Look to nature for design help

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Published on January 30, 2017 with No Comments

A closer look at Japan’s famous Bullet trains reveals that they are not shaped like a bullet at all. Rather they are shaped like a bird’s beak. Okay, so originally these trains were shaped like a bullet, hence the name. Otherwise they might have been called beak trains, a name that doesn’t conjure up speed at all. The problem with the original design was that whenever they went through tunnels at high speeds, the rapid movement combined with pressure changes would cause all sorts of problems including broken windows. Back to the drawing board they went. The second time around, the designer looked at the kingfisher, a bird that dives rapidly toward its food source. Noting that the kingfisher’s feathers were barely ruffled by such pressure-changing activity, generated a design idea for the Bullet Trains.

Termite mound in Namibia

Image via Wikipedia

This is just one example of how nature informs design, said Jane Fulton Suri in her TED Talk on the issue of nature being an inspiration in design rather than a resource to exploit. As she sees it, nature can inspire a wide array of designs. In architecture, designs can be inspired by termite mounds which have complex systems of flues and vents for temperature controls. Nature gave plants and butterflies methods of cleaning themselves without the use of detergents. Designers could use this as inspiration to create self-cleaning products, thereby reducing the impact of detergents on the environment. But nature is not just an inspiration for product design, it can also inform organizational structures. Birds and fungi and have bottom-up organizational structures rather than the usual top-down corporate structure. An organization would function much better if the corporate headquarters functioned more like a fungus, where the top half distributes “nutrients” instead of directing procedures. Who would have guessed that a fungus among us could be a good thing?

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