Humans have been using their creative skills for millennia. The extraordinary depictions in the Lascaux caves in France, some dating to 20,000 years BC, are testimony to this. Deep in the last ice age, huddled in the warm contours of fire-lit caverns, our ancestors created designs to entertain, inform and influence. Art was in us – and the capability of explaining our world in pictures was possibly embraced by one innovative individual on a cold and snowy night in prehistory. Since then we’ve been at it quite a lot.

Spiral patterns

Making the world physically bend to our will came later when we began to design patterns and compositions using materials that created more than pictures but structures with meaning, purpose and cannily measured proportions. Perhaps display began with patterns in stone, mysterious spirals and circles that appear in various but similar formats all over the world. There is a sense here of message, of meaning, the desire to make adjustments and depictions that would influence another person’s mind. Possibly, the real origins of the large exhibition lie not with the Victorians but with an enthusiastic forebear who thought that moving some huge stones around would look really attractive.


The pyramids and Stonehenge came about at around the same time and both were the result of centuries of crafting. Stonehenge, begun a couple of centuries earlier, was our first effort at really large-scale design with the aim of attracting and inspiring. Succeeding generations built on that initial development, constantly looking to improve and expand. It was as though the power of our own creativity had gripped us and we couldn’t stop. Everything was in the eye of the beholder. Stonehenge became a clock, a calendar, a place of ritual. And then it just looked good. Effort had been made in alignment, scale, aesthetics. Whether seen today or 4,000 years ago, Stonehenge is designed to impact. Not much different from today’s drive to capture attention, engage and persuade to action.

Creative energy

Creativity is usually the urge to present something in a manner that will affect another person in a particular way. It is purposeful. It generally sets us aside from other species. When the need to create finds fruition through manipulation of the  environment in designs meant to last in colour, pattern or structural format, we are honing that early but very human quality of wanting to make others see things the way we see them, striving to create reaction – an emotional response, a motivation to action. In fact, when we look at these primitive yet strategic designs, we are looking at the early masters of marketing and advertising.

How we have changed (and not that much)

Design and display are therefore in our genes. Modern techniques are hardly much different from what we were trying to do some several thousand years ago. Here are some interesting intersections where our past comes up to look us in the eye:

  • Colour: Display is still heavily dependent on colour, line and form to lead the energy flow from perception to comprehension to good feelings. Whether you’re the guy in the antlers and deer skin under the soaring heights of a Stonehenge trilithon or caught by today’s sleek image a red Ferrari – the feeling of awe and admiration is pretty much the same.
  • Environment: When display became three-dimensional we could engage with it physically – we could walk into it, we could surround ourselves with its image and effect. Today’s displays are geared to interact at that same level, drawing customers in and surrounding them with brand influence.
  • Lighting: For a fact we know that lighting had huge effect at Stonehenge. The positioning of the winter and summer suns was significant – and possibly also the nightly wheel of the stars. Today, modern lighting acts as a powerful connector, highlighting, emphasizing and influencing perceptions of desirability.
  • Entertainment: Whatever rituals were enacted at stone circles like Stonehenge, there must have been an element of entertainment no matter the purpose – a gathering, a procession, a ritual – whatever it was, the general public would have been fascinated by events. And just as we did then, we use entertainment value today to get a message across. From pop-up shops to digital display kiosks, we draw on our ancestors archaic sense of worship to create fascination, persuasion and the desire to possess. For the human mind, there is nothing more entertaining than the thought of imminent revelation or possession.
  • Branding:  Brand is who we are and how we see ourselves. Whether as an individual or a company or an institution of influence, it is a matter of identity and how we portray that identity through clever and creative proclamation. Brands engage in communication that reiterates strength and dependability. Dancing through a pattern of stones, our ancestral brand leader would be wearing horns, precious metal or bone jewellery, and perhaps a mask to signify mystery and power – power over the environment, people and incantations to the gods. His brand was creative genius – set in colour, dress and decoration that were instantly recognisable. Unthinkable to appear any other way. He was their logo in their brilliant stony display  – familiar, bold and enduring.

Today’s valuable intersection: elements of display and your vision

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