Design Society Biomimetics Special Interest Group (SIG)

Julian Vincent's proposal to form a Biomimetics Special Interest Group (SIG) within the Design Society ( is gaining momentum (see Update on Design Society Biomimetics SIG and Design Society Biomimetics SIG Progress) and deserves a forum of its own.  As mentioned in the August 8/2019 update, Julian Vincent used some of the material from Saskia's BiomimicryNL workshop to prepare for the first Design Society Biomimetics SIG workshop at ICED19 on August 5th.  He led with a chart on Planetary Boundaries and the implications for responsible design, suggesting that just as design practice has incorporated human-centred design, it was time to incorporate environmental benefits.  He used his Royal Society charts on how technology and biology solve problems as both a challenge and an opportunity for the design community.  The resident DS cartoonist captured the the key elements of the workshop.  About 30 people attended the workshop and 18 agreed to join the SIG.  

We still have a lot of work ahead of us before the final decision on whether the Design Society will approve the Biomimetics SIG.  A Steering Committee has been formed and is exploring how the Biomimetics SIG relates to the 14 existing Design Society SIGs (  The Design Society has already published 83 papers that are related to biom* - Julian Vincent and Ken Perry are analysing them to get a sense of how the Design Society views biom*.  Rather than promoting biom* within the Design Society, we want to identify areas of synergy and explore the value biom* can contribute to the Design Society.  

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nhoeller's picture

DS Biomimetics SIG Update

We have a SIG Steering Committee with good representation of Design Society members who are encouraging us to re-think the goals of the SIG.  Jorge Rodriguez contributed an article to ZQ26 ( that explores the challenges of executing biom* innovation, albeit in a pressure cooker environment.   "The Delft Project" in ZQ27 ( provides an overview of the SIG project - page 77 describes some of ways the new SIG could 'fit' within the Design Society while providing unique value.  

"Developing a partnership with the DS will help us define a credible and compelling rationale for biom* relevant to the broader design community. To be successful, we need to:

  • Be inclusive of the diversity of DS perspectives.
  • Promote open discussion and debate.
  • Act as a focal point encouraging interdisciplinary exploration of the relationships among design, natural systems, and technological systems.
  • Create opportunities for purposeful and mutually beneficial engagement among designers, biologists, and other experts.

The DS Biomimetics SIG will help us understand the relationship of biom* within the evolving practice of design by providing a focal point for related DS initiatives such as design for the environment, multi-species design, and ecological design.  In addition to facilitating the transfer of knowledge from nature to technology, the SIG can explore an engagement model such as “place-specific design" that incorporates understanding the environmental implications and designing for environmental contexts. The SIG can help identify and guide initiatives that show promise in enabling meaningful and evidence-based innovation.  By exploring the relationship of biom* within the evolving practice of design, the SIG will strengthen trans-disciplinary collaboration required to deal with complex situations spanning the domains of design and nature."

The team is currently working on a white paper that combines background information about biom*, some initiatives relating to advancing the practice of biom*, a SWOT (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats) analysis, the objectives of the SIG, and a roadmap.  If anyone is interested in contributing to this document, please let me know.

We are also trying to come up with a name for our SIG that emphasises the values that biom* strives to delivery, rather than the concept or the means of achieving those values (the objective was to avoid using 'bio' in the title).  Although we have not yet found a suitable name, we are collecting a list of keywords that sparked lively discussions.  If you have any suggestions, please drop me an email.

Thanks, Norbert

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nhoeller's picture

Update on the Design Society Provisional Biomimetics Design SIG

Julian provided a brief update at the 2020 ISO/TC 266 annual meeting.  The Design Society (DS) is open to new ideas on design processes.  Julian reviewed the current biomimetic papers presented at DS conferences and had concerns with the experimental process, the tendency to drop the biology as the project progressed, and inclusion of biom* when all else fails.  One of the challenges with interdisciplinary collaboration is that engineers focus on failure, something that biologists are not used to because of the resilience in most biological systems.  The group discussed some of the challenges including taking a systems view, shifting from a short term to long term focus, and the lack of a broad range of credible and compelling biom* examples that convince business/industry.  

The Steering committee arranged four Zoom calls in August and September with the following goals:

  • Increase pragmatic and meaningful practice of biom*, particularly in business/industry
  • Articulate how we fit in the DS innovation/design/engineering community
  • Communicate what unique value we deliver within the DS

The first call on August 17 was intended to get a sense of the positions within the community, which led to some 'staking of positions'.  Curt McNamara suggested we close calls with action items.  The second call on August 25th had a more pragmatic focus due to the influence of three mechanical engineers and Julian's talk on the slow uptake of George's Wood (  Curt suggested we run "listening sessions" with industry, which was the theme of the remaining calls

On September 2 and 10 we heard from Kevin Lindsey (Far UK), Michael Helms (PatternFox), Ryan Church (Biome Renewables/PowerCone), Noah Pentelovitch (OXO), John McCardle (Loughborough University), Julian Vincent (adaptive textiles), and Pete Foley (innovation consultant).  The general tone was that business/industry are interested in results, not how those results are obtained.  The focus needs to be on solving the customer's problem, which requires understanding the customer's context and constraints.  Setting expectations is critical - many customers want paradigm-shifting solutions but are not willing to invest either the time or the resources.  It is critical to properly identify the problem before trying to solve it - the "challenge to biology" pathway is often more productive because it starts with a problem that the customer has not been able to solve.  The Zoom sessions were recorded - if you are interested in watching them, please let me know.  

The Steering Committee is currently working on a revised SIG application that will be more compatible with the goals of the Design Society by incorporating what we learned from the Zoom sessions.

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