Biomimicry and Design DefinitionPosted: October 11, 2011
I’ve been having a lot of conversations about what design’s role, and value, is within biomimicry, and the reverse conversation that explores biomimicry’s value to design. The conversation seems painfully circular, so I wanted to attempt a diagram that could help me give shape to the conversation.
How does biomimicry challenge designers?
How can designers validate biomimicry?
For those sensitive to my obsessive use of design, please insert; “creative problem solver” in my following exploration.
Charles Eames diagram of Design
Riffing through my computer over the weekend, I rediscovered a diagram that I’ve used in class before which I thought would be interesting to evolve. In 1968 Charles Eames sketched the diagram to the left to define what design was. It is deceptively simple, and absolutely superb. There are three layers:
- The interests and concerns of the design office
- The area of genuine interest to the client
- The concerns of society as a whole
The language is superb. We could break down the use of “genuine” for the client, but let’s stay on track. In one sweeping diagram the complexities, challenges and context of design is summarized in a simple, digestible statement. An example of good design.
I began to think about recent biomimicry discussions and I wondered if I could use this diagram to define my own thinking.
Carl’s Definition of Design and Biomimicry
Not surprisingly to those who know me, this diagram took quite a while as I kept sketching versions that I wasn’t happy with. I think this is close enough to launch into the webisphere. Here is my thinking:
I decided to simplify “design” down into the:
- Needs of Business
- Needs of (the) User(s)
And then simplified “biomimicry” down to:
- Nature as Inspiration
- Nature as Stakeholder
What works for me
There are many, many overlaps between the interests of the User and Business, and importantly, there are overlaps outside of the range of inspiration from nature. This is, of course the most common practice. The increased number of overlaps between Business, Users and Nature as Inspiration, is an attempt to communicate biomimicry as fuel for creativity. This emerges from previous conversations about biomimicry fostering intersectional thinking, i.e. introducing a different discipline to provoke more unique conceptual connections.
Most importantly, are the overlaps of all four elements, represented by the two darkly shaded areas. These are the fewest number of overlaps, as Nature as Stakeholder introduces an entirely new layer of criteria and challenges, but hopefully also more rewards and returns on investment. These are the rare, deep ideas that account for “full costs” of a project. There was a reason for creating two dark areas, but I think this discussion has gotten complex enough…
Where to now
I need to sit and think on this a little while before I conclude my thoughts here. I’m hoping some comments may provoke the next stage of thinking… Here are some questions to mull over;
Does this help contextualize the value of design? It is the designer’s role to fully understand all stakeholder’s needs within any given project and map a path through to satisfying the core design criteria.
Does the diagram help contextualize the challenges of biomimicry as sustainability? It is easy to see many initial overlaps between nature as inspiration and the human stakeholders, while highlighting the fewer opportunities that address the depth of all stakeholders within a project.