Sunday, 27 March 2011

Interesting for the few.

Dissertation Proposal. Part 2.

Andrew J. Tibbles

Product Design

Elio Caccavle


Why Product Design should be using biomimicry

The integration of biology into technology and vice versa, has started debates in science, design and ethics. As technology has been advancing at a rapid pace in recent years so has scientific instruments, this has led to deeper insights about nature and how it has been so successful living on a planet we are now struggling to co-inhabit with.

Biomimicry is becoming increasingly popular with science and designers as an answer to how to survive the coming century. Cases where living cells have been grown on a circuit board and are able to control electronics, directly taking from nature. Imitating natures digestive systems has lead to an alternative power source for electronics. An interesting case is Dr. Rachel Armstrong's livingArchitecture project using programmable cells to absorb carbon in the environment and becoming part of a buildings structure.

I want to research this topic because I too believe for humans continual survival on this planet we need a biomimiced or biological environment. Instead of nature being an obstacle to be over come, but something to learn and work with. Architecture has been taking initiatives in biomimicry and I think there is a big opportunity for Product Designs to start using the same thinking and materials.

My objectives is to gather information on what projects have been suggested or put into practice, and if they have been successful or not. For my own research into biomimiced materials I am still not certain. I'm think of talking to biologists, chemists, physicists and engineers to see their opinions and thoughts on biomimicry, I'll also be interested to see peoples response to different forms and shapes in design. Whether they respond more kindly towards natural shapes or unnatural shapes. Even how they react to natural technologies, if they feel comfortable with them or if they seem foreign to them. As a human and designer I would like to learn my place in nature and the role I must play for a future to be possible. So concentrating on certain aspects of biomimicry like materials and technologies, but expanding into other parts such as philosophy and aesthetics derived from biomimiced design.

Keywords: Science, Design, Biomimicry, Materials, Technologies, Nature.

MoMA (2008). Design and the Elastic Mind

Is a collection of works that is experimenting with design and the question that humans may ask, or to provoke those questions. They are bridging the gap between hard science into something more tangible that the everyday person can interact with or understand better.
These are successful projects of science and design working together either for practical or speculative design. It will be critically discussing them.

Javier Senosiain, Javier Senosiain Aguilar (2003). Bio-Architecture.

This book looks at how architecture has learnt from nature and how itself uses a form of architecture, and how it will continue to learn. It relates to my topic because I am also looking at how design and science is learning from nature and it is discovering more ingenious ways to man make things in nature.
Living environments and how we build them is one of the essential things to being a living creature and the creativity of nature has been evolving specific adaptations for each creature, we are now learning from them and how our own architecture isn't always up to par.

Peter Forbes (2005). The gecko's foot. London: HarperCollins.

Is a book that discusses the uses of certain materials and technologies found in living organisms and how they have over come obstacles we are trying ourselves to solve.
It looks at examples such as how colour can be used in materials by the structures of the particles in it. Mainly discussing how the nano realm of our world is over looked and the great potential it could pose for design because of what nature has already achieved.
It's important I read this because it shows examples of natural structures that have extraordinary properties to over come its environment. But it doesn't give too many examples of what the material could be used for other than the same purpose but on a human scale. An actual geckos foot is incredible intricate but its practical purposes for humans seem to have been limited to climbing walls.

Janine M. Benyus (2002). Biomimicry: innovation inspired by nature.

She's a scientific writer and in this book she explains how nature has solved our 21st century problems and how we can harness them for our own uses. The most astonishing insights of this is how nature is working at cool temperatures and low pressure and still producing better materials then our high temperature high pressure and high carbon emission materials.
She is, as I understand, a leader in the field of Biomimicry and shows how certain parts of nature have been used in industries to solve problems. I would like to discuss these applications of nature and how product design could follow suit.

Brent Lambert. (2011). Architect Creates Astonishing Living, Breathing Crystallized “Coral Reef-Like” Synthetic Forest. Available: Last accessed

Showing a synthetic forest reacting like a coral reef would, and absorbs its surroundings and responds differently to human contact with it. Also looks at the idea of all matter having life, 'hylozoism’ '
I think this is a good example of what bio-inspired projects can lead to and it's something I would like to discuss the ideas in this of giving objects more response to our actions possibly making us more aware of our actions in general.

TEDtalksDirector, 2009. Rachel Armstrong: Architecture that repairs itself?
. [video online] Available at: [Accessed 10th March 2011].

Dr. Rachel Armstrong collaborating with scientists to manipulate cells for our own purposes, in the examples given to support the sinking city of Venice. This is a stage above biomimicry where we are creating our own biology from currently existing organisms to serve a purpose.
I think this is an interesting topic to discuss because the potential to start using cells as a building block of products and almost growing what we need instead of manufacturing.

Auger Loizau. (2009). Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots. Available: Last accessed 10th March 2011.

A design collaborative that made domestic objects to become a bit more self sufficient by 'eating' things about the house. It has to be organic matter and the duo focused on flies especially but you can feed it anything organic really, apparently grass or prawn shells work well. But with this is showing a side of objects that display something more animal.
I like this example because it's nearer my field of work. And it'll be good to reflect on their work and why it has been successful, and look at what if more objects were like animals or had parts like animals in them. (Maybe looking too far a field but if objects were more like animals would people take more care of them? Possible consider them pet, and help them to live out a longer product life.)

Marjan Groot, (not yet published)Writing alternative narratives: Design and Biotechnology.

A paper discussing the ethics, social and legal issues being raised by 3 different 'bio-designs', that speculates on the possible implications of new scientific discoveries on society.
This paper is useful for me because it shows example of critical design that demonstrates points using nature either as a source of learning or by demonstrating what our new discoveries in biological manipulation can cause.

BBC NEWS, 2005. Rings of bone grown for couples. [online article] Available at:.[]. [10th March 2011].

Tobie Kerridge created completely one off set of rings by taking osteoblasts from a subjects jaw bone and placing them on a scaffold, used in the Vietnam war to seal up wounds. Working closely with scientists to create such individual pieces and it wasn't just himself that was benefitting from this, scientists also got some of the osteoblast to work with and study further which is why I believe it became a very successful piece of design.
I admire this piece of work greatly because it demonstrates the benefits of design and science working together, a project can feed both fields and both parties can learn a lot from the outcome. I want to discuss this project in more detail and the benefits of it.

Carlos Ginatta (2010), ARCHITECTURE without architecture: Biomimicry design.

This book refers to the react-ability of nature and how we should incorporate this into design and architecture. “This thesis will try to uncover the readability of nature and will project a design that explains how to react to Nature in architectural terms”.
The topic seems very interesting, I've not been able to get a copy of the book yet so I'm looking forward to reading about it and seeing how it can relate to product design and their reactions not only with humans but nature.

Michael Pawlyn (2011 planned publication), Biomimicry in Architecture

I know of Michael Pawlyn's project the Sahara Forest Project (SFP) and I've admired it greatly especially that it is not only nuetral to the plant but encourages life, which I feel represents biomimicry very well as natural process tend to help each other out and everyone benefits.
I suspect more than that will be mentioned so I am very interested what else will be in the book, other projects and the ethics of what he does. I'd like to discuss this and why more products should be giving back to nature and at a minimum be neutral.

Alok Jha, 2008. Seawater greenhouses to bring life to the desert. The Guardian Online [online article] Available at:.[]. [14th March 2011].

This is an article about the Micael Pawlyn's Sahara Forest Project and how beneficial it is to the surrounding area by evaporating seawater with concentrated solar panel.
This is an active project that is now being planned in Jordan, a discussion could be made that new designs or a sustainable future are now being implemented where they can and why it is.

Boycott, R. 2011. Eden Project: how one man's dream came true
. The Telegraph, [online] (Last updated 6:36PM GMT 01 Mar 2011) Available at: [Accessed on 10th March 2011].

The Eden project is a successful ecological project that is still running and enjoyed by the public. The ideas behind its creation links directly to biomimicry looking at different materials and structures, to create an astonishing building with interesting facts like that the air within the domes weighs more than the actual structure it self.
Its a good past example of what biomimicry has done and why it was important to look at different ways of building something as simple as a big green house.

John Frazer (1995), An Evolutionary Architecture

This book looks at the interactivity of architecture and how could start to adapt around us and the city environment, I'm not sure yet if it as biomimicry properties like it gives back to nature or if it just responds, evolves, to its surroundings.
Either way I'd like to discuss this as it suggests we start inhabiting a more living and adaptable environment like a living thing, and I will consider why we need this and how could it be used in products.

Alberti, Sandro (2002), Biomimetic Architecture

This book looks at more examples of biomimiced materials and what they have been used for, again I've seen a reference for colour through structure, and there's a reference to self healing materials just like we are able to repair ourselves.
Looking through examples of biomimiced materials or looking at how different aspects of nature have developed such complex systems and what it can do, I could discuss how this has been used in design and possible ideas of what it could do and it's limits.

Biomimicry Guild (2009), Biomimicry: A Tool for Innovation

This is a system developed by the 'Biomimicry Guild' for designers to look at and consider during designing for a specific brief. Just be creating questioning hurdles for a designer to think about before continuing the design.
This will just be plainly useful for me personally but it'll be interesting to discuss against other design systems that have devised, and I shall also talk about why it's important that this tool has been set up to be used.

Keith Evan Green, R.A., Ph.D. (2005), The “Bio-logic” Architecture

This publication discusses that as our buildings and possessions start to look more natural, like plants and animals, should they not also start acting like them too and performing some of the same functions as a natural things do. Things like co-evolving around your actions and habits.
Similar kind of theory as a before mentioned project of things reacting to you as a person and it evolving along with you.

Mueller, T. (2008), Biomimetics: Design by Nature, National Geographic [online] (Last updated April 2008) Available at:{accessed on 11th March 2011]

This article displays some other biomimiced examples and what it is doing in the commecial industry describing work with Yves Saint Laurent and the Ministry of Defence. Also still working projects and what they are finding about certain species of animals and their unique skills.
More examples of what's been happening with certain industries through biomimicry and scientific projects using the horny toad as an example of how it collects water

Ridden, P. (2011), Treepods air-scrubbers could clean up Boston, Gizmag [online] (Last updated 14:11 March 8, 2011) Available at:[Accessed on 10th March 2011].

This article shows a more designed outcome of biomimicry, in it's look and out come it is biomimiced, it looks like a tree it takes carbon dioxide from the air, and releases the air again to be breathed, but it stores the carbon dioxide for later removal, the entire process isn't entirely biomimiced as trees breath in carbon dioxide and emit oxygen the entire cycle isn't there and it's process isn't the same it's more engineered and apparently increasing efficiency over that as a tree.
This raises an argument of if we can find a better solution to some biological ones, or if its possible to surpass some natural processes, or in fact this solution is faulty and ask where is the by-product of this used as nature rarely wastes anything or discards anything.

Biologic: Environmental Protection by Design. David Wann. 1990.

Described as “Guide to designing our way out of the environmental conundrum we are in by taking a system’s view of technology – asking, how does it fit in?”
I have yet to find any more information on this book but is suggested the Biomimcry Institution Reading list, under the category 'Design' which is enough validation for me to be reading this. As are the next 6 sources.
Deep Design: Pathways to a liveable Future. David Wann. 1996.

“In "Deep Design," David Wann explores a new way of thinking about design, one that asks "What is our ultimate goal?" before the first step has even been taken. Designs that begin with such a question -- whether in products, buildings, technologies, or communities -- are sensitive to living systems, and can potentially accomplish their mission without the seemingly unavoidable side effects of pollution, erosion, congestion, and stress. Such "deep designs" meet the key criteria of renewability, recyclability, and nontoxicity. Often based on natural systems, they are easy to understand and implement, and provide more elegant approaches to getting the services and functions we need. Wann presents information gleaned from interviews with more than fifty innovative designers in a wide variety of fields, and describes numerous case studies that explain the concept and practice of deep design.”
I'm interested in reading the interviews with designers and what questions are being raised and solutions to environmental problems. Also on the Biomimicry Institution's reading list.

Design and Nature II. Ed M. W. Collins et. Al. 2004.

This paper is a collaboration of different scientists, engineers and academics comparing design in nature with science and engineering. Looking at different examples of what has been done.
Interesting to read about all the versatility of nature and how complex and advanced it is for what we create, addressing the complexity that also goes into re-creating the same sort of materials in a lab and how creatures can do it naturally.

Design for the Real World, Human Ecology and Social Change. Victor Papanek. 1984.

Victor Papanek examines the attempts by designers to combat the tawdry, the unsafe, the frivolous, the useless product, once again providing a blueprint for sensible, responsible design in this world, which is deficient in resources and energy.
Some examples of biomimiced design and discussing their effectiveness of them, interested in his opinion of what's useless design. Papanek is a well respected eco-designer.

Design in Nature: Learning from Trees. Claus Mattheck. 2004.

“This book describes and verifies external shape laws in nature, not only valid for trees, but also for bones, claws, thorns, etc. It is shown how growing structures repair the disturbed optimum design after wounding and damage has occured. Computer simulation of these load-adaptive growths is used to find an ecological engineering design, characterized by minimum weight and maximum strength. The optimization procedure is already widely used in industry and many technical examples are given. “
I'll be interested to see about the natural shape laws and how it could effect product design, for instance how to shape something to make it more comfortable for the customer to use.

Design Lessons from Nature. Benjamin De Brie Taylor. 1974.

This book is concerned with forms in nature, with drawing, with ways of
thinking about art and about design and how they are related.
I'd like to discuss the natural forms of objects and how people react to them, will people want to interact more with an object with natural form or will they think to foreign and not to be touched.

Design with Nature. Ian L. McHarg. 1969.

“...Design With Nature has done much to redefine the fields of landscape architecture, urban and regional planning, and ecological design. It has also left a permanent mark on the ongoing discussion of mankind′s place in nature and nature′s place in mankind within the physical sciences and humanities...”
I'll be interested to read this and I think it will relate to my dissertation well as this book seems to be a staple in biomimicry and design. I'm also interested in discussing humans in nature and our role on the planet and how we should design knowing that role.

So the team.

I couldn't have asked for a better team. Everyone was open but constructive to ideas, no ones ideas were batted away as silly, Jarred was very good at point out the holes in things and keeping my feet on the ground as I tended to float about saying it was all good, don't worry. Helen, bless her socks, was the team worryer/ worrier/ WARRIOR! she was good at the organising of it all and was fully into the project, coming back every week with buckets of research all printed out in a neat folder and i sat there with scraps of paper I'd scribbled on. She was a good checker of things, "Have we done this?" "Do we need to do this?" "Dhat about this?" "Is this going to work?!" and she gave a great presentation. Liam was the financier of the group and added some laughter to the meetings, he did the drudgery of adding up all the information Sarah, Helen and I had brought together. Again Sarah came in with sheets and sheets of things each week and there's me with scribbled down quotes of a phone call. Must be something about textiles that requires millions of sheets of paper. Jarred was the group sceptic which is really required so important questions don't get asked and we can't answer them, but he was open to my arguments of why it'd work, wasn't a stubborn soul, blankly saying no just because he didn't like it. Nicholas was our very apt graphic designer, who got a little compliment from Hamid at the end. During the meetings he absorbed what was happening and when asked his opinion was articulate with his thoughts, usually summing up in a sentance or two and then was able to pull out a load of work near the end of the project with a little help from Jarred, was a professional. Yunhee was a quiet soul who mainly nodded or shook her head with a little smile when asked opinions on the project, she'd bring in research either from what we had assigned her to do or on her own steam. Very well balanced I'm glad they weren't all me or all any individual. I'm proud of everyone.

Design studies project is done and dusted

After a very shaky presentation by myself, Helen and Liam, (I don't think anyone noticed the shakes) we had little questions, no surprise, which we answered very quickly. I'm very proud of my team everyone put in their part. But this is meant to be about me. So as for myself I do what I've always done for a brief given to me, good coming up with the ideas and how it could work (the big picture) but I dither on the nuts and bolts of it all. I really need to sort that out. I need to treat briefs like a designer. But I was the relaxed one telling people it would be ok, what we needed to do to get over the next hurdle and that panic wasn't the solution. Some times possibly annoying the team mates with how nonchalantly confident I was. I volunteered to do the talking as it is one of my stronger traits. This wouldn't have done so well with out the entire team chipping in. It was a group thing so I find it very difficult to say what I've done.