How The Design Process Is A Lot Like Metamorphosis

While developing my brand, I did a lot of research on butterflies since it would be the “face” of my business. I’m a big nerd so things like symbolism, useless facts and hidden meanings fascinate me. It wouldn’t hurt to educate myself as much as possible…but what I found blew me away! Look at the remarkable similarities between the design process and metamorphosis.

Phase 1: Egg

“Metamorphosis” is a Greek word that means transformation. This process of metamorphosis has 4 main phases; as does the design process. Butterflies begin as a small, seemingly insignificant egg. The butterfly attaches one or many of these delicate eggs to a leaf where they can develop safely, away from predators.

An egg corresponds to an idea in the design process. Usually, it starts out with a call or email from someone who needs help with a design-related issue. They may have an idea of how to resolve it (whether good or bad), but need help from a professional that can resolve the issue quickly and creatively. Apple’s chief designer, Jonathan Ive spoke about the fragility of ideas and how they must be nurtured. Here’s what he said about working with Steve Jobs:

Steve used to say to me — and he used to say this a lot — “Hey Jony, here’s a dopey idea.” And sometimes they were…But sometimes they took the air from the room and they left us both completely silent. Bold, crazy, magnificent ideas. Or quiet simple ones, which in their subtlety, their detail, they were utterly profound.

…He better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.


Ideas are here today and gone tomorrow. So it’s important for them to be nurtured, just like the egg of a caterpillar.

Phase 2: Caterpillar

Caterpillars develop from these eggs. One quality in caterpillars that I find hilarious is how greedy they are. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” was one of my favorite books growing up, but I never realized just how much they eat in a few weeks. Some caterpillars eat about 27,000 times their body weight to fuel this transformation process, and increases its body mass about 2,000 times as it grows through molting. That’s insanely greedy…but this stage is a time for growth, so it’s necessary.

In the design process, the transformation is fueled by brainstorming & inspiration. We feed our minds with meticulous research: finding out all there is to know about the client’s background, their industry, and the desired style for the project. We get inspired by looking at amazing design in nature and/or creations by other artists, taking note of minute details we may want to emulate. In the end, our brains are busting at the seams and we’re all revved up and ready to move on to the next exciting (and most time-consuming) phase.

Phase 3: Cocoon

This phase is where the complete transformation happens. I was always curious to know exactly what happened inside that cocoon. When I learned, it blew me away.

After the ravenous feeding frenzy, the lowly caterpillar enters its cocoon and completely breaks down to a jelly-like mush. Ew. But using a part of their bodies called imaginal discs (yes, that’s what they’re really called), they re-form those raw materials into something completely new: wings, legs, antennae etc. The length of this transformation can vary based on the climate. It can be as little as 3 weeks, or as long as 9 months. But something in the caterpillar is hard-wired to know exactly when to transform the mush into a beautiful creature. Amazing.

Now in the design process, we call this concept development. This is where we collect all our research, information and inspiration (raw materials), and transform them using our minds (imaginal discs), to create something completely new. Creativity cannot be rushed! This process takes time, and the length of development depends on the scope of the project and its requirements. But when the time is right, the product of all the previous hard work emerges to become a beautiful…

Phase 4: Butterfly

This delicate creature is completely different from the pudgy, greedy caterpillar it started out as. The caterpillar had about 16 legs; the butterfly only has 6. The caterpillar has about 12 eyes, and is basically blind; the butterfly has thousands of eyes, and can see color and ultraviolet light. The caterpillar was limited to crawling from leaf to leaf; the butterfly is free to fly wherever it desires. Better in every way!

The final product of the design process has finally emerged. Your fresh, unique design calls to reality something only imagined previously. The clients are amazed at the results, and now they and their businesses are ready to fly.

Amazing, right?! Leave me your thoughts in the comments below.

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