Nature's Unifying PatternsLearning from nature's overarching design lessons.
In this section we discuss what we can learn from overarching patterns observed in how organisms function and interact—at a systems level—to create resilient ecosystems. We call these patterns “nature’s unifying patterns” because examples can be found broadly across the majority of life on Earth, and they have profound implications for what and how we design.
Putting the patterns into practice
The intent behind applying nature’s unifying patterns to problem solving, in addition to spurring novel ways of thinking and breakthrough ideas, is to create more sustainable designs, especially within a systems context. Taking these fundamental lessons into consideration will help ensure that your designs will fit in well with life on earth—a key step in the practice of biomimicry, and one that distinguishes it from the broader category of bio-inspired design. Once you begin to understand these patterns, you should start applying them at the very beginning of your design process, in the scoping phase, and continue pondering and using them throughout all your design phases.
Your challenge is to translate these lessons into design specifications, quality control metrics, material selection and other manufacturing or process choices. Although it may be impossible to fully apply all 10 patterns within our own designs, given current limits in human-made materials and systems, replicating all of these patterns is an excellent aspirational goal.
Applying each of these pattern lessons to your own designs will take patience and practice. But doing so can and will help you get to more sustainable designs within more sustainable systems. If you are participating in one of our design challenges, you should attempt to address each of these patterns in your design challenge submission to the extent that you can.
We’d like to end with some inspiration from Janine Benyus from her book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature:
… What will make the Biomimicry Revolution any different from the Industrial Revolution? Who’s to say we won’t simply steal nature’s thunder and use it in the ongoing campaign against life?
This is not an idle worry. The last really famous biomimetic invention was the airplane (the Wright brothers watched vultures to learn the nuances of drag and lift). We flew like a bird for the first time in 1903, and by 1914, we were dropping bombs from the sky.
Perhaps in the end, it will not be a change in technology that will bring us to the biomimetic future, but a change of heart, a humbling that allows us to be attentive to nature’s lessons. As author Bill McKibben has pointed out, our tools are always deployed in the service of some philosophy or ideology. If we are to use our tools in the service of fitting in on Earth, our basic relationship to nature—even the story we tell ourselves about who we are in the universe—has to change.