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A passion for pattern

Anna Murray, co-founder of PATTERNITY, has turned her appreciation for pattern into a thriving career. We spoke to her to find out more about the power of patterns.

The brainchild of photographer and art director, Anna Murray, and surface/product designer, Grace Winteringham, PATTERNITY calls itself 'the world's leading specialist organisation dedicated solely to pattern'. Beginning life as a simple blog back in 2009, it now comprises a pattern research/consultancy department, an award-winning creative studio and a pioneering events and education hub. Not only has PATTERNITY worked with brands such as Nike, Levi's, Selfridges and Apple, it also has a growing global network and community of 'pattern explorers' who are endlessly adding to the online image archive.

In the midst of working on their forthcoming book that will champion the inspirational power of pattern, Anna spoke to YCN about how PATTERNITY started and how it's not about what you're looking at, it's how you look at it. 

How did PATTERNITY start?

PATTERNITY has evolved since we first set up in 2009. We had a firm idea that we wanted to change the perception of pattern, so a simple blog was the most accessible way to stamp our authority and grow our online community. Next came the creative design studio in 2011. This was where all the research we had amassed, combined with our united skills, could be channelled into pattern-focused collaborations and products that would push an interest in pattern and its application. Our approach to pattern is now attracting consultancy projects where we advise other brands and industry practitioners on how to use pattern in innovative and thought provoking ways. We’re a bit of an anomaly but we like it that way…

What is it about pattern that is of such fascination to you?

From the shadows cast through railings on the pavement below, to the precision, stature and geometry of high rise architecture above our heads, pattern is everywhere. It's everywhere we go and in everything we do. It’s also an inherent thing in all of us — we're pattern-seeking creatures. From the scanning of the plains to detect predators, to the striped markings of a zebra crossing, our survival as a species has always relied on patterns to help us navigate the world. In a world overloaded by stimulation, pattern can help to make sense of the chaos, helping us to become more mindful and engaged with our surrounds.

Why do you think it's important to draw attention to pattern?

Patterns are something we come across every day. We wear them, we walk over them, we even eat, drink and think them — we always have and we always will — but it’s unlikely that they demand too much of our attention. We believe that by looking up, down, around and beyond, we can gain perspective, remember our place in the now, and positively engage with our environment and each other. We’ve run several workshops and trips with children and disadvantaged young people in urban areas, and many of them have come back to us afterwards saying how they now find inspiration in smashed paving slabs or stacked cardboard boxes. We believe pattern has the power to positively shift perspective and that can only be a good thing!

In the PATTERNITY manifesto, you state that an 'awareness of pattern has the power to positively shape our world'. Can you tell us a little more about that?

At the heart of everything we do at PATTERNITY lies a few fundamental thoughts — can the way we look at the smaller details enhance our understanding of the bigger picture? And can challenging our perception of the everyday positively affect the world around us? By being more aware of patterns, both visible and non visible, we become more aware of the world and what’s in it. We then begin to feel connected to a much greater whole which gives us perspective and, ultimately, more contentment. In a world that increasingly lacks substance and meaning beneath the surface, this is becoming even more important. Being more aware of pattern can have positive effects that start with the individual and can grow to be far more collective.

Are there specific places or things that you look to, to find inspiration?

Pattern can be found everywhere and in everything; from science to street style; fashion to food and drink; in art, architecture, nature, mathematics and beyond. We are encompassed by a plethora of visual stimuli wherever we go but looking at the world through the PATTERNITY set of eyes helps us to find order in the chaos. We find examples of patterns on all of our journeys from A to B, whether across the world on a PATTERNITY special project or on the everyday London commute. It doesn't really matter what you're looking at — it's more dependent on how you look at it.

What are some of the most pleasing patterns that you've ever come across?

The deeper we’ve gone with our research of pattern, the more we’ve become drawn to naturally occurring patterns. Some of the most fascinating patterns emerge when you start looking at things either up close or very far away. Much of what we do is about showcasing coincidences; pairing a spiralling galaxy against a tiny sea shell, or a fractal river seen from above with the branching of our lungs. Once you make that connection, it can’t help but trigger some pretty profound questions about the universe and our place within it. The same patterns and emergent formations appear when viewed through a microscope or telescope. Nature really is the ultimate engineer and we have much to learn by looking to the patterns that emerge in natural environments.

Are there any other practitioners that you think use pattern to great effect?

We have been lucky enough to work alongside and collaborate with some really interesting pattern pioneers. From the architect, Richard Weston, whose scans of mineral formations have been made into beautiful scarves sold in Liberty, to Shelley James, the artist who has collaborated with a host of scientists and health organisations for her mesmerising patterned glass sculptures. From fashion to art to design and far beyond, pattern is a thread that links many of the most interesting practitioners around the world, and through the ages.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future of PATTERNITY?

For us the research and exploration of pattern is endless, and traverses eras and fields. It underlies absolutely everything we put our name to. We plan to continue to explore the positive power of pattern as a tool to better understand our world. We want to use pattern to blur more boundaries between disciplines through our design and consultancy projects, and to grow our global network of 'pattern explorers' with events and experiences that happen in the real world and spread the PATTERNITY way of seeing far and wide. We hope to always push our position as the go-to authority on pattern, both on and beneath the surface. This really is just the beginning of the PATTERNITY journey.