One of my recent explorations delve with the idea of biomimicry and how we could incorporate this awareness of the intelligence of our natural environment to our work, in particularly within the design process.
The Wikipedia definition is:
Biomimicry or biomimetics is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems.
Janine Benyus gives a tremendous TED talk on what few companies have learnt and produced from nature:
This fascinating perspective requires a deep sense of humility and a re-connection to our natural environment. When we were young, my friends and I would run out to the park during recess and collect jars of worms, marvelled at the different shapes of rocks, and found wonder in the texture and colour patterns of a feather. As children, we were naturally fascinated by nature. Malcolm Gladwell speaks to children’s instant connection to animals; and why Blue’s Clues is such a hit.
As we examine our new relationship with technology, finance models, and the increasing interdependence of our global community, it seems as if the lens we use is heavily focused on the ‘reactive’; on creating fixes and remedies to incrementally make better or prevent negative side effects/outcomes. Humankind, and all its brilliance, has built its very own financial institutions, social constructions on what is ‘normative’ behaviour, and physical manifestations of internal beauty and intelligence through architecture, sculpture, and the creation of food. What seems to be missing, however, is congruency and a systems-level perspective.
We dig, meld, transform, intensify, decrease… our natural resources into products, things, and even systems that may serve us well in the short term, but may falter in the long run because of its inorganic nature; and by inorganic I mean in direct opposition with laws of nature or having the inability to see the interconnectivity of all things and beings.
Our current financial institutions are a great example of this.
It is when we believe that we can out-smart our environment, that we are planning our own demise. I am neither a scientist or an economists, but the recent surge of differential models beyond calculating ‘GDP’ including the Social Progress Index or Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness index are great examples of how we can create a more just and compassionate society. A high-level distinction between the latter indexes with the traditional GDP measurements is the understanding that income doesn’t equate to happiness. Money is a baseline requirement (assumption being a capitalist society) to secure food, shelter, water, privacy etc, but there are much we must do to create thriving societies. We need a sense of safety and security, to live with loving friends and family, and enjoy an expansive environment where we can dream and do good for others.
Our Mother Nature has been teaching this very principle from the beginning.
For example, global warming is a phenomenon that knows no boundaries. Immediate environments where pollution is created suffer the most, but just like after a volcano eruption, the wind and water will soon pick up the ashes and travel. We must see our social environments – of which many of them are human-made – with the same empathic lens that no single action do not affect others.
x design processes
When we design products, experiences, and systems, we can expand our research into witnessing the innate brilliance and intelligence of our natural environment.
Biomimicry requires us to connect deeply with our surrounding environment once again. ‘Smelling the roses’ takes on another level of awareness with the humility to listen – to listen and witness the lessons that can play an instrumental part in how we create a more inclusive, sustainable, and compassionate global society.
Benyus (from TED talk above) gave examples of individuals and companies incorporating this intelligence into their designs and products, one of them is:
a. The Galapagos Shark, due to their natural pattern on their skin, resists bacteria from landing on them. A company extracted this natural pattern and created a fabric to supply for hospitals to decrease the chances of Hospital-Acquired Infections (HRI), which killed around 10,000 people in the United States in 2007.
…As for myself, I still find an almost incomparable sense of wonder whenever I see the blanket of rich constellations and stars on our night sky. This heightened sense has informed me that to create timeless and transcendent work, we must incorporate a lens to create magic. We don’t need to be an ‘artist’ per se to envelop our work’s users within this cloak of wonder. Delivering a business strategy can be just as artful as an emotional contemporary dance piece.
We are all artists, our body and spirit are in itself a work of art.
Other great reads/resources:
1. Inhabitat’s piece on what we can learn from our plants to make salt water drinkable
2. Asknature is an online database on examples of biomimicry and the intelligence of our nature. Wonderful resource for any designer!
3. Wikipedia’s introduction to Permaculture