Exploring patterns of behaviour with Patternity

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If you’ve walked past Westminster Cathedral near Victoria recently, you may have noticed an eye-catching construction out the front – a chequered low-rise labyrinth being used by people to wander, photograph or simply sit quietly while eating lunch.

This is the Life Labyrinth, the latest creation from Patternity, which was founded by Anna Murray and Grace Winteringham to be a ‘conscious creative organisation’ that works with patterns to ‘inspire more curious, collaborative and connected ways of living’. They do this through a variety of projects ranging from working with fashion houses, to educational events and products. They’ve created a climbing wall for Ace Hotel, Shoreditch, designed footwear with Clarks Originals, an immersive experience at Somerset House and numerous workshops.

We’ve been fans of Patternity for some time now, and when we saw the aforementioned Life Labyrinth as part of this year’s London Design Festival, we decided to take the opportunity to have a chat with them.

Could you tell us how you came to start Patternity?

PATTERNITY started out with a very simple concept really – we wanted to share the wonder, beauty and positivity of pattern with the world. We met through friends at university (Grace Edinburgh and Anna St Martins) – united by our shared visual aesthetic, core values and drive to create something worthwhile, with longevity.

Pattern was our common language and upon meeting in early 2009, we soon realised our combined force, vision and drive to work with pattern in a positive and purposeful way (Grace as a pattern designer, Anna as an art director). Crucially we also wanted PATTERNITY to serve as a platform to give pattern a new voice, blur boundaries between disciplines and to share a positive message – to encourage ‘a new way of seeing and being’.

For those who seek to understand it, pattern is a highly creative force. Pattern, in all its forms, is vastly inspiring and its effects can be wide-reaching. PATTERNITY aims to challenge the perception of what ‘pattern’ is, venturing beyond the surface to explore the potential uses of pattern to positively shape our collective future.

The fundamental drive at PATTERNITY is to encourage people to use pattern as a kind of language: a tool to reconnect the dots in an increasingly disconnected world.

How would you describe what you do?

PATTERNITY has evolved from something visually engaging – an image archive and products – to a design, wellbeing and education brand that goes far beneath the surface through design, events and special projects with a core mission – ‘to use pattern inspire more mindful living and positive change’. In 10 years we have gone from an open source image archive to an entire creative organisation that works across the worlds of creativity, science and spirituality. It’s been an exciting journey so far and it feels like it’s only just beginning…

Having started as an open access pattern research archive in 2009, then a creative studio in 2011 and finally expanding into educational wellbeing events in 2013, it’s been a very natural and evolving process. Despite the fact our services and products are diverse they all stem from the same values and niche pattern focus and our mission to use pattern positively whatever the platform or outcome that project might take. Whether it’s designing an installation or a book cover, directing a film or consulting on a sustainable product collaboration or wellbeing app or producing an experiential event partnership, we always come back to the same working process and lead question – in a world of increasing disconnection, how can pattern help us to connect better to our environment, each other and ourselves?

Did you always have a core philosophy for Patternity?

So much of what we are about at PATTERNITY is exploring interconnectivity and encouraging people to be more mindful of the fundamental shapes and textures that make up life here on planet Earth. Whether you look through a telescope or a microscope life is made of fundamental forms and shapes that repeat and repeat – it’s a wonderful and curious thing.

Since PATTERNITY started our message has always been closely linked with wellbeing – on both a personal and a planetary level – we want to use pattern to encourage people to slow down, be more mindful and appreciate the world around them each day.

The philosophy has gone from something that was perhaps more implicit at the beginning in our first iteration of the image archive, to something more explicit through our projects, books and events around sustainability, nature connection, mindfulness and culture change.

We’ve worked hard to stay true to our core philosophies and values as we’ve grown over the years and that authenticity and devotion to something greater than ourselves has been something people have respected along the way. We’ve managed to strike the balance between the bold aesthetic and taste level we’ve become synonymous with, the ethical and environmental standpoint that underpins everything we do. We’re in it for the long haul as there are just so many fascinating avenues to explore with pattern!

Do you see pattern as something separate from artistic expression?

There is something positive and powerful about noticing and appreciating pattern, whether that’s the beauty we see in a painting on a gallery wall or a dappled shadow on a forest floor. It’s so deeply embedded in our way of being that it’s something people seem drawn to on a very human level. It speaks to our universal connectedness to nature, and, indeed, each other. Pattern can help us to see and bridge the material and immaterial, the ‘mundane’ and the magnificent.

As humans we are naturally pattern-seeking creatures. Whether looking through a microscope or a telescope, the same patterns exist everywhere – on both macro and micro scales, the helix of DNA, a microscopic shell, the swirling follicles on a baby’s head, to a hurricane or the spiralling milky way. Patterns are a way for us to deepen our human understanding and our feeling of deep ecology. In a world that seems frightening, overwhelming or chaotic, it can be nourishing to look to patterns as a signpost towards a worldview that we are all connected and part of this radiant tapestry of being.

There’s something very reassuring about pattern, it reminds us of a deeper wholeness that often lies out of view. It can help us to consider a wider sense of time, and ponder how we connect to something greater than ourselves.  It is this feeling of deep belonging that can help to put our own day-to-day concerns into perspective and make us feel part of something greater and more permanent than ourselves.

We’re genetically conditioned to recognise and find meaning in pattern. Delving even deeper – in terms of non-visual pattern, our lives are dictated by the rituals and habits that we create over time. Many of us like some kind of structure – waking up and having a cup of tea, listening to a song we love, the words we use. Some of us like total fluidity – either way we naturally fall into rhythms and rituals that shape and give meaning to our lives. Pattern beneath the surface.

In some ways pattern simply is. It is life. It is creativity or energy manifest in physical form. It visualises the unseen world around us. It can get pretty cosmic when you journey deep into it. It is the expression of the ultimate creative source. With over 10 years researching pattern we feel we’re only just scratching the surface of its potency.

What power do you believe pattern has?

We live in a world that’s so cluttered and saturated that many aspects of life can often seem overwhelming and irrelevant. The worlds of design, fashion and art are often disconnected from areas like science, spirituality, philosophy and the humanities, and just drawing attention to the interconnectivity of life has a very powerful impact and can make us realise we are part of a greater whole.

We believe in the power of pattern to inspire people to live more positive lives. We understand how pattern can help people become more mindful and appreciative of the world around them, and promote more reflective and grateful habits and natural ways of being. Pattern does not only exist on a visual level, but permeates every aspect of our lives – the things we do and create, the connections we make, the relationships that sustain us, and the way we behave day-to-day. If we can use pattern on an individual level to inspire and create positivity, we can create ripples and structures for bigger changes in systems and society, and also use pattern frameworks to visualise and observe these timely changes.

Another rewarding aspect of what we do is being able to integrate our values on positive patterns of well-being, positivity and sustainability into the internal structure of our creative culture. We fully support each other to take time out to rest and restore after heavy and intensive creative projects and at times during the cycle of the month or year when we may feel lacking in energy and just need some time to ‘be’. It’s such a joy to be able to use our creativity to design a pattern of positivity within our own organisation and try and find a more healthy way of running a more feminine business of the future, in a way that sets an example for others to follow. We’ve done lots of inspiration talks for internal corporate teams on culture change and how they can bring more positive patterns of being into their lives – both at work and beyond.

As well as exploring the visual patterns of our world – a core part of our brand ethos and design approach is to encourage people to live with more awareness of the behavioural patterns that shape our lives and culture at large.  With all our PATTERNITY projects we always come back to the same working process and lead question: how can pattern help us to connect better to our environment, each other and indeed ourselves?

Have you seen the effects it can have on people?

We’re living through a chaotic time where people are starting to feel overloaded by the complexity of modern life. We’re starting to become more conscious of how our patterns of behaviour are playing out more collectively and how the systems of which we are part are becoming increasingly unsustainable. We’re overloaded by stuff and feeling disconnected from our environment, each other and ourselves.

We have seen over the last decade how powerful exploring things through a patterned lens can help people reconnect and find a sense of belonging and understanding amidst this chaos – a sense of belonging that is holistic – and healing.  We’re seen an uplifting rise in awareness as people are starting to become more conscious about their ‘unseen’ inner patterns as well as digging beneath the surface to find more meaning and depth behind the material world – and how they fit within it and the importance of remembering that connection is a key aspect of if and how we evolve as a species. People are now reaching out to us for advice on how to live amidst this complexity and find better balance, meaning and purpose.

At PATTERNITY we use pattern to help others ground their experience and reconnect back to themselves. In a world of complexity, where we’re so overloaded by deadlines and to-do lists our use of design and tactile experiences aims to help people explore this more deeply and bring them back to the present moment. We’ve seen people be positively impacted by seeing and, importantly, feeling these patterns of connection, whether that’s through visiting one of our design installations, or coming to one of our events, or practicing a daily ritual of gratitude following our journal ‘Be Great be Grateful’. Pattern really can help us to learn more, connect more and understand more about life.

We live in a world that is so cluttered and saturated that life can often seem overwhelming and irrelevant. The worlds of design, fashion and retail are often disconnected from areas like science, nature, philosophy and wellbeing or spiritual dimension of life, and just drawing attention to the interconnectivity of life, and our place within nature has a very powerful impact.

Does the name Patternity deliberately suggest a distinctly feminine perspective?

When we started the company and called it PATTERNITY some people thought we were mad! But the name has a lot of meaning that we’ve come to understand more as the years have gone by. So, looking into the etymology – the word ‘pattern’ comes from the middle English meaning ‘Patron’ which means ‘something servicing as a model’. It comes from the Latin Patronus, meaning ‘protector’ and derived from pater, being ‘father’ so there is a definite masculine aspect to the word. We very much embrace that more masculine energy or aspect to what PATTERNITY is, Grace and I have created a business that creates things, works to design forms and structures and we have a strong, bold graphic style that often has been seen as quite masculine. We set out early on to shake up the pattern perception of more ‘girly’ textiles (that of florals and subdued prints) And early on we certainly worked in an extremely powerful, more masculine way!

However, the ITY aspect of the name, actually means ‘condition or quality of being’ which relates more to a more feminine energy, something we’ve really been going much more deeply into the last few years since both experiencing creative burnout. So, this is something we feel is embodied in the way we work now, our conscious company culture of working more cyclically, mindfully, and honouring our feelings and intuition and also our choices of more sustainable processes and materials. Our experiential projects that celebrate nature and states of flow are also ways in which we help share the ITY aspect of what PATTERNITY is and stands for.  We explore this implicitly through our monochrome designs, which play with the idea of balance of the masculine and feminine, of black and white, Yin and Yang. There is complexity in the simplicity!

We believe the best design is simple, beautiful and useful.  Our approach is to look at design in a very conscious way – taking a modern approach to ancient principles of balance, proportion, form and geometry. Because our designs are so underpinned by our research, values and philosophy we believe even having these patterns in people’s homes can have a positive impact – working on a very intuitive and subliminal level.

Which of your projects do you think have most successfully fulfilled your aims?

Our first Festival of Pattern called PATTERN POWER: ‘Superstripe’ was a turning point for us, as it allowed us to create so many connections across disparate subjects (from science, creativity to spirituality and tech) all united by one pattern – stripes. The festival ran for three weeks, in a 3,000 square foot warehouse space in East London in 2013. Each room was a celebration of the humble stripe – from photographic exhibits spanning nature up close, to fashion, art and the cosmos. We also created products and design collaborations and ran creative workshops, wellbeing experiences and in-depth talks. This rounded approach to discussing pattern allowed us to connect with people from many different backgrounds, to share the voice of pattern as a way of learning more about life – and it gave us great confidence to continue working in this multifaceted way, with pattern at the heart, and to share this with like-minded pattern enthusiasts all over the world. 

This project was so impactful to us because it really opened our eyes to how educational and immersive pattern as a language and communication tool can really be. Also, how it can engage all ages, backgrounds and people with such varying experience of ‘creativity’. It was the greatest joy to see people in real life engaging with the space and each other and the messages we were sharing around mindfulness, wellbeing, creativity and sustainability with such excitement and authenticity. It was originally something we were hoping to do each year with a different pattern and theme but we soon realised it was such a huge undertaking both financially and energetically it would require a good few years to reflect and plan the next one. Enough time has passed now though that we are currently plotting our next Pattern Power…

More recently our Life Labyrinth outside Westminster Cathedral also achieved the same goals with a much simpler project.

Do you like to work collaboratively? Who would be your dream collaborator?

At PATTERNITY we believe fundamentally in the power of collaboration and creativity for a sustainable and innovative world. A world where the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Since launching our creative studio in 2013 we’ve been honoured to have collaborated with some of the globe’s leading brands, individuals and organisations, blurring the boundaries between the worlds of science and spirituality, wellbeing and nature, to technology and education.

One of the best parts of PATTERNITY is the fluidity of what we do and being able to work across so many disciplines and outcomes that allow us to explore both the visual and non-visual aspect of pattern. It’s such a joy to be able to work with pattern on both a beautifully simple surface level and also go so deep with it and use pattern to bring so many ideas, people and perspectives together. Studying pattern has allowed us to dig beneath the surface and collaborate with many different disciplines and specialists, branching out from our own specialisms within art and design into many other fields.

We are selective with who we work with and how we collaborate – we work closely with all our partners to develop concepts that feel authentic to both parties. For us it’s important that we collaborate with partners who share our values of sustainability, wellbeing and nature education. We believe in gut intuition and this has served us well to date. One of our favourite quotes is “When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge” – Tuli Kupferberg. Because we are so clear on our core values, the foundations are in place so we can build on this by working with interesting partners or working in new ways. We would never compromise our values, but we are always open to new ways of working.

Saying that, we’re always happy to hear from people who have an interesting craft, skill, sustainable material or innovation that they want to share or bring to life. If we can see how we can help tell a meaningful and important story through pattern we’re open to exploring! We are very fortunate that our pattern specialism can be applied to all aspects of life – whether this be a data vis installation for a charity, an educational product collaboration for an NGO, consultancy and creative direction for a hemp fashion collection or developing in-house events and experiences program for in-house teams or customers around the world. Pattern is a wonderfully diverse tool and it’s such an honour to be able to work with it to collaborate with people from all around the world.

What projects can we look forward to in the future?

We have some exciting projects in the pipeline for the coming years – continuing to work in the areas of design, events and experience to create more positive patterns! We’ll be using our pattern research to create products and places for positivity and deeper purpose. Our long-term dream is an educational and wellbeing institute of pattern where research, sustainable design and environmental experiences can all come together under one roof. This would be a physical space or institute for creative reflection in the broadest sense, where we can invite people, brands and organisations that span the worlds of creativity, science and spirituality to create, be inspired and to learn about the positive power of pattern to inspire culture change.

Because we’re living in a key point in history, a paradigm shift of culture change. If individuality and consumption has spirited our current competitive and anthropocentric age – patterns of connection may well be the way forward for a new worldview – a worldview that honours the beautiful interdependence of our delicate human lives with the natural world. Realising that we constitute just a tiny fragment of a much bigger, universal picture has the power to bring perspective to our daily lives and positively shape our future patterns for the benefit of all living beings. So, our future is working in collaboration with people and in places where they honour this perspective and want to co-create to shape a more positive world of interconnectedness.


Images – Andy Stagg