A tool for innovation- the biomimicry design spiral

Biomimicry design spiral developed by the Biomimicry Institute

The Biomimicry Institute has provided a tool aiding innovative design using the Biomimicry process -The Biomimicry Design Spiral provides a clear process to follow in order to produce a design inspired by nature which utilizes solutions found in nature to solve problems in innovative ways. The seven step guide helps to ensure a deep consideration for biological problem solving, rather than a superficial replication of nature.

Step 1: Identify. Find the core of the problem and the design specification by asking “what do you want your design to do?” rather than “what do you want to design?”

This step involves developing a design brief that clarifies the specific problem to be solved. This is done by identifying the core function that the design is intended to accomplish (asking “what do you want your design to do”), rather than immediately implying a design solution (“what do you want to design”). This is attempting to avoid the traditional ‘top down’ approach which enforces a preconceived concept of a solution (a design) onto the problem.

Step 2: Interpret– Biologize the question, as “how does nature do this function or solve this problem?” and “how does nature NOT do this function?” Define the habitat/location more specifically.

This step involves ‘biologizing’ the question, the most distinctive feature of this problem solving tool. It requires the designer to look at the various outcomes of 3.8 billion years of environmental research and development which has occurred in nature to produce complex sustainable systems, to reconceive the problem from this basis.

By defining the specific conditions under which the function is achieved in nature, such as the climate, nutrient, social and temporal conditions, the focus will become more specialised and reduce the quantity of possibilities. This biologising of the question instils a greater chance for the outcome to be ecologically sustainable.

Step 3: Discover- Find the best natural models to answer/solve your challenges, find champion adapter by asking “whose survival depends on this?” consider literal and metaphorical models.

This step involves finding specific examples and models of solutions to the biologized problem as established in the previous step. Seeking in particular organisms who are champions in this area and those whose survival depends on their means to solve this design challenge. Collaboration with a biologist is recommended at this stage to provide in depth biological knowledge.

Step 4: Abstract– Find the repeating patterns and processes within nature that achieve success.

This step involves the process of abstraction, which can clarify the essence of the subject without forfeiting its complexity. It allows concepts and solutions to be communicated without specific details which may convolute them and therefore be transferred multi-disciplinarily.

Step 5: Emulate- develop solutions that apply these lessons from nature as deeply as possible in your design, mimicking form, mimicking function, mimicking ecosystem.

This step involves developing practical solutions to the design challenge based on the natural models identified in the previous step. This is where the scale of the solution must be carefully considered and it’s interconnectedness with the surrounding environment analysed to ensure ecological sustainable outcomes.

Step 6: Evaluate- how do your ideas compare to life’s principles (sustainability imperative imbued).

This step involves evaluating the product of the process so far against ‘Life’s Principles’ by asking questions such as whether it produces ‘conditions conducive to life?’, ‘can the design adapt and evolve?’ or ‘is it closed loop’? This is the point at which to critically review the solution to ensure the outcome is sustainable.

Step 7: Identify- develop and refine design briefs based on lessons learned from the evaluation section, repeat the process.

This additional step is the point at which the process begins again from the beginning ‘identify’ step and repeating all the stages of the process with a now deeper understanding of the problem and considering the issues identified in the previous ‘evaluate’ step. This aspect of the tool is what makes it an iterative process, cycling continuously through the stages, but also spiralling down to a more specific and refined outcome. This process is itself mimicking nature and the process of learning and adaption which occurs through small reiterative feedback loops.

I really enjoy this process as a design and problem solving technique. I find that it really helps to align my thinking with biological processes, and pushes me to explore and learn from successful natural designs. Importantly it sets a new biological standard of sustainability to aim for.

“No problem can ever be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” – Albert Einstein.


2 thoughts on “A tool for innovation- the biomimicry design spiral

  1. Pingback: Is Biomimicry actually sustainable? | littlegreenseed

  2. Pingback: Lessons from nature: it’s ok to be imperfect. | littlegreenseed

Comments are closed.