Reflections in the Barbican windows; 2017

Images of the natural world have been the muse and inspiration of artists throughout history. But what does nature have to teach us about designing for human needs and problems?

In her brilliant talk; “what nature can teach us about design” researcher Jane Fulton-Suri ponders this question and illuminates the possibilities that the natural world has to offer as sources of inspiration on our human organisational and societal concerns, offering us new metaphors and models in our innovation and design challenges.

Through her openness to the possibilities offered up by the natural world she sheds light on how to transform the business research and ideas process to deeper, more lasting effect. By observing, for example, the flight patterns and coordination of starlings and what they have teach us about how to build brilliantly functioning teams that work in perfect harmony, or how the nutrient- distributing funghi in forests have something important to be gleaned about how insights and information is cascaded and absorbed(or not) in organisations, she transformed several of her research and design projects, creating more effectively designed technology, products and solutions that mirrored the characteristics and effectiveness of the natural world.

Fulton-Suri does what the best thinkers do best — helping us see through new eyes; By asking when nature is designed to solve its own problems so well, why do we keep looking to human insights only to solve human problems she throws up our ignorance and detachment about our natural environment and our strange refusal to see it as being the hive of inspiration that it is.

She wonders, as we do, if being more laterally curious about our habitat might we discover, that in fact, that the natural world is in so many senses a resource to help us design better. Not a backdrop to our challenges but a living organism that can actively help to inspire more visual, non-literal and deeper solutions to the knotty problems of human existence and the underlying patterns we keep on repeating in our valient attempts to evolve.

If we came to see nature personified as a world-class innovator artist and designer that has already solved many of its own challenges, might we not start to look to it as a resource and a system that can help us more — using its imagery and lessons to innovate and the insights it offers us to design experiences, like we would traditional forms of human stimulus and data? Might we then turn to it for some of our most ‘validated’ insight and ideas on how to thrive in complex and uncertain environments.