What Can Elephants Teach Us About Design?

This might seem like a very strange question to ask, particularly in the context of design; but it recently came to mind when we were asked to explain how our multifaceted service offering helps us create better design. One of the most important aspects of how we view design is that we look at it as a composite–in other words, every piece of design material we create is an opportunity to build upon an evolving brand language. When you look at it this way, instead of looking at every part of the design as a self contained entity, you approach design with a very different mentality.

The multifaceted designer’s mind is working at multiple levels. At the forefront of their thinking is the creation of a design element that will work for the physical or virtual space it will occupy; while in the back of their mind, they’re constantly imagining future environments where this particular element may populate and evolve. This helps the multifaceted designer strategize the brand’s design as a broader ecosystem, constantly evolving and incorporating new aspects. In this respect, they begin to think in terms of niches–but not in the commonly understood sense of the word.

A niche, in the ecological sense, is a space within an ecosystem where an organism may find opportunity to thrive. An earthworm thrives in a niche by consuming decomposing organic matter and creating soil. A squirrel thrives in its own niche, eating nuts and inadvertently dispersing seeds, which kicks up leaf litter and fertilizes the ground. In both examples, a creature’s manner of thriving in its niche also contributes to the general health of its environment. In environments which are similar to that of a squirrel, but in which no squirrels are present, other animals occupy a similar niche–for example, in some Pacific islands where there are no mammals due to geographic conditions, various bird species fill the niches typically filled by mammals.

In this interpretation, a niche isn’t merely a purpose–it’s an opportunity. A food source exists, and the specie best able to take advantage of it has a high chance of survival as a result–and in the meantime, its methods are beneficial to its surroundings. Like, for example, mammals kicking up dirt and dispersing seeds. As a designer, we have an opportunity to create just such an ecosystem to further develop a brand.

The multifaceted designer identifies niches within the ecosystem of a design application, and creates design elements which thrive within those niches while also bettering the greater design. On a package, for example, there are multiple niches: visual branding, purported benefits, highlighted ingredients, nutritional information, et cetera. A good multifaceted designer creates elements which will thrive within the package’s physical surroundings, while building a toolbox of assets that can be reused and evolved for future mediums–such as an e-commerce website.

Let’s explore the element of purported benefits. When designing this particular element, a designer can create something that not only works well on a package, but which works well across various mediums. It may look slightly different on a website than on a physical package, but broadly speaking, it still fills the same niche. This brings us back to the elephant. The African elephant and Asian elephant look slightly different, but mainly have the same components and fill their niche in different ways depending on their surroundings. They’re both readily identifiable as elephants, but possess different adaptations that allow them to thrive in the particular spaces they inhabit–while also giving back to said environment in their own distinctive way.

To create an effective design ecosystem, a designer must become familiar with each environment for which they’re designing. A multifaceted designer must understand the packaging landscape, web landscape, ecommerce landscape, and other landscapes, as applicable. Like a worldly globetrotter, they’re intimately familiar with the unique flavors and challenges of each landscape. Web designers, print production specialists, and digital marketers serve as their sherpas, tour guides, and linguists.

Here at Do Good Design Co., we pride ourselves in turning purpose-driven brands into thriving ecosystems. We approach each design element as a purposeful aspect of an evolving whole. Get in touch with us if you’d like to discuss how to make your own brand evolve to greater heights.

John Natoli and the Do Good Design Co. team