• Transform magazine
  • November 28, 2022

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Creating the flower on the conveyor belt: The power of beautiful thinking

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Paul Domenet, partner and communications director at London-based agency Free The Birds, talks about the brilliance of Leonardo da Vinci. He argues agencies can use him as an inspiration, even in the year 2022.

As has every creative in the world, I have been influenced by some of the greatest artists in history. In particular for me, this was Leonardo da Vinci. He has left a legacy not only as the artist behind some of the most iconic paintings, but also as an innovator that designers and marketers can learn from, even today.

At Free The Birds, we find design stimulus in his work and life journey which helps us create a better creative culture at the agency. With a particular influence on our creative processes and name as an agency, we still take a page out of his many notebooks to challenge the conventions of the industry. From artistic inspiration to innovation, there is so much we can all learn from him about beautiful thinking and how to free our imagination in the everyday creative process.

Create from scratch

Designers could benefit from nurturing curiosity and observational skills more organically, just like Leonardo would overfill his notebooks with scribbles. While technology is a useful resource, it can also inhibit the creative process by limiting exploration in pursuit of the perfect end-product. Picking up a pencil still goes a long way in inspiring creative thinking – it’s always good to go back to the drawing board when approaching a brief. In a world of digital creation, designers should take the time to enjoy the production of creating and rely less on existing concepts.

Recognised and remembered

It’s some of Leonardo’s simplest creations that demonstrate the beauty in creating for, and elevating above, the mundanity of the everyday: finding the flower on the conveyor belt of ordinary life. For example, the Vitruvian Man, a work combining biology and design of the human body, is still widely commended and influences modern creations, such as Apple’s accessibility icon. What you design should be this memorable and communicable across many touchpoints. Before putting pen to paper, ask yourself “What is our purpose? What do we stand for?”

We used this approach when designing the identity for the Girls' Day School Trust movement. The new logo illustrates GDST’s commitment to “diversity, inclusion, and real change” and unites the trust’s 25 schools and flourishing alumni network under one recognisable word - “undivided”. Significantly, the middle “V” and unique positioning of the lowercase ‘i’ have been reformatted to give the appearance of two people holding hands. The logo has a deliberately symmetrical appearance in order to reflect the sense of equality and harmony that the GDST wants to evoke.

Free your imagination

Leonardo was one to give himself permission to indulge in fantasy. His many drawings and notes may not have produced a final piece - like a working helicopter at his time - but he let his imagination soar.

Creativity requires time for ideas to marinate and intuitions to gel. There’s no need to rush to execution, spend time thinking beyond design - drawing inspiration from every aspect of your life, and explore the rationale behind your work. What is this design solving? As designers, we tend to close doors too quickly to simply produce a functioning product or service, but we should let the idea hang around in the ether for some time, let it marinate.

When we were tasked to develop the brand world and packaging makeover for the limited edition collection of No7’s popular lipsticks, we implemented our bespoke brand islands approach to create beautifully crafted brand ideas. We freed ourselves from all constraints of the set brief, and took the client on a storytelling journey of how the products could look. To ensure the Unstoppable Lip collection packaging remained recognisable, we maximised the brand logo to create an impact in a small space while putting a little smile on the customer’s face. This balance of heroing design principles whilst elevating a brand’s positioning is the ‘beautiful thinking’ we like to bring to every project.

Leonardo da Vinci has been one of the greatest influencers of my career. His methodology taught me that creativity is a skill you constantly refine. It’s not always a gift, it is something you must care about to practice and develop - experimenting boundlessly and not restricting yourself with deadlines. Take a moment each day to simply observe, take a leap of faith and create something like never before.