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#138 The power of patterns
Toilet paper, terrazzo and the MEMPHIS Group
This week’s Design Lobster is awash with mottled and chequered surfaces. From the secrets of embossed toilet roll patterns to the joyful extravagance of a Post-Modern daybed. A feast for the brain and eyes 🌝
I’m also very happy to announce we’ve got a new logo!
The new version still features the trademark pencil-bearing lobster, but in a more playful graphic style. Inspired by mid-century woodblock prints, Victor Pasmore and some of the designers covered in this week’s issue. Hope you like it!
Question: Why is toilet paper embossed with tiny patterns?
Toilet paper is deceptive. It seems simple, but look closer. The surface of each sheet is dimpled with a unique embossed pattern. And the purpose of these furrowed flowers and starbursts is not simply a matter of aesthetics.
These tiny patterns serve to increase the surface area so that each sheet clings to the one adjacent and the roll doesn’t unspool by itself. Plus, more grooves mean more... catching power.
One of the more curious lawsuits of recent times involved the celebrated mathematician Roger Penrose and toilet paper company called Kimberly Clark Ltd. In the legal action, Penrose contended the company was making use of a copyrighted pattern he had discovered during his mathematical enquiries. Since so-called Penrose tiling doesn't repeat, the embossed sections of rolls didn’t align, making a roll seem bulkier than it truly was, to Kimberly Clark’s commercial advantage.
Ultimately the two parties came to a ‘mutually beneficial arrangement’, but the episode demonstrates just how valuable the right kind of pattern can be.
Design takeaway: What does the surface of your design reveal?
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Object: Royal Daybed
I fully expect this outrageous daybed by to divide opinion among my readership! Brash, absurd and awash with pattern, it’s the perfect object for this week’s theme. When designer couple Nathalie du Pasquier and George Sowden designed it in in 1983, they were reacting to the functionalist tenets of High Modernism, which by the 80’s had ossifed into a dreary dogma. With it’s brightly coloured laminate surfaces and clashing patterns, this daybed charges wildly into another aesthetic direction.
“After modernism’s abandonment of decoration, we wanted to make the decorated surface the protagonist again, and not just something added on top.
For me, designing pattern is a way to condense a state of mind, memory, aspirations and more without having to be too clever.”
—Nathalie du Pasquier on her work
Modernism had found decoration of any kind to be deeply problematic, but I love how du Pasquier articulates the value of pattern here in refreshingly straightforward terms. Pattern allows us to connect visually with ideas, themes and feelings, enabling a kind of storytelling that doesn’t depend on text or the written word.
Whether or not you find the specific patterns of that moment in design history to your taste or not, I love the way they celebrate the visual and sensual parts of our brain, parts of us that other moments in design history have sometimes neglected.
Design takeaway: How could you use pattern to tell the story of your design?
Quote: “…all writing is an attempt to find out what matters, to find the pattern in disorder, to find the grammar in the shimmer.”
– Joan Didion, Writer
I am being a little cheeky inserting this Didion quote into this week’s issue. But I do believe that what she says here about writing is also true of design. Underneath the shimmering surface of a problem and its context there is a deeper order that a design process can reveal and—with a bit of finesse—make beautifully clear.
Have a great week,
And lastly, a design remix…
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