely surveying the goings-on in the park, to the parakeets and magpies noisily squawking and bustling about in the treetops overhead. The botanical gardens are also a spectacular but serene sight in the midst of the city. We spent a lot of time in the butterfly house marvelling at the delicacy and vibrant colours of these incredible insects, a stark contrast to the palm house with it’s architecturally structured trees that conveyed strength and forms of mathematical beauty. Of course, nature has inspired designers and artists throughout human history, but it really is an endless source of inspiration. It perfectly demonstrates the pinnacle of the balance between form and function, strong imagery through delicate lines and shapes, colour used in subtle harmony and as bold contrast.
So what value are to be gleaned from exposing ourselves to the sights and sounds of new locations, experiences, cultures and travel in general? As a designer it’s pretty obvious that artwork, architecture and nature can be inspirational, but it’s often too easy to move through life without considering the impact our experiences have on what we do, and how we do it? We are all being influenced by what we see, hear, and everything going on around us, but it’s always worthwhile taking time to appreciate when we are witnessing something out of the ordinary and consider how we might benefit from such moments in our lives. I know that my work and creativity is enriched, nourished and to some extent, replenished by my travels and the marvellous sights that I see.
As I said at the earlier, most things we see are communicating a message to us. Art speaks to us of beauty, ideas, concepts, history and so much more, as well as inspiring interpretation and emotions in the viewer. Architecture conveys power, wealth, poverty, religiosity, history and even tragedy in some cases. Nature expresses messages such as welcome, danger, eat me, don’t eat me etc. using visual symbolism, colour and form.
These are all valuable lessons for designers, but my main message here is that good design and communication lessons don’t just come from books, get out there and be inspired.