Nature’s Perfect Design.

Cate Johnson
Jun 27, 2018 · 3 min read

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

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. Focus in on one thing at a time.

Be an explorer. Go outside and notice what’s around. Maybe it’s dogs at a park, or ducks floating down a stream. Some days it’s grizzly bears or leopard sharks or loons or grasshoppers. How might they solve your problem?

Google it. Or better yet, Ask Nature or tap into the Biomimicry Manual. Search articles on your challenge issue and see what pops up as nature’s existing solutions. Jot down what is most surprising, exciting, funny, etc!

Ask a scientist. Thanks to NASA, you can direct your questions to a specialist, chat online, or Tweet @NASAsciencecast. Reach out to better understand the details, history, or connection between your problem statement and this possible biomimicry solution. Experts are expert for a reason!

Remember evolution! The world is always changing, and perhaps your solution comes from another era. You have permission to time travel in your search, and take inspiration (or warning) from species who are no longer around. Check out extinct examples here or here. Think outside the box!

Taken while walking beside wild elephants in Mole National Park, Ghana in July 2014 // ©catebjohnson

*Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. (Source: Biomimicry Institute)


About the author: Cate feels most herself when surrounded by more trees than people. She grew up in the woods of Maine making fairy huts in the shade of hemlock trees, fashioning pillows out of bracken ferns. Summers meant biking to the lake and evening canoe paddles to check on nesting loons. Winters meant grooming cross-country ski trails by snowshoe. Cate is on a mission to connect leaders to natural solutions by immersion in wilderness and inspiration from nature’s beauty.

Want to collaborate? Email me: cate@catebjohnson.com

Cate Johnson

Written by

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

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade