Designs of Nature: Golden Snub-Nosed Monkeys / by David Hu

The colors that one sees on a consumer product are, for the most part, artificially created and applied. As designers, we are constrained by many limitations in color such as:

  • Colors that can be mass produced at a certain cost
  • Previously established colors of the brand (oftentimes no record is kept of how it came about in the past and the brand never deviated from it)
  • Toxicity of the paint, especially for toys
  • Number of colors
  • Gradient of colors

The last two items are particularly interesting and baffling to designers because those are real-world hurdles that--despite all of our advances in technology--are some of the most difficult to overcome. This is not the case for Nature.


Nature created these colorful golden snub-nosed monkeys (川金絲猴). They each have a pale blue face contrasted with faint gray-brown fur when young, which transforms into a brilliant gradient of golden orange when they reach adulthood. What's more, Nature is also able to recreate them on a mass scale (if they weren't endangered by habitat loss), keeping each monkey unique but clearly of the same species--a variable perfection of sorts. And this all happens without budgets, marketing, investors, hazardous materials, computers, factories, or even paint.

It is unlikely that there will ever be an artificial method to duplicate shades of blue or green or red in the same way that Nature creates it. Nature's production of creatures are more balanced, less wasteful, and always inspiring. And as evidenced by the countless videos of animals acting uncannily human, we're also reminded that Nature has its own ways of injecting smarts and humor into the world. Meanwhile, we too can make products on a limited scale that are individual and high quality, but it requires immense quality control and most of what actually makes each item unique are the naturally occurring variations.

If Nature is the ultimate designer, where does that leave us human designers? Will we always be in its shadow? Can we ever match its creativity, humor, and variable perfection? Perhaps we won't need to. I believe it's our ability to make a statement--about ourselves, people, cultures, society, the world--that qualifies us to be designers (perhaps this is why we are so inclined to have statements in the first place). But we also need to take great care in deciding what statements to make. Nature doesn't need to make a statement with the golden snub-nosed monkeys; it simply presents them and they are wonderful in their own right. Likewise, a design statement is strongest when it's not simply an opinion but an expression of what we believe is amazing, honest, or simply a better way to do things than before. If this is the statement that we can make with each of our designs, then we will have come as close as we can to Nature.

(Image from Wikipedia)