Alëna Iouguina

Lulu is a Quebecois alpha female wolf. She may howl for several reasons: 1) to communicate with separated members of her pack; 2) to announce her presence to neighbouring packs; 3) just ’cause

I am a biologically informed designer and a co-founder of Ecotonos Design + Manufacturing in the process of writing a book on the subject of knowledge transfer between biology and design. I am already experiencing an abundance of writer’s blocks and look forward to endless rejection letters and caffeine-related anxiety episodes.

To remedy those, I frequently conduct lectures and hands-on workshops at conferences and summits on the subjects of biologically informed design and engineering. Some of the venues include Canadian Museum of Civilization, Canada Science and Technology Museum, University of British Columbia, School of Industrial Design at Carleton University, University of Ottawa, Wessex Institute of Technology, and multiple elementary and high schools.

Ultimately, I believe the role of a designer is to become an active facilitator and participator in solving complex systems challenges. It is not enough to simply be aware of ill-defined problems, it is important to seek practical empathetic approaches that encompass multiple disciplines. Thoughtful design is capable of breeding understanding between various types of knowledge, and making sense of the world we live in.

Brian Burns has taught me that a key to good design is responsibility. As long as the actions of the designer are not frivolous endeavours, but rather a means to create something that is good; something that heals, inspires, and serves its purpose – then design is capable of positively redefining and enhancing the quality of our lives and the lives of all other organisms we share the planet with.

What inspires me to design?

I am continually inspired by the world of nature – be it natural or synthetic – and its connection to human systems through Biologically Informed Design [BID]. BID – a synthesis of biological and design approaches – offers systems solutions to design problems and is a critical tool that can help address the complexity of the challenges we face.

8 thoughts on “Alëna Iouguina

  1. Pingback: Helping Designers Navigate Science « Bouncing Ideas

  2. Hey Alena,
    I’m an industrial design student at the U of Alberta. Based off what I’ve read, I think what you’re doing is awesome! I’ve been researching biomimicry a lot lately and it’s something I’d like to get into but I haven’t really discovered any really relevant job opportunities. I think also it’s hard to find cases where biomimicry is used where the end goal is sustainability rather than exploitation. It would be really cool to chat with you. Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s certainly inspired me 🙂

    • Hello Janet,
      Thank you for your kind words! I am interested to know what exactly is your specialty within the field of industrial design? What inspires you, what keeps you up at night?

      “I haven’t really discovered any really relevant job opportunities.”
      You will not find “biomimicry” job opportunities, because it is much more than a job. Bio-inspiration is a lifestyle, it drives your philosophy as a designer, regardless of what you design (be it a new car, or an overhaul of an entire transportation system).

      “I think also it’s hard to find cases where biomimicry is used where the end goal is sustainability rather than exploitation.”
      Having said that, it is important to distinguish what drives you as a designer: is it a desire for sustainable future (would definitely recommend Janine Benyus book for the reference) or passion and scientific interest for the way nature functions (be it sustainability or innovation). I would recommend looking into Daniel Wahl’s works, such as “Bionics vs. biomimicry: from control of nature to sustainable participation in nature” and Fritjof Capra’s “Deep Ecology”. Also, take a look at the literature review post I wrote a few months ago:

      Not to mention and all the wonderful workshops and courses offered by Biomimicry Institute.

      These are all excellent starting points to begin researching the theory and practice of bio-inspired design (be it biomimicry or biomimetics). But by no means should it end here. RIght now I am reading an excellent book by E. O. Wilson titled “Anthill” and found a great excerpt that perfectly describes how to become and stay inspired about nature, which ultimately will translate into the way you design:

      Finally, from my personal experience I can say that it took me at least 2 years from the time I first heard about bio-inspired design to begin actually practicing it on a commercial level. The reason being, it is important to learn the methodology and the language of translation between the disciplines of biology and design as well as gain the confidence in being able to utilize modes of communication when speaking with an expert scientist. Thus, it is important to start communicating with people outside of your discipline. Get in touch with the biology department at U of Alberta, start using biological models in your school curriculum projects and get ready to dedicate a lot of your personal time outside of school to learn the discipline. And spend a lot of time outside!

      Looking forward to hearing about your thoughts. And if you ever visit Ottawa, feel free to drop by my studio at Carleton University for a chat. Just look for a big paper wasp nest on a windowsill and a bunch of epoxied mammalian hearts at the MDes studio in Azrieli Pavilion!

      • Hey Alena,
        Thank you so much for the response!  I don’t really have a specialty right now. I’m going into my 4th year in BDes doing industrial design and visual communication design. In I.D. we’ve been taking 3 different types of classes: product, furniture, and more research-based system design.

        I was in biology for the first two years of university, minoring in art and design. When I made it into BDes, I took the general route so that I could continue to take bio classes and have taken up to 200-level invertebrate zoology and 300-level entomology.

        This summer I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with my life after graduation. I’ve been trying to figure out how I’m going to achieve what I want to and how to create my own opportunities. I’ve made a list of priorities for this summer, to research: Biomimicry, RSM (a masters program at U of A dealing with making facial prosthetics), and ID jobs that would fit me. These are different game plans that I have at this point.

        In high school, I took bio IB and was in an architectural drafting course. Before going into university, I tried thinking of ways that I could combine the two and all I could come up with was ergonomics and landscape design. In I.D, my interest in biology has kept working its way into my projects without me being aware of it. I found out about biomimicry just before last Christmas when I was presenting an idea for a project to my class and my prof, Tim, mentioned Janine Benyus to me. After that, I felt like I had found my calling. I took the book out from the library but couldn’t find the time to read it till the summer. I kept telling myself that I’d figure things out in the summer so now I’m researching and exploring opportunities.

        I think there are some job opportunities that exist in biomimicry. I’ve only been researching for a month or so but Exploration Architecture, in the UK; the Land Institute, and of course the Biomimicry Institute seem like places where biomimicry jobs exist, even though they are rare and The Land Institute might not be as relevant to industrial designers. I think if one treats biomimicry as a lifestyle, then she would have to apply it within a setting or company that is receptive to biomimicry. Like if a company is about making a product cheap and marketable, then they might not be open to spending the time and effort needed to work with biologists and their bank of knowledge. Also, biomimicry might not be an appropriate solution for certain products whereas sustainable design could be.

        Thanks for the book recommendations! The Daniel Wahl one sounds like it will be super interesting. I’ve been reading the Benyus book, as I mentioned earlier. I also just read the children’s book “Biomimicry: Inventions Inspired by Nature” by Dora Lee. I’m interested in both sustainability and how nature functions. I think if I were to choose, I would be open to doing either to gain experience in the area, but the ultimate goal would be to combine the two. I have a stack of other related books too but I don’t know if there’s time to read them all with what I’m trying to accomplish this summer.

        About the workshops offered by the Biomimicry Institute, I saw the one in Veracruz, Mexico and the course at Findhorn College in Scotland, as well as the workshop in Portland Oregon. I also checked out an ecological design and regeneration course that Michael Pawlyn took at Schumacher College. At this point, I’m a little scared that it will look bad if I’m not employed right after graduation and I’m concerned that I might not be able to afford to do this. Did you do a biomimicry workshop in Costa Rica? Was this through the Biomimicry Institute?

        I haven’t read too much on your commercial practice in biomimicry; I’ll have to look into that more. How did you go about learning how to translate between the two disciplines and communicate with biologists? I’ve gotten a little taste of this at the U of A. In my insect physiology class this year, my prof invited a mechanical engineering professor in to talk to us about biomechanics and related these structures to human-made designs. I asked him afterwards if he would be willing to do talk in I.D. and he said yes. I talked to the head of the department of design and he told me to drop him an email so I did but it never happened. Maybe I could push harder to initiate this for next year. I also mentioned biomimicry in my essay on the function of Belostomatid beetle
        siphons but as you can understand, I’m very new to this and I had just only heard about biomimicry at the time.

        It would be awesome to come and visit you and see what you’re working on. I’ll definitely drop by if I’m in the area!

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