Late last year Biomimicry 3.8 released a paperback edition of Dr Dayna Baumeister’s seminal guide to life-centric approaches to design, and what a gift it is for anyone looking to integrate sustainability principles into a project.
The book both explains and illustrates the core principles of the biomimicry approach, while also giving practical exercises for experiencing the basic ideas. Things like taking a walk and examining shapes, listening to different soundscapes and analysing the emotional response, or sketching natural forms.
The whole core premise of the discipline – that the basic design question starts with, “what would nature do?” – is translated into methods and concepts that bring the reader and practitioner into deeper connection with the environment in all its colours, sounds and textures.
It’s not just about design either. Baumeister gives excellent strategies for presenting design concepts to clients, overcoming barriers to the sustainability conversation and translating the principles into language anyone in an organisation can relate to.
And this is also part of the ethos, that design grounded in the principles of life itself is design people can relate to, that brings beauty and richness and enhances wellbeing.
It steps through the stages of scoping, discovering, creating and evaluating a design approach, correlating each stage to a biological process and outlining potential benefits.
Baumeister also suggests asking a lot of “why?” questions is a way of improving the scoping of projects, because design starts not with a basic “What do you want your design to do?” in the achievement sense, but rather, “What do you want your design to really do?” in the functional sense.
So, for example, the question, “Why do you want a lightbulb?” – (to create light) becomes, “Why do you want to create light?” (to illuminate) – and that answer opens up a whole new realm of possibilities, lightbulb being just one of them.
The accessibility of the language and the clear, down-to-earth examples and explanations make the concepts approachable. The style of writing and structuring of the material also generates a sense that the whole concept of biomimicry is about employing innate logic and a degree of wisdom. There is not a highfaluting academic theory in sight, or if there are they are extremely well-disguised!
As a resource handbook, this is definitely the kind of text that can be productively dipped in and out of at will, flicked through randomly, abundantly bookmarked and kept close at hand for moments when inspiration seems to live on another planet.
As it makes clear, there is abundant inspiration right here in front of us, from the engineering of a snail shell to the aerodynamic brilliance of an ash tree seed.