2013 Non-Sequitur: Where Things Felt Right … Until They Didn’t

2013 in review, yay! Nature, happiness, joy, triumph of the soul, financial and spiritual freedom, a life of blissful … Wait, never mind. Let’s cut the crap. Some of my decisions worked out in the end, some didn’t. All of my decisions were a result of naivety and experience, knowledge and ignorance, broad mind and dogmatic preconceptions. There may be stuff in here that’s useful in a wider sense, but these were the things that worked (and didn’t) for me. You may find that spending major holidays in the forest isn’t your thing – in which case, my advice below cannot be held responsible for your mosquito-induced misery to come.

So, here goes:

1. Spend All Major Holidays … And Any Other Days in Nature

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“Not all those who wander are lost.” Mr. Tolkien, how did you just so perfectly express the entire philosophy of my life? Photo taken by Anthony Dewar, the only person in this world, who can magically transform me from an awkward squirrel into a somewhat elegant human-being. Canada Day in Copeland Forest, 2013

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Oh no, never mind, here’s that awkward squirrel again. Photo is still by Anthony Dewar. Christmas in Copeland Forest, 2013

Want to understand design from functional, aesthetic and experiential perspectives? Let’s start with the idea that we can experience all these phenomena, the objects and the events of the world, as they show up during your walk through a forest. The experience of the world ‘just as it is’ often requires significant attention, the quieting of the mind, the relaxation of the body, and the suspension of preconceptions. These are the skills you will learn not by studying ‘about’ nature, but learning ‘from’ nature during your walk in a forest. Once a designer can fully intake the unfiltered experience of sun and wind, light and shadow, damp and dry, fragrant and fetid, patterns of function, aesthetic, and experience begin to emerge. This is the beginning point for designing objects, spaces, systems, and experiences that engender and facilitate thoughtful solutions.

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Nature, 3D Printing, and Rock n’ Roll: Biomimetic Approach to User Experience Design

I had a great time at UX Conference this past weekend and will absolutely write a post about all the brilliant speakers that graced the stage of Canada Museum of Civilization. In the meantime, let me share my presentation about lizards, caterpillars, guitar picks, and my new-found love for UX community.

Enjoying a rock concert with the audience

Enjoying a rock concert with the audience

Of lizards, caterpillars, and love

 

 

Bionics ≠ Biomimetics ≠ Biomimicry

Did you know Otto H. Schmitt and Jack Steele both lived to be 84 years old?

They were very close to celebrating their 85th birthdays, but never got a chance to. They did, however, get a chance to become fathers of biologically inspired design movements and bring such terms as ‘bionics’ and ‘biomimetics’ into existence.

In fact, the term ‘bionics’ (biology + technics) describing the process of “copying, imitating, and learning from biology” was conceived by Jack Steele in as early as 1960 prior to the infamous Bionics Symposium.

United States Air Force, Wright Air Development Division 1961 (Kline 2009)

Steven Vogel in his book “Cats’ Paws and Catapults” defined bionics as being mostly concerned with systems design:

… [bionics] is based on living systems. The word ‘systems’ came naturally to those, mostly engineers, initially involved; neural systems and physiological controls formed biological parallels to human technology’s cybernetics and systems theory

Daniel Wahl  took  a radically  different approach to the evaluation  of the term, describing it from the perspective of ‘nature-culture relationships’ and indicating the deficiency of “salutogenic design  approach that increases human, societal, and ecological health synergistically”. One of the most interesting quotes by Wahl examines the place of ‘bionics’ within the biologically inspired design:

Unfortunately the focus [of bionic-centred conferences] was so exclusively on technological innovation that it almost actively tried to discourage ecological concerns and the issue of sustainability.

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1. Uncomfortable reading list: Biologically Inspired Design

You are probably wondering what I have been doing for the past four months. And I’d better be doing something productive, otherwise I have no excuse for relinquishing my mania for writing. Well, I’ve been reading. A lot. And designing. A lot. I will do another entry on the latter, because I can’t wait to share the former: all the books and articles I have found extremely useful in my biologically inspired design endeavours. Why, you ask?

Because there is such concept as comfort reading when you don’t want to read anything challenging or too full of ideas. Well, my list is the opposite of that. It’s the kind of literature that energizes, excites, makes you highly uncomfortable, causes you to down a bottle Nyquil at night just to fall asleep, and continuously generates opposing ideas in your mind. And you will never look at comfort reading again. If you’d like to give uncomfortable reading a try, proceed further.

As a side note, I am omitting my reviews of books by Janine Benyus, Joseph Bar-Cohen, Michael Braungart and William McDonough and would like to focus on the lesser known literature. Chances are, if you are reading this list, you are deep into biomimicry, biomimetics, and nature inspired design already.

Author: Alëna Konyk, 2010

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Foraging in an unstable economy or why we have to move past the Occupation of Wall Street

Introduction

Foraging Theory states that animals search and obtain nutrients in a way that maximizes their energy intake E per unit time T spent foraging, producing an expression that looks something like this: E/T. Of course, there is always a seesaw play between optimizing the net rate of energy gain and conserving the most amount of energy. Here is an example:

A colony of ants is following a short trail to obtain profit (they, as a group, have found the shortest path possible to optimize their energy expenditure and maximize nutrient intake). A colony of corporations has chosen a path of greater resource depletion and energy consumption as a foraging strategy. Who survives in the end?

The Occupationist Manifesto

Occupation of Wall Street Movement is a successful demonstration of a problem, but the solution lies elsewhere and is long overdue. I am not an economist. I have a formal training in product design, in a post-industrial economy, where most of the production is being done offshore. This really makes you sit down an re-think your career path. It is either time to adapt existing foraging strategy and go into a tumbling mode, or learn the characteristics of the environment and start a saltatory search.

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BBC-2: Of Cocoons, Bulletproof vests, and American Dagger Moths

To understand what is going on in this post, take 5 minutes to read this one. It’s an introduction to the concept of Biomimicry Biweekly Challenge, hence a mysterious abbreviation BBC in the title. I also wonder how many people ended up on this page by simply looking for the latest news from British Broadcasting Corporation.

The very hungry caterpillar

Once upon a time, an American Dagger Moth was spotted in my apartment, attempting to lodge itself between the hardcover books for shelter. About a month ago I caught a squirrel red-handed stomping all over my herbs. It was frequenting my 6th floor balcony with a mouthful of peanuts, lunching in oregano flowerpot, scattering husks all over the floor, and escaping by vertical wall Mission Impossible style.

Ever since then, I stopped wondering about random animals showing up in my apartment. This gorgeous caterpillar seemed agitated and worried, looking for a place to start pupating among The philosophy of Zen books. The agitation was passed on to me as I began scouring for books and websites to read up on the habits of dagger moths – here is what a came up with:

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iSite Basics: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About iSite* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)

Identify a spot that feels curious to you. You might use this same spot day after day or migrate around. It’s up to you. Once you are there, get settled and spend at least 20-30 minutes observing.

What relationships do you see? How about patterns? Describe or sketch them. What are some adaptations you see as a response to wind/predation/rain/decay/etc? Rather than asking “what is this organism doing?” ask “how does this behaviour fit the environment, and what will the organism do next”? 

These two paragraphs were taken right out of Biomimicry Resource Handbook. iSite was an excellent exercise that every Costa Rica workshop participant enjoyed throughout the week. It teaches how to be humble, how to quiet our cleverness, how to listen to the life shaping the environment.

iSite: David and Goliath

This sketch was drawn on the 4th day of the workshop during the intertidal zone visit. I sat on the rock for at least 30 minutes, observing a tiny crab gathering all its might to lift a gargantuan carcass of Goliath for who-knows what kind of purpose. A Halloween costume, perhaps? It was exhilarating to observe his fidgety self, patterns on the rocks adorned with barnacles, smell the air filled with salt and iodine, and hear the sound of waves crashing upon the crab whenever he would dare to approach the Goliath. Perseverance was rewarded by victory.

However, you do not have to go to Costa Rica to practice iSite – Tim wrote an excellent post about learning to observe without knowing what you observe right here, in your backyard. I do it all the time.

I never try to identify the species I draw. All the notes are added at home, when I have the need to dig deeper into the functions and behaviour of my teaching organism. Sometimes, it is incredibly hard – especially, when you are tempted to draw someone as common as a loon.

The way to do is to be

The other day, Vincenzo took me out for a bella giornata of fishing and a river-side picnic. If you picture a typical fly-fishing layman – standing thigh-deep in a streaming Ottawa River, rubber boots overflowing with water and sunburnt nose the colour of a boiled crayfish – you would picture me. This experience, however, reminded me of that 30 minute iSite, observing a tiny crab struggling against the waves to reel in an unyielding mass of a potential dinner.

Vincenzo knew exactly how to weave a loop of line in the air, how to settle the fly on the surface of the water, and how long to wait before mending the line. He was in tune with the environment. And while I was struggling to keep more water from streaming into my already waterborne socks, he was one with the experience.

iSite is quite similar to fly-fishing, I find. As long as there is just the mind (Which organism should I pick for inspiration?) and body (which sense do I tune into?) in the process, there is always a seesaw of power. But as soon as there is a more unifying goal – you become a spectator of a great theatrical performance, orchestrated by nature.

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