WHAT IS A MOTIF?
Motifs are a repeated element or theme in music, literature and in design. In design, a motif can be inspired by a company’s logo, a homeowner’s favorite piece of art or music, a client’s passion/mission, a historic element in an existing building, the shape of a letter, or even nature itself, such as a nautilus shell, rose bloom, or maple tree leaf. Use the motif only once and it is a focal point, but use it often and it can tie a building together visually, communicate a message or add a little fun. Use it too often and it can make a space look like you are selling luxury goods (think the Gucci logo). Even luxury brands are adjusting their logos to differentiate from the copy cats. Gucci’s advertisement on the back cover of the July 2018 edition of Boston Magazine features a bedazzled shoe with a giant “G” on the toe. But I digress.
Creating and selecting a motif really helps us as designers to understand better who a client is and what brings them joy. Some of the applications of the motif can be quite subtle and can be fun for the client who after moving in can search for the motifs and discover where we have hidden them. Like my previous post about patterns, the use of a motif can personalize and enliven a space that might otherwise be more generic. (If you read my post about “meh” you might know that sometimes generic is good!)
In music, John Williams understood the power of the motif or theme. By having the motif reoccur, in variations of the original, we the audience can get a clue about what is about to happen. Think of his brilliant “Jaws” motif or the theme of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The man could churn out an identifiable, unique musical theme for each movie. Inspiring and intimidating. Before John Williams, there is another musical motif that comes to mind that I bet you can hear in your mind’s ear when you read this: “James Bond” by Monty Norman. Mr. Norman has collected royalties since 1962. Between the years 1976 and 1999, he earned 485,000 British Pounds. A good motif pays well!
Don’t let the brilliance of some composers and artists intimidate you. In design, a motif can be simple, like a quatrefoil, a musical note, or a triangle, and still serve the purpose and grand design goals of the project. Start with something simple, then embellish, simplify, enlarge, or reduce it and you may find the secret ingredient for taking your space to the next level.
When you are ready to discuss a motif that is appropriate for your project, give us call! It’s never too late to add a little fun and a little meaning into your life.