Experience Design in the Time of Ancient Egypt


In his Notes of a Painter Henri Matisse writes about his approach to composition, saying that “a moment comes when all the parts have found their definite relationships, and from then on it would be impossible for me to add a stroke to my picture without having to repaint it entirely.”

For Matisse, the primary aim seemed to be to create an experience in those who would look at and, in a sense, interact with his paintings. In the same essay, he makes a reference to the art of ancient Egypt, noting that the Egyptian statue “looks rigid to us, yet we sense in it the image of a body capable of movement and which, despite its rigidity, is animated.”

In my own studies of the works of the Egyptians I’ve found many instances of this approach to composition where “all the parts have found their definite relationships.”

For me the image below illustrates this concept. It’s as if the invisible abstract shapes (made visible here with the use of white and yellow lines) that are used as a guides for the position of the figure are also supporting the subject matter.

For example, the same triangles that help determine the position of the wings can also serve as a visual symbol for strength, and the circle that revolves around one of the triangles can support the idea of the eternal. The same eternal that is represented by the ankh symbol that the figure holds in its left hand.


As another example, the illustration below has a straight yellow line. This line directly connects the figure’s eye with the tip of the upwardly directed wing, but first it must pass through the central point (or intersection) of the same ankh symbol. For someone who was designing this winged figure the idea or feeling may have been that if the figure could directly experience what this ankh (also know as the key of life) represents then it would directly assume the ability to fly (of course metaphorically). The straight line itself can be taken as a metaphor for direct, unmediated experience.


For the past thirty years I’ve been interested in the question of visually communicating ideas and feelings using nothing more than interrelated color-areas, textures, lines and points.

I’d be interested in hearing from others who think that contemporary experience designers (web designers and others) could learn from the visual compositions of the past.


0 thoughts on “Experience Design in the Time of Ancient Egypt

  1. Jason Stern

    This is a powerful insight.

    It was my experience also, having recently spent a few weeks visiting ancient sites in Egypt, that the sculptures, monuments, and architecture have a living quality. It is felt among the colonnades of the temples, viewing the reliefs that cover their walls, and standing before sculpted figures, that they are alive.
    I suddenly realized, facing a particular sculpture of “Inuet” at the Luxor Museum, that I was being seen. I felt embarrassed to be viewing her as an object, for it was clear she was more alive with consciousness than I was.

    Recognizing, understanding, and applying these principles to modern web-design would indeed produce a powerful and surprising impression on people otherwise consuming the lowest level of graphical output. I am eager to see what you discover, and how it translates to the world of design for the screen.

    That said, the impeccability expressed by ancient Egyptian work is predicated on a union of knowing and doing; which is to say that the form and its content are one. The form is itself the expression of the meaning. To attain such an impeccability of meaning and expression–even in a work of small magnitude– is yet a greater feat even then the engineering which made the likes of sublime sculpture, architecture, and monuments in Egypt possible constructions.

    The web may afford a medium for expressing sacred geometry, but who is in contact with the meaning worthy of such expression, and the ability “to do”, in the sense that Gurdjieff meant it; which is to say, the ability to integrate knowing and doing into a single, unified form?

    1. nfolds5_blogalex Post author

      Thanks Jason,

      This project is definitely a work in progress.

      There are many questions that I have in relation to the experience of communicating with another person (let alone communicating to a large group of people, each with their own history). For instance, right now I’m typing these letters on this keyboard as part of a wish to share a certain idea with you. You may read this sequence of letters at some later time, and, to some extent, “reconstruct” this idea.

      Or, I myself may go back in a few days and read through this sequence of letters, only to realize that I’m not the same person that was typing in these letters a few days ago.

      I wonder if it’s any different with musical or visual compositions.

      Can a verbal/musical/visual composition help me to recall or re-experience a certain experience from the past? Does merely exposing myself to a composition from the past guarantee that I will recall the experience, or is there something that I need to be open to at the moment to make this possible?

      I even wonder about the nature of this kind of recalling. To me it doesn’t feel like a repetition in the sense of some exact duplication of an experience. It feels more like a re-creation of a given experience, the same yet new, if this makes any sense.

      In any case, the web currently presents many challenges to someone who’s looking to explore composition or geometry as a means of communication. I’ll try to clearly describe some of these challenges — and possible ways of composing in the midst of these challenges — in an upcoming article. Also, so as not to get too theoretical with this project I’ll continue with practical experiments.


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