The Life-centred Designer Issue#5

Welcome to your monthly inspiration of tools, tips, and resources to start life-centring your design practice.

Choose just one tool every newsletter and experiment with it for the following month, as an easy way of slowly expanding your design to be more life-centred.

Redesigning our co-existence with wilderness

Firstly, apologies for this newsletter being a little late this month—I've just got back from working with students in Italy exploring how to redesign their university's relationship with a neighbouring forest!

The Politecnico di Milano University in Milan needs to expand its campus, and is building into the Forest la Goccia, which is an abandoned industrial site that nature has reclaimed by growing a thriving forest!

Professor Fabio Di Liberto and Tutor Francesco Vegrani have run a week-long design project over the last two years challenging students to design for the forest's needs.

The urban forest 'Parco la Goccia' is the unique classroom for this five-day project to give students the opportunity to design for plants as shareholders.

This entails understanding the plants' needs and values, and how they work in and with the world—plant knowledge.

This year they invited me and the Life-centred Design Lab to contribute by teaching the students about non-human personas to give different plants a voice in design and using biomimicry to emulate how the forest handles co-existence so the university and forest can mutually co-exist.

Stay tuned for more to come about this exciting project and the student's innovations!

This month's life-centred design mindset

While non-human personas are one tool to capture and work with nature's knowledge system, biomimicry offers us the ability to not just understand and design for nature's needs, but to also draw from nature's design solutions to inspire our own sustainable, inclusive, and less harmful solutions.

🌳 Biomimicry

Biomimicry is about studying and mimicking nature's forms, functions, and systems to inform design with more sustainable solutions.

For example:

  • The swarm intelligence of birds, bees, and fish inspire collaborative behaviour for robots
  • The tiny hooks on burdock plant seeds that adhere them to clothes and fur inspired the hook-and-loop design of Velcro
  • The serrated edge of a whale's flipper inspired serrated-edge wind turbines
  • The 24-hour circadian rhythms of physical, mental, and behavioural changes in most lifeforms are replicated by programs and apps that help users maintain their rhythms by changing the colour and brightness of device screens according to the cycles of the sun

Nature’s billions of years of 'research and development' have sustainable and regenerative solutions for many of our problems embedded in its plants, insects, and ecosystems. Designers can study a tree to invent a carbon capture machine, a leaf to improve solar panel design, or the water-repellent quality of a lotus to design waterproof fabric.

Biomimicry is applied to the use of energy, chemistry, materials, information management, and town planning, and can be utilised at any solutioning stage of the design process.

Janine Benyus, American biologist, author, and co-founder of the
Biomimicry Guild, and widely recognised as the founder of biomimicry, argues that nature has universal trust because all cultures agree that life works.

Tools and methods to design with nature's wisdom

🌏 An introductory tool
The process of biomimicry reduces human design problems to their desired basic functions, which are then correlated with animals, plants, or ecosystems that have solved that same problem. These biological solutions (forms, functions, and systems) are then reinterpreted into a technological solution for the human problem.

You can try this yourself by using our Bio-inspired Solution Tool, downloadable from The Life-centred Design Guide Resources.

Simplified instructions:

  1. 1st row—note the problem you are trying to solve (e.g. to make a waterproof tile, the problem to solve is to 'repel water')
  2. 2nd row—explore solutions in nature that have solved this problem (e.g., Cicada's wings repel water)
  3. 3rd row—Identify the design principles of the natural solution (e.g., the wings have surface irregularities smaller than water droplets)
  4. 4th row—Identify or create a sustainable material that has similar properties

🐝 Libraries of nature's wisdom

  • To explore nature's vast amount of solutions, The Biomimicry Institute, a collation of over 1700 biological strategies for biomimicry inspiration, from how to generate warmth, manage waste, manage stress, and repel water to communicating, programming, calculating, teaching, learning, and more.
  • When designing for a specific place, you can use a tool like the Ecology Pocket Guide to identify your ecological region so you can research it and properly consider its needs

Life-centred design gems

Books, articles, videos and more to expand your skills, knowledge, and planetary connection.

🎥 Biomimicry in action | Janine Benyus
As mentioned in last month's newsletter, this 2009 video about Biomimicry by Janine Benyus is legendary and a must-watch for anyone interested in learning from nature to design more sustainably.

👂 Sounds of Nyikina Country
Sounds of Country is an ongoing series from Common Ground to 'connect people to place' through digital means such as capturing the sounds of natural places. Common Ground is an Australian First Nations not-for-profit organisation "working to shape a society that centres First Nations people by amplifying knowledge, cultures and stories."
This film and sound delight of Nyikina Country, also known as the Kimberley region of Western Australia, was created by Marlikka Perdrisat with Nyikina Country.

👂 is a 'global music initiative to recognise the value of Nature and raise funds for conservation and restore ecosystems. When you check out the website, press play on the sound bar at the bottom of the screen and enjoy the delightful sounds of rain, insects, and monkeys as you explore the page.
If you have a Spotify account, you can join the other 1.1M listeners of Nature on their Spotify channel and help NATURE 'generate royalties from its own sounds to support its own conservation'.

🎥 How Humans Regenerate Earth | Dr. Lyla June

Let's rethink ourselves as the positive force we once were... let this video inspire you.

What I've been up to

🌳 Collaborating with students in Italy to design from a plant's perspective
As mentioned above, I was honoured to be invited to Milan by Politecnico Milano University in Milan to collaborate with students to explore a redesign of the university's expansion into the nearby forest. Stay tuned for more details about this.

⭐️ Being inspired by the students in my new Life-centred Design Foundations Online Course
Since the last newsletter, students of the first cohort for my Life-centred Design Foundations course have started redesigning a product and business to be more sustainable, inclusive, and regenerative.

Manuela Risch created this wonderful video persona to represent the needs of fungi in a design project using mycelium as a material for more sustainable prams.

See you at the next new moon.

Damien Lutz

Founder of Life-centred Design Lab

1-11 Hunter St, Sydney, NSW 2017
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