Every night at 8 o’clock sharp I hear it. It rolls through the neighborhood just east of me before it hits my building and those around it. My neighbors lean out their windows and open sliding doors, listening before they join in. A few walk outside to bask in it, smiling and grounding. After 30 seconds or so, the dogs join in. Higher pitched than our frequency and accompanied by whines and barks, too.

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A few weeks ago it snowed. A lot. Three feet or so, between two storms. We hit a record for snow this year. The snowiest place in America. And the snowiest winter on record for this mountain town. On the second day of the storm, my windows closed for warmth, I looked at my watch and discovered it was 9 pm. I’d missed it. Supremely disappointed, I considered setting an alarm…but somehow the spontaneously seeming event felt wrong to plan for. It felt best wondering it would keep happening. …

It’s springtime and in Washington DC the cherry blossom trees are in full bloom. I haven’t written since I moved across the country last summer. While trees may be blooming in DC, here in my new home in Colorado it is snowing furiously.

I’ve been spending a lot of time near trees here, despite the March yo-yo of sunshine and ice. Boulder feels a bit like the old, old west recently, with little to no traffic noise and mountain lions roaming the empty streets. The lions are spending time in trees, too, even downtown. …

I love this question. While social media leaves much to be desired, I do love how it prompts us to reflect on where we’ve been and how far we’ve come. When I logged into Facebook earlier this week, I was inundated with photos of elephants and baboons that brought back vivid memories of hot days under the African sun.

5 years ago today I was in Ghana.

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I had arrived just a few days after finishing the first year of my MBA program and was ready to settle into an exciting and uncertain few months in a new country, new continent, and new start-up role. I began as an intern, teammate #6 (I think), at the ECGL headquarters in Accra. My role at Ecolodge Company Ghana, Ltd, was to lead the creation and management of the online brand and marketing of their first ecolodge, a property called Zaina Lodge. …

When added together, these ingredients can create beauty, connection, and a whole lotta emotion. I was most impressed — and overwhelmed — by such recipes displayed at the recent SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas, last month. This event has become a hallmark event for me each spring: an epic overload of inspiration that blasts me out of my introverted winter doldrums and into an overflowing abundance of opportunity and possibility at warp speed.

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Besides the music, film, and celebrity splash that allures many attending SX, the overarching theme is technology. Twitter and Foursquare were launched at SX, and this year I played with a cute robot puppy at Sony’s Wow Studio .

Besides the excitement of the tech and start-up scene at SXSW, the theme that rose to the surface for my 2019 experience at SX is immersive design. …

We think of NASA as one of the most innovative organizations in the world. They engineer rocketships, design flying cars, and allow humans to live in outer space. NASA fills us with a sense of wonder and possibility. Why, then, have NASA leaders said they are afraid they may not be able to reach their newly minted 2030 goals?

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I delved into this, and much more when I spent a few months last fall collaborating with top leaders across NASA. …

It’s January in the Nothern hemisphere and the temperatures have dropped. Last weekend Washington DC received 10 inches of fluffy, white snow and tomorrow Ohio is expecting up to 30!

A New Englander at heart, I get so excited for this season and the fun activities it brings: skiing, snowshoeing, spiked hot chocolate, and cider. As a designer, I worry that this season is overlooked. Spring inspires new growth, summer’s sunshine boosts our creativity and action, and autumn gives us time to let go and move on. But what about winter?

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Shoutout to my friends at Digital Surgeons for co-creating an excellent event!

This past week, after many seasons of self-practice using elements to heal my headaches through acupuncture and redesign my home and office through feng shui, I finally gave a talk about the intersection of elements and design. …

Can you feel it? The temps are dropping, V’s of geese are filling the sky, and a new school year has begun. It’s autumn!

As the world around us transforms before our eyes, I’m reminded that as much as we humans try to separate ourselves from nature with our concrete structures and air conditioning, we are a part of it. Instead of trying to maintain constancy and separation, let’s soften into the flow of this new season and embrace all of its benefits and joys.

How might we take inspiration from nature to harness the energy of this season?

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Be like a tree. There are trillions of trees on Earth. I grew up in Maine in the middle of the woods and as a kid, I would have said I was surrounded by at least 1 trillion of them. In the fourth grade, I remember being so excited to write my first official science report on photosynthesis. I was incredibly curious about trees. What makes their leaves turn brilliant colors? Why do they let them fall away each fall and how do they grow back each spring? …

Happiness has a positive ROI — pun intended. We learn from positive psychology research that happy individuals are more successful and companies with higher employee satisfaction earn more revenue. Happiness boosts creativity, resilience, health, and much more. Instead of thinking money makes us happy, it seems that happiness makes us money. We learn from happiness research that there are 5 daily habits that can increase our overall happiness. I dare say that practicing happiness is the key to success, not the other way around. Happiness is my competitive advantage — and it can be yours, too! …

If you ever what to check your energy and how others might perceive you, stand in front of a horse. An animal of prey, horses’ brains have evolved to move away from negative energy and toward positive vibes as a survival technique. There’s no dating of “bad boys” in the equine community, plotting revenge kills, or anxiety about what might happen next year. Yes, horses are emotional and have strong memories, but the here-and-now dominates their consciousness.

If humans are thinkers, horses are sensors. Their cerebellum takes up one-third of their brains (vs. one-tenth for humans) and powers their responses to the outside world with physical movement. They are able to quickly move away from predators while also quickly learn and perform many amazing sports like dance-like dressage, cross-country jumping, and racing. …

One of my favorite tools as a designer is biomimicry*. It allows us to ideate with a group of folks who we normally can’t co-create with: insects, mammals, forests and more. Better yet, these design ideas are already well tested and proven to be successful around the world. Here are a few examples:

Honeybees helped us launch the internet.

Humpback whale flippers inspired efficient energy generation.

Forest ecosystems are teaching us how to design smarter cities.

“You could look at nature as being like a catalog of products, and all of those have benefited from a 3.8 billion year research and development period. And given that level of investment, it makes sense to use it.” -Michael Pawlyn

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Taken while hiking near Lake Minnewanka, Banff, Alberta, Canada in June 2018 // ©catebjohnson

Today’s Design Challenge: How might we use biomimicry to solve problems, big and small?

Define your problem statement. Before you can start ideating with nature, you’ll need to know what your focus is. Perhaps it’s communication styles or efficiency or teamwork or happiness. For tips on how to write a good problem statement go here or here or here.


Cate Johnson

I believe in the healing power of nature and the happiness advantage for humans. I value sleep, co-creation, and love. (she/hers)

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