The most recent place we visit to gain design and architectural inspiration is Egypt. If there’s one thing the country is famous for is Egyptian hieroglyphs, for which we want to analyze their place in design. These ancient shapes, symbols, and motifs go back to 4000 BC, with each holding significant meaning to Egyptians. Being first exclusively used on temple walls, the word “hieroglyph” translates to “sacred carvings.” They are a unique form of visual communication, with each artist telling a different and meaningful story through their work.
Despite being one of the oldest forms of writing used for almost 4,000 years, we often see hieroglyphs in design today. In this article, we talk through some of the Ancient Egyptian artifacts we saw on our travels and how they have been adopted into the 21st-century design.
Decipherment of the Rosetta Stone
People were aware of Egyptian hieroglyphs during the time of the Greeks and the Romans. Back then, people thought hieroglyphs were conceptual symbols. A crocodile was considered to represent evil, whereas a hawk represents swiftness. This is seen as a divine form of writing showing Egyptian wisdom and thought of a gift from the gods. Over the next two centuries, other new theories develop. There were now ideas that the symbols may be pictorial instead of sacred and that the symbols were phonetic rather than conceptual.
When people discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1798, we finally reached a turning point towards the truth. On this artifact, there are three parallel inscriptions. The bottom inscription was in Greek, the top in Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the middle an unknown scripture today known as “demotic.” By analyzing the text and using names of Ancient Egyptian royalty to match against the symbols, a hieroglyphic “alphabet” was discovered in 1822.
Discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb
As Western society learned more about the civilizations of Ancient Egypt thanks to a better understanding of hieroglyphs, Egyptian design became fashionable. However, it wasn’t until the tomb of legendary Tutankhamun was found in 1922 that there was a massive influence of hieroglyphs in design. These are some of the most well-maintained artifacts of Ancient Egypt with impressive quality and style. This also guided us to realize that hieroglyphs were more than a written language. They were also an artistic expression and as manifestations from the Egyptian world.
On our travels, we visited the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings. This is one of the most famous ancient burial sites for pharaohs that ruled Egypt. Alongside Tutankhamun, there are also tombs of for example Ramesses V and VI, Seti I, and Merenptah. The decoration of all the tombs in the Valley of the Kings is spectacular. Egyptian artists have made each burial site into a secret gallery only meant for the eyes of the gods. They mark the line between mortality and immortality, with vast walls of intricate hieroglyphic text and imagery. All scenes are meant to guide the pharao on his way to the afterlife and warn him of potential dangers he may encounter on the way.
Egyptian-Inspired Modern Design
When visiting the tombs first-hand, it is clear to see why Westerners fell in love with this ornate and decorative style. Besides, alongside the beauty, the prominence of hieroglyphics in design also relates to people’s fascination with the ancient world. As more about Egypt was uncovered, people’s growing interest sparked the latest design trends. Egyptian work was then highly influential in the 1920s and 1930s during the Art Deco movement.
There are clear similarities between the tombs full of elaborate hieroglyphs and Art Deco-style design. The geometric patterning is comparable to the hieroglyphic art seen in Egypt. Favorite colors of the era are similar to those seen in Egyptian hieroglyphs, such as deep yellows, reds, greens, and blues. Despite Art Deco-inspired architecture and interiors peaking in the late 1920s, it is still around us today. The style is futuristic yet nostalgic and offers a streamlined look that works in many modern interiors. We would like to refer to our 20×20 capsule collection, which brings a modern-day interpretation of art deco carpets.
Emojis, the Modern Hieroglyphics
Skipping forward to today and we also see a new influence of hieroglyphs in design. Instead of having hand-etched or painted symbols, we’ve taken things digitally. We have made a new language altogether: emojis. This universal language is in use by a whopping 92% of the online population, and its resemblance with ancient hieroglyphic writing is uncanny. Some of the symbols are remarkably alike. The emoji and hieroglyphs for “dancing man” show a male with one arm raised, whereas “not knowing” is depicted by a shoulder shrug.