Biomimicry – nature as a resource for ideas and clever innovations

When real functions found in nature are being incorporated into design, it is called biomimicry. This design strategy aims to imitate nature’s 3.8 billion years of research and development for optimal form, function, process, system or strategy to find solutions to human challenges.

The term “inspired by nature” acquires a broader meaning when studying the way living things in nature protecting themselves against the cold, being self-sufficient in energy, collecting water and optimizing their use of resources. An imitation of these ecological systems can lead to more sustainable human communities and the unique functions of individual species may serve as inspiration for designing functions of products and production processes that are more durable or effective than current ones.

Design spiral tool

The biomimicry design spiral is a tool that uses nature as a model and measurement in the creation of systems, products and services. Different species and (eco) systems in nature have found solutions to energy provision, temperature control, resource minimization and many other challenges humans are facing today.

Biomimicry Design Spiral
Image source: Biomimicry Institute

Define

If you ask the question “what do we want to design?” (e.g. a refrigerator), you will find that you often think of modern versions of products or systems that already exist. Your ideas become “locked” by the question. If you instead ask the question “What do we want the design to do?” (e.g. preserve food products in a home environment), you will probably find completely different and more innovative solutions.

Another important question to ask before getting on with the design process is “What do we want our design for?” Design today is often about creating a need that is totally unnecessary, so the previous question is necessary in order to ensure that the design really meets a human need.

Biologize

“Biologize” the function by translating the design function into nature’s perspective:
“How does nature perform this function?”
“How does nature NOT perform this function?”

Discover nature’s model

Go out into nature, go through the literature and consult with biologists and other natural experts. There is a wiki-based database named Ask Nature, where designers can get information on different plants and animals that already perform the function or parts of the function needed.

Abstract nature’s strategy

Brainstorm and try to find the link between the natural world and the area, product and system that is to be developed. For instance, nature adapts according to its geographical surroundings and local resources. How can a product, service or a building do the same? What should a product take into account in order to function in the system where it is meant to be?

Emulate

Look for patterns and relationships among the strategies you found and hone in on the key lessons that should inform your solution. Develop design concepts based on these elements.

Evaluate designs

Can the design adapt to its environment and evolve?

Source: Biomimicry Institute

 

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