Welcome to biomimicry in practice!
First things first: the credit for the graphs and principles described below goes to Biomimicry 3.8 who has developed the Biomimicry DesignLens and is sharing their beautiful method via a Creative Commons license specified on each graph.
In case you were wondering what the 3.8 in Biomimicry 3.8 means, that's simply the number of billion years life has evolved on Earth. That's right, Life's been around for over 3.8 billion years! Here is a scale for you. The Earth is 4.5 billion years old, say we represent that by one year. On January 1st, one second after midnight the Earth is born. On February 25th Life appears. And if now is December 31st just before midnight, we, as 'homo sapiens' have been around for... 24 minutes!
What does this mean? Well, everything that is still around today is the result of a lot of trial and errors! There's a lot of engineering that's been going on for over 3.8 billion years. Everything that is surrounding us, and including ourselves, is incredibly well adapted to its environment. Evolution is obviously still happening and the game is not over. But all those strategies that resulted in today's species survival can be tapped into to inform whatever we are creating! That way, our creations will also be well adapted to our environment, allowing Life to keep thriving.
Let's start with the foundations of biomimicry. We' have 3 core elements that define biomimicry as you can see in the DesignLens below:
- ETHOS: We let gratitude and respect guide our designs. This allows us a better access to Life's Principles (more on that later) and designs so we can best reproduce them in our own. Our ethics allow us to create well adapted designs that will allow us, life, to thrive for a very long time.
- (RE)CONNECT: We're not forgetting that we ARE Nature. Even though technology seems to build distance between us and the rest of Nature, we keep in mind our relationship to Nature. That relationship needs to be cultivated and deepened so we can produce better design.
- EMULATE: Nature is our inspiration for design. That inspiration comes from different levels: materials, forms, processes, functions, systems. By emulating we fit our design into our environment in a sustainable way.
That last element leads us to our next DesignLens which is Life's Principles. At the core of Life's Principles lies a simple statement:
Life creates conditions conducive to Life
So ideally, we want our designs to create conditions conducive to life! How do we do that? Well, lets have a detailed look at Life's principles with our next two DesignLenses:
Those diagrams come from several iterations by Biomimicry 3.8 extracting the core principles that explain the survival and thriving of the species still around today. Every organism on the planet follows these, and by taking inspiration from them, by using Nature as a mentor, we can innovate and make our designs inherently sustainable.
Very well! So, knowing the above, how do we put this into practice when we design?
First we need to differentiate between two approaches:
- Going from a CHALLENGE to BIOLOGY: this is probably the most common approach, you have a challenge and you seek inspiration from Nature to solve it.
- Going from the BIOLOGY to DESIGN: you have found a fascinating organism (maybe by browsing on AskNature ;) which solves a problem in a very elegant way and you wish to create a design inspired by it.
Both approaches are going to use the same stages and steps, but the order in which you move between them is different, as pictured in the next two DesignLenses.
Going from the challenge to the biology, it is vital that you ask the right questions in the scoping phase. In order to get the best answers from nature, you need to go down to your core challenge, the core function you try to achieve. And obviously you can look at a design from different levels. At the system level, a windmill solves electricity production. For that function you may ask, how does nature produce electricity? Zooming in on the blades of the windmill, there are several things one may want to achieve: maintain physical integrity under high wind, reducing drag (so it rotates also at low wind speeds), increase lift are just a few examples.
A good start once you have defined the function is to have a look at AskNature, there you can either enter your question (How does Nature... produce electricity for instance) or explore by strategies or existing products, hitting the 'Explore' button. It gives you a good start for where/what to look at, then you can browse the web.