Dan Burns, MD and founder of Natural Selection Design, is a self-proclaimed Attenborough superfan and a sometime collector of framed entomology works. We spoke to him to find out more about the origin of the agency.
Should we assume that Natural Selection is a nod to Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species?
Ha – yes absolutely – I am a huge fan of David Attenborough, and have been my whole life; his inspiration came from Darwin’s Origin of the Species work, which then led me to finding out more about Charles Darwin. I find the natural world fascinating – the way everything is designed so perfectly for its purpose, and yet is still in a state of evolution. It’s the purest form of design.
When deciding to start my own creative agency, it was important that the name was accessible, but also had an affinity with the work we do here. That’s when I started to flick through Origin of the Species again, and realised that natural selection – according to Darwin – is the retention of design elements that are useful, and the shedding of ones that no longer serve a purpose. Here at Natural Selection Design, that’s exactly what we offer our clients: innovative, useful designs that will strengthen their brand and see off competitors.
I also like the idea of continuously evolving to adapt to new environments. Our designers, photographers and videographers work closely with clients so we can flex with their needs, and will offer recommendations if we think a project could be improved. I think it’s this service that makes us the ‘natural selection’ for clients when they’re looking for creative support!
What natural design do you find most compelling?
Everything has its own function and is perfectly designed for that function – it would be difficult to identify just one example of stunning design in the natural world – there are so many. Everything is designed for its purpose – think of sloths, they’re so slow that moss can grow on them, but it doesn’t matter because they’re designed to be slow movers. Or the coconut octopus, that’s adapted to pick up halves of coconut shells and cocoon itself in them so it can roll faster along the ocean floor – a bit like aquatic Zorbing! Then there’s the Pistol Shrimp that can shoot a ‘bullet’ of compressed air out of its claw to defend itself. It goes so fast that it builds a temperature of 4,426C – that’s hotter than the surface of the sun – despite being a tiny crustacean.
The coconut octopus, that’s adapted to pick up halves of coconut shells so it can roll faster along the ocean floor – aquatic Zorbing!
Has nature inspired your designs?
Without a doubt. Nature appears to be unkempt and wild, but you’re not looking at something that’s been flung together – it’s taken millions upon millions of years of trial and error to get to that natural product, be that flora or fauna. You’d be stupid not to be inspired by that in some way. I get inspiration from everything – colours, textures – and our work in the food and beverage industry is also inspired by nature in many ways. Nature inspires what is on the plate, and what’s on the plate inspires me with the camera, or branding.
Recently, we’ve been working on eroded design; trying to emulate the look and feel of weathered or aged subjects. Things like, what a hundred years of weather would look like on a photo, for example. And the colour profiles in nature just blow your mind – from the iridescent shells of beetles, to the changing colours of a chameleon, and the birds of paradise. Seeing that could inspire a colour wave for a new brand identity.
If you could redesign a species, what would it be, why and how would you improve it?
This is a really difficult question – if I had to go against millions of years of evolution and adapt a characteristic of an animal to improve its function, then it would have to be making jellyfish testicles at the end of their invisible tentacles, so you can see them coming and give them a swift kicking if they get too close. I speak from experience – I was stung in the face by one of those buggers. True story.
I speak from experience – I was stung in the face by one of those buggers. True story.
Where else has the natural world been an inspiration?
Being inspired by nature runs in the family. As a child I was surrounded by pictures and books of weird and wonderful animals and insects because my father is a zoologist. We had things like giant African land snails and enormous moths at home while dad was working, it was amazing. When we moved house, I found a collection of old quill ink drawings that he’d done at uni, after dissections – they were incredible. While the other students would go to the pub, he’d stay behind in the labs and draw these animals that he’d dissected. He was also a photographer – I’ve been incredibly inspired by my dad over the years – and the creative streak and passion for the natural world is in my blood, thanks to my dad.
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Natural Selection Design is a specialist creative design agency for the food and beverage industry. We’re a collective of experienced creatives, catering for start-ups, superbrands, and everything in between.