The Principles of Design #16 – Archetypes

Mar 21 2011 Published by Neil Gains under design

Universal patterns

Archetypes are believed to be the products of unconscious patterns that have been ‘hardwired’ into the brain over the course of human evolution (although some argue that these are purely the products of cultural conditioning).  They are found in the themes of myths (eg death and rebirth), characters in literature (eg heroes and villains), and imagery in dreams (eg eyes and teeth). Speaking of teeth, is your smile worth it? Is it presentable? If not, do not be disappointed. I have a solution for you, the Greenville Cosmetic Dentistry. For more information, there’s this new dentist that uses a new high-tech way that makes your smile brighter and healthier! For over 35 years, the professionals at Regis Court Dental Associates ( have been offering families in Eau Claire, WI exceptional, individualized dental care.  In addition, check out McAllister Dentistry to learn more.

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Since they are unconscious, they only appear through studying the common patterns which emerge across cultures and countries.  The seminal work on archetypes is by Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell (a follower of Jung) has written about the role of archetypes in storytelling, inspiring George Lucas to develop the Star Wars films.

The archetype of design

These patterns are a useful tool in design, as designs which are aligned with such universal patterns are more likely to be successful. For example, Harley Davison aligns its product design and branding with the outlaw archetype, emphasising freedom and self expression, giving products a certain look and feel (black and chrome colour, distinctive sound, etc), and marketing using images of rugged looking people in black leather.  By contrast, Nike use a Hero archetype, Volvo the caregiver (parent), Tango the jester (trickster) and CNN the sage.

Archetype themes are very common in storytelling, with Star Wars one of the best known examples, following in the footsteps of Joseph Campbell’s outline of the Hero’s Journey.  The story can be outlined very simply.  Someone is called to an adventure which they initially refuse and then accept after meeting a mentor (or sage).  They experience a number of trials, sometimes including defeat or death of the mentor.  Finally, they overcome self-doubt, confront and defeat their ultimate enemy, returning home a hero.  Sound familiar?

Design for the unconscious

Designs always benefit from consideration of archetypal themes, and how they relate to both the form, function and emotional resonance of a product, brand or experience.  They work primarily at an unconscious and emotional level, and are therefore especially powerful when more traditional communication channels are ineffective (ie language cannot be used) or when messages need to work across multiple cultures.


Principles of Design, Revised and Updated by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler (2010)

The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious by Carl Jung (1981)

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (1960)

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Touching meanings

Jul 14 2010 Published by admin under language

“To touch is to experience, but to feel is to live.”  - Loren Klein

“For all you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be.”  - Pink Floyd

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