19 mei 2024

The design language of nature

PostNL will issue The design language of nature stamp sheet on 22 April 2024. The stamps feature photographs of unusual geometric shapes found in nature with patterns such as spirals, symmetry, fractals, Fibonacci sequences and the golden ratio. The stamp sheet is a design of graphic designer Sandra Smulders of Vormgoed in Gouda. The denomination on these stamps is ‘1’, the denomination for items weighing up to 20g with destinations in the Netherlands. A sheet of eight stamps costs €8.72.

People in every culture throughout the world use regular patterns to decorate artefacts and other objects. We also observe these patterns in nature, based on geometrical shapes such as rectangles, star patterns, circles, spheres and cylinders. When these shapes are combined, all sorts of complex patterns emerge underpinned by mathematical principles. The design language of nature stamps feature photographs of plants and animals that display these geometrical patterns, including spirals (a curved line around a defined point that gets ever closer or further away from the point) and symmetry (where one half of an object is the mirror image of the other half). Other patterns represented include fractals (where geometric shapes are precisely replicated in different sizes) and Fibonacci sequences (a sequence in which each element is the sum of the two preceding elements). These four regular patterns are linked together on the stamp sheet using the golden ratio, sometimes referred to as the divine proportion, that is also observable in nature. In the golden ratio, the largest of two parts is in proportion to the smallest part, while the whole is in proportion to the largest part. The ratio found is called the golden number and is denoted by the Greek letter phi. The design language of nature stamps depict the following animals and plants: panther chameleon and Christmas tree worm (spirals), romanesco cauliflower and fern (fractals), dandelion, sunflower, nautilus shell and dahlia (Fibonacci sequence), monarch butterfly and tiger (symmetry).

The design language of nature stamp sheet was produced by graphic designer Sandra Smulders of Vormgoed in Gouda. The eight stamps feature colour photographs of animals and plants that exemplify the phenomenon of regular patterns in nature. The stamp sheet itself has been laid out in the aesthetically pleasing proportions of the golden ratio. A multitude of rectangles of different sizes formed by white lines is overlaid on each stamp. In the golden ratio, the largest rectangle is in proportion to the smallest while all the rectangles together are in proportion to the largest rectangle. The proportions of the stamps and of the stamp sheet in relation to one another are also determined by the golden ratio. A white line taking the form of a spiral is traced across the stamp sheet. The spiral starts in the smallest two rectangles on the yellow/red shaded stamp. From this point, the colours on the stamps change as the spiral moves over the page: from yellow to orange, through red, brown, blue and finally to various shades of green on the stamps at the top. On the sheet edges and the tabs, pale colours matching those in the photographs on the stamps fade into one another. The year and denomination 1 appear in the white rectangles on the stamps. The country appears vertically along the edge of the stamp outside the photograph. The explanatory text on the tabs traces the curve of the spiral and, on the bottom edge of the sheet, the typography and the PostNL logo remain within the spiral. An explanatory text appears at the top left on the sheet edge.

The font used for the text is Margin MVB created in 2020 by font designer Mark van Bronkhorst (San Francisco, VS).

PostNL asked graphic designer Sandra Smulders to create a stamp sheet that would bring the theme of geometric shapes in nature to life. “I researched the subject first”, explained Smulders describing her process. “by reading books, trawling the internet and collecting lots of photographs and images. From my research it became clear that the design language of nature comes in vastly differing forms. I chose to focus only on flora and fauna for the stamps, but there are so many natural phenomena in which you can observe geometric shapes: from snowflakes and clouds, to shoals of fish and the effects of the wind on sand in deserts. All these shapes and their behaviour are underpinned by mathematical formulae. That’s what makes it so fascinating.”

The golden ratio
Smulders wanted to do more than just put a few pretty images on the stamps, no matter how beautiful and intriguing the photographs and shapes might be. “I was looking for a coat rack to hang the whole thing on: a unifying principle that would also define the concept. Then I stumbled across a picture of the golden spiral in a book. The trajectory of the spiral, also called a Fibonacci spiral, can be traced back to the rectangles you see on each stamp. The size of these rectangles is, in its turn, determined by the golden ratio, aesthetically pleasing proportions that tie in with the geometric shapes in nature. It’s incredible how that works. The proportions that occur in the golden ratio are naturally pleasing to the human eye. That’s why you find these proportions in music, architecture, art and elsewhere. For example, Leonardo da Vinci used the golden ratio in painting the Mona Lisa. I thought it would be great to use the golden ratio as the basis for the design.”

Custom matrix
This was far from straightforward, however, because the layout with golden rectangles and the golden spiral did not fit the available matrix for the sheet with six stamps. Smulders explains: “It was unsuitable because the proportions are completely different. So, I decided to design my own matrix that would precisely match the proportions of the golden ratio; with eight stamps instead of six. I presented this solution, along with a detailed design concept, to PostNL. There’s no doubt I was taking a bit of a gamble, but if I could present a cohesive narrative reflected in the design, the chances were that everyone would understand why I needed the two extra stamps. And I was proved right.”

Four geometric shapes
For the eight stamps, Smulders chose four geometric shapes: spirals, fractals, Fibonacci sequences and symmetry. She then set about putting together a selection of images she could use, within certain parameters. “For example, there needed to be a balance between flora and fauna”, continues Smulders. “So, an equal number of plants and animals. Colours also played a role in my design decisions. There is a colour gradient in the background on the sheet edges and tabs, and on the spiral. The layout of the stamps and the stamp sheet is emphasised by making the colour gradient trace the spiral. This meant all the colours also had a meaning within the context.”

Fitting, measuring, repositioning
In deciding which photographs to select and how to distribute them, Smulders also had to consider what is and is not possible in nature. “Symmetry can be observed in more or less all animals, and fractals are commonly seen in plants,” she explains. “It came down to an endless jigsaw puzzle – fitting, measuring and repositioning all the images I’d been able to find – and then starting all over again. Apart from that, each image had to have sufficient interest on its own. Although, that was probably the least of the problems. Take the Christmas tree worm: it’s a super-cool sea creature. Incredibly special, and something I’d never seen before.”

Fading white lines
When looking at The design language of nature stamp sheet, the eye is initially drawn to the unusual shapes and striking colours of the flora and fauna depicted. At second glance, the unifying graphic layer emerges, with the golden rectangles and the golden spiral. Smulders explains: “This is because the planes and the spiral are traced with white lines that gradually fade. So, the golden ratio is visible but does not predominate. The surfaces were suitable for the addition of the denomination and year of issue. Here too, you see a regular pattern, with a division from left to right and top to bottom. The longer word ‘Nederland’ was oriented vertically on the side of the stamp, together with the sorting right-angle. The tabs on the left-hand side show a short explanatory text.”

Gazing tiger
This ensures all the elements are positioned logically on the stamp sheet, natural tying together the design based on the golden ratio. Only the symmetrical shape could not be made to fit these ideal proportions. Smulders explains: “So, the long vertical line on the stamps with the symmetrical tiger and the butterfly doesn’t run through the middle. I don’t mind that though, because the content is right. Still, I did have a lot of fun making the tiger gaze straight through one of the smaller rectangles with its right eye.”

About the designer
Sandra Smulders (The Hague, 1974) studied advertising and presentation design at Nimeto Utrecht from 1991 to 1995, specialising in graphic design. After graduation, she worked as a graphic designer and art director with Admix B2B agency, FPW communications agency, Manten Grafisch Ontwerpbureau, and VDM Reklame, all based in Rotterdam. She started the Vormgoed agency in Gouda in 2007 as a graphic designer and art director. Smulders specialises in designing logos and corporate styles and further developing their associated means of communication. She mainly works for business clients. Her recent clients include engineering firm ABT, travel company All for Nature, Groundwater Technology, Overeijnder Van den Dool communications and Uitgeverij DAVO. For PostNL Smulders also designed the NL crypto stamp Gold Edition, the NL crypto stamp 2 – lion as well as the Luxembourg and Austrian version of these stamps (2023), the World Animal Day (2022) and Stamp Day (2020-2023) stamp sheets, the Back to the 20th Century and Trains & Journeys (2019) stamp series, the 2018 Children’s Welfare Stamps, the stamp series celebrating 50 years of the Daily Fable (2018) and the 25 years of Fokke & Sukke (2018) stamp series.

The stamps are available while stocks last at the post office counter in Bruna shops and at www.postnl.nl/bijzondere-postzegels [in Dutch]. The stamps can also be ordered by phone from the Collect Club customer service on telephone number +31 (0)88 868 99 00. The validity period is indefinite.

VALUE The denomination on these stamps is ‘1’, the denomination for items weighing up to 20g destined for delivery within the Netherlands. A sheet of eight stamps costs €8.72.

Stamp size 114.721 x 179.442mm
Sheet format 40 x 24.721 mm
Paper normal with phosphor print
Glue gummed
Printing technique offset
Printing colours cyan, magenta, yellow and black
Edition 95,000 sheets
Format sheet of 8 stamps in 8 different designs
Design Sandra Smulders, Vormgoed, Gouda
Printing company Koninklijke Joh. Enschedé B.V., Haarlem
Item number 440561

© 2024 Koninklijke PostNL BV

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