B3D Workshop Initiative

Imagine a world in which scientists, engineers, designers, artisans and organizational specialists could leverage a shared body of knowledge and processes derived from empirical research on natural systems.  In such a future world, designers would not only have access to novel solutions and solution pathways to practical problems, but would also be encouraged to contribute solutions to the far-reaching social, economic and environmental challenges we face.

But how could we create such a world?  What are the key barriers today?  Who needs to be involved?  What are the next steps?  The attached article by the BID Community Think Tank explores the current landscape of design inspired by nature and proposes developing a common ground based on a preliminary set of characteristics.  As the acknowledgements in the article indicate, it has already received broad support from a wide range of reviewers.

The next step is planning one or more workshops to build a consensus and turn the characteristics in a set of actions.  The goal is to collectively learn more (verified information, validated methods, deeper insights) and do more (greater confidence to act, more opportunities to make a difference), increasing the vitality and credibility of our emerging field.  If you want to be part of this journey, please contact us at

b3d [at] sinet [dot] ca

Norbert Hoeller, Ashok Goel, Catalina Freixas, Randall Anway, Antony Upward, Filippo Salustri, Janice McDougall and Kamelia Miteva

The attached file is a preprint of the article published in:

Zygote Quarterly, issue 7, pages 134-145
ISSN 1927-8314

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nhoeller's picture

Comments from Giles Hutchins

Giles Hutchins, author of The Nature of Business: Redesigning for resilience, sent the following comments:

Thanks for this Anthony. This is a well written and presented article. Zygote do good work : - )

Alas I have never got that passionate about biomimetic design work although there is great work being done – it often strikes me as copying Nature’s ways without really attuning with Nature in any deep and meaningful way. And hence leaves the underlying cause of our unsustainability unattended or over-looked in our rush for more (albeit smarter) stuff.

I refer to ‘nature-inspired’ in my work which fits with the ‘transformative’ area your report mentions – new ways of thinking and doing for humanity in these paradigm shifting times. I suspect biomimicry is growing into a new stage of maturity and so runs into the sort of cross discussions we humans love to have once there is a crowd forming (and importantly so to ensure clarity, detail, direction, etc.) so no doubt it will go through its growing pains. For me, most of what happens in biomimicry still falls short of actually ‘transforming’ our relation with Nature - which is where I believe we need to focus if we are to have any hope of transforming beyond our current evolutionary cul-de-sac, to use Gregory Bateson’s words. It is always useful for me to read about where things are at, so thank you, and it all seems quite normal progression for any developing field of innovation.

I cc Denise Deluca from BCI: Biomimicry for Creative Innovation, she is based in Seattle and works in the traditional biomimetic design area (as well as ‘transformational’ work). She used to be part of Biomimicry 3.8 and still teaches students in this design space. She will no doubt resonate with your findings in the article below, and is a useful contact for you in any event (no doubt she already reads Zygote Quarterly, but may not have your, Janice and Norbert’s contact details). Perhaps Denise may even wish to write an article for Zygote with you that explores some of the ‘transformational’ nature-inspired work? This could be interesting, and may help with the ‘what’s the future trajectory for biomimicry’ question I often get asked at conferences. [My response, is that we need to develop from the places, products, processes into the people, purpose – this is where the transformational stuff is, and now is a pretty good time to transform. This is not to undermine or in any way look down on the places, products and processes work as it is most fundamental and gives great momentum, shared successes, live examples from which to move into the people and purpose dimensions.]

What would be insightful for me is if Zygote ever did a poll on how ‘experts’ in biomimicry attune themselves with Nature and how these experts feel humanity could best attune (individually and collectively) with Nature to deeply resonate with her ways. This goes more to your ‘biophilia’ point. Biomimicry not just as a rationalistic reductionist orthodox approach that Western science has unfortunately tended towards, and so over-looking the real wisdom, but also a wider, deeper more transformative stage of evolution for nature-inspired work in general. Such work could open up profoundly important synergies and opportunities for partnering/cross pollination with other evolving disciplines such as eco-psychology, permaculture, indigenous wisdom, ecological thinking, nature-based education, etc. This excites me.

Anyhow, thank you for thinking of me. I hope this response helps. Am happy to discuss these points further with you and Norbert if useful at some point in the future. Hope you both connect with Denise in the meantime.

Warm regards, Giles.

I responded with:

I do not think that the various perspectives you describe are necessarily in conflict. In fact, I believe we need the bring a wide range of approaches to bear if we are going to be transformative. As you point out, a narrow perspective on biomimetic design is unlikely to encourage the kind of mindshift that we need. At the same time, turning 'nature-inspired' into action can also be challenging, at least based on past history. Perhaps what is different this time is an emerging alignment between the ethos and rationalist approach. I recall meeting an executive from Interface. When asked about the long term prospects of the transformation that Ray Anderson had driven at Interface, she responded that it all depended on the continuing success of the Interface product line. 

to which Giles said:

Yes, agreed, no conflict, in fact the whole idea of opposite-mindedness is perhaps part of the problem and certainly not the way forward.  So most definitely, there is synergy ahead not some form of separation.

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nhoeller's picture

B3D Webinar Series

2013/11/10 corrected date of first B3D webinar

Planning the face-to-face B3D workshops is going to take some time.  To keep up momentum, build interest and start productive discussions about B3D, the Think Tank will be scheduling a series of webinars on relevant topics.  The first challenge has been to identify a suitable webinar platform.  There are numerous choices but most seem to emphasize displaying presentations with discussion limited to audio.  Personally, I have difficulty listening to disembodied voices, especially if I cannot easily distinguish the speakers.

We have been evaluating the capabilities of Business Hangouts, an enhanced version of Google+ Hangouts on Air that facilitates virtual discussions and screen sharing (display or specific applications).  Key features of interest include:

  • a virtual 'panel' with live audio and video streams for up to 10 participants (thumbnails of participants show in a filmstrip at the bottom of the window while the current speaker is enlarged above the filmstrip)
  • the ability for an additional 10 viewers (40 with a paid subscription) who see the live feed and can participate through a group chat feature
  • live streaming to the public through YouTube
  • automatic recording and posting to a YouTube channel for posterity

The one drawback of Business Hangouts (actually a Google+ Hangouts on Air restriction) is the inability to participate via a Plain Old Telephone.  Business Hangouts allows viewers to join using their Facebook or LinkedIn identities but the underlying Google+ Hangouts does not allow them to become full participants. 

We now have an official Google+ Page and a YouTube channel, including a video clip used to test out Google+ Hangouts on Air features.  Our first official B3D webinar is tentatively planned for November 21st.  Stay tuned for more details.

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nhoeller's picture

Discussion with Rolf Mueller

Rolf Mueller raised a number of points in his Zygote Quarterly interview that paralleled discussions over the B3D initiative, including the lack of a theoretical foundation and the importance of "scientific validity and depth, contribution to fundamental progress, and originality."  Rolf is a good example of a trans-disciplinary approach - he is applying tools and methods from physics and engineering to better understand biomimetic systems.  At the same time, he is closing the loop by applying the insights gained to develop better sensors and sensor systems.  Rolf is exploring an area where engineering has starting to hit its limits - if he can solve how bats manage complex sonar information processing with tiny brains, it could transform how we design and build sonar/radar arrays.

Sustainability often gets raised in B3D discussions.  Rolf suggested that "While positive societal impacts are an important final goal, they are hard to predict and should not be used to stifle creativity and the expansion of knowledge."  One interpretation is that sustainability is an emergent property - it is hard to know what actions might contribute to future sustainability.  This does not prevent us from looking for evidence that we are making a difference.  

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nhoeller's picture

Notes from the Jan. 24 Workshop Planning Webinar

I posted pointers to the recording of the webinar and a summary of the discussion at http://bioinspired.sinet.ca/content/20140124-b3d-webinars-workshop-planning#comment-1313.  We did not get around to two points:

  • What academic institutions would be a good fit for a face-to-face B3D workshop?
  • How much might a workshop cost and where can we find funding?

In reverse order, a regional workshop at an academic institution should significantly reduce travel, accommodation and venue costs.  We do not need to line up a bunch of speakers.  In addition to a kickoff highlighting the work of the hosting institution, I hope we can tape the keynote speech once and play it many times.  There will be some external (lunch and refreshments) and possibly internal (I/T) costs that will need to be determined and funded.  Any ideas are greatly appreciated - one avenue might be corporate sponsors although I have no idea how one finds them.

Academic institutions will expect something in return for their investment in the workshop.  It may be worthwhile targeting institutions that are trying to make a name for themselves in B3D.  Aside from the publicity, the workshop may help institutions establish contacts with other institutions that could lead to collaborative ventures.  If you are aware of suitable institutions, please let me know.


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salustri's picture

university advancement?

Off the top of my head, I can only think of talking to the "university advancement" departments at academic institutions.  There may be intangible benefits to a university being involved to help arrange the workshops.

Will add other ideas if/when I come up with them.

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nhoeller's picture

"Does Bionics have any principles?"

2014/06/30 corrected link to ISBE newsletter article

Julian Vincent contributed Does Bionics have any principles? to the June 2014 issue of the International Society of Bionic Engineering (ISBE) newsletter.  In it Julian suggested that the ISBE:

"... initiate a project to establish guiding principles.  Such principles should be testable, general, based on data, and capable of guiding bionic thinking and design in generally fruitful directions.  They should therefore be able not only to suggest good practice, but to measure the advantages obtained.  Above all they should be expansive rather than restrictive."

Julian is aware of the "Common Ground" initiative and provided input to the Unifying Principle webinars.  One of the challenges is finding a focus area that is sufficiently interesting, simple and delivers a clear payback.  In spite of the media coverage of B3D and public interest, my sense is that we still do not have a critical mass of people willing to commit resources to advancing the field.  Julian's suggestion was to identify initiatives in established disciplines that may not have a direct B3D connection but where progress would also benefit B3D.


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salustri's picture

Dead link?

Norbert, the link to Julian's article in the ISBE newletter seems to go nowhere.

EDIT: Found it.  It's in the same document as the Pechstein piece.

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