Bee Station – Cohabitation

Image source James Hutchinson: The ceramic orb creates a protected space for a sugary energy boost for tired bees battling the urban terrain.

This gorgeous, thoughtful piece of design is already making the rounds on the web, see Core77 and Inhabitat’s blog posts, but I think it is too special not to mention.

James Hutchinson has designed a resting station for bees, aimed at encouraging urban residents to offer a moment of respite for the busy little insects. It is James’s hope that it may help prevent the alarming loss of bees occurring around the world, known as Colony Collapse Disorder.


I love the design for all the same reasons as the other design blogs, but especially due to my personal obsession around co-habitation. The general concept suggests design should not be solely human-centred, but as my dear friend Carla Gould would say, should be life centred. Seeing what James Hutchinson has done is an example of “bee” centred design, where he has taken into consideration all the needs of the insect and used that to drive his design process.

That the final object is desirable to humans and easy to install in any backyard is a sign of total, thoughtful design methodology. But, the real insight to me is the recognition that there is more than one species to design for.

When to Let Go

Ahh... the never ending frustrations of design process...

In any creative process it is always difficult to know when you have what is needed to move into the next stage of thinking. Moving from research, the gathering of insights, into ideation, transforming those insights into action, is almost always a surprisingly difficult process. If you’re a little over-enthusiastic like myself, you’re likely to want to explore every insight and try to solve every possible challenge.

The real trick is identifying exactly what should move forward, and what can be left behind.

Good insights derail design process

As mentioned previously, the insights from good design research are usually extraordinarily simple in hindsight. But in the thick of things it can be almost impossible to summon up the courage to commit to such a simple observation, especially when you have reams of other data that you don’t want to go to waste.

For example, imagine you are doing an architecture project for community development in a specific habitat and have exhaustively researched all the biological models and that align with your functional design challenges. You are swamped with articles, spreadsheets and diagrams of incredible insights and opportunities. With your nose to the grindstone and a deadline looming, it is easy to be overwhelmed when generating ideas as you rush to pull every little element together into the utopian building that will foster the perfect community.

But do you really know what needs to be designed?

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Biomimicry is Not “Just” Biology Research

Superb diagram by Carla Gould and Jessica Ching - mapping out from hindsight the evolution of an 18 month biomimicry design project.

Having taught biomimicry for 6 years now, you’d think preparing for another wave of students would be relatively straight forward. In fact, it is probably more complex now that it ever has been before. Bruce Hinds (my co-teacher) and I have taught this enough times to be confident with the material, so much so that we are growing increasingly ambitious for meaningful projects to emerge from the class. Consequently, the question that drives the class has evolved from “how can we do biomimicry” to “where should we do biomimicry”. In other words;

What design topics should we tackle?

 Why is this a challenge?

Biomimicry is not “just” biology research. It also includes design research. While this might be obvious for some, there are many more who think the design insights should magically appear from thin air, with no need for context from the area of research. The reality suggests otherwise, and requires that in the limited time we have in the class room, our students need to cover twice as much ground. On one hand you think sounds straightforward, the students are in their higher years, and therefore have been exposed to a lot of design process already, but the reality is, introducing biology research adds a layer of healthy complexity to the design research and makes the whole process more time consuming (also pronounced “rewarding”).

And guess what, this is also the reason why businesses and design practices are not jumping vigorously on the biomimicry bandwagon; it’s hard work.

The good news about biology research

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