Biomimicry Education, A Conversation with Laura Stevens

The Hermit Crab needs to get a new shell when the current one doesn't fit anymore... once on the beach, they find shells, but perhaps it doesn't fit either... the crabs will wait until the larger crab arrives that fits the new shell and then, all at once - queue up in size from large to small and exchange shells all at the same time (see BBC video 'The Great Shell Exchange’) ... we can learn from this... trying on a new job for example...

Laura Stevens, Biomimicry Designer and Educator

Laura Stevens, an outdoor-loving family person, is a senior lecturer of Industrial Design Engineering and a PhD candidate at The Hague University of Applied Sciences. She graduated from the MS Architecture program at TU Delft, and from the MS in Biomimicry at Arizona State University. Laura promotes her interest is in biomimicry design, an emerging discipline, in a minor she offers named, “Design with Nature”.

“As a lover of Nature, I also was a scout as a kid. I studied Wildlife Management at Brevard College in North Carolina and Landscape Architecture at the University of Florida. Biomimicry is the emerging field that combines biology and design.”

Design with Nature, and Biomimicry Design Thinking

The Design with Nature minor is a semester that teaches Biomimicry Design Thinking, teaching about the overarching patterns already occuring in life for the past 3.8 billion years, as well as how to translate the useful strategies and mechanisms found in living organisms. The goal of the minor is to teach how to translate these mechanisms, with a focus on the function matching both the organism and the design.

“Students develop a design ethic and appreciation of the natural world, which helps them consider and integrate design aspects that contribute to the sustainability of the product. Nature also inspires the students and cultivates their curiosity to want to learn more about the awesome creature and plant characteristics they discover during their BioBrainstorming phase.”

“Biomimicry Design Thinking is like Design Thinking such as Industrial Designers use, with one main addition: the addition of nature's principles, strategies, and mechanisms in each design phase, from the scoping of the design challenge to the evaluation of the solutions.”

Biomimicry education

“Teaching biomimicry is not simply about teaching how to integrate the mechanisms. If students design perfectly mimicked products, but these products are produced in a sweatshop by childrens fingers, then they have missed the point. I want to measure what kind of influence the biomimicry methodology has on the students, beyond the biomimicry examples.”

“The advantages of multi-disciplines working together is that each approaches the challenge from their own perspective. It would be fantastic to have a biologist at the design table (BADT) for example. A high school biology teacher is a perfect BADT because they know more about many organisms. But also if a design team invites a specialist of gecko feet to design a product that climbs many surfaces, that is also an essential way to approach the design. Now, many students look for biological answers on the website '' and look to Google Scholar to find primary research done by biological specialists on a specific organism's function... like the climbing mechanism of Gecko feet.”

Reflecting on lessons learned about biomimicry education

“I have found that even the most skeptical student feels the awe of what they find out about the cool mechanisms they do research into. Two years ago, when we were all face to face in the entire semester, each student ended up as an ambassador of a particular organism that they fell in love with. They 'adopted' the plants and animals they had discovered. This changed some of them as designers and offered them the tools to know how to do the translations themselves.  Last year brought more biomimicry ambassadors towards graduation. A student, Mari Genova, fell in love with the filtering organisms that will inspire the mechanism for her biodegradable facemask. I also found out that teaching biomimicry is a double job. First you teach Design Thinking, second you integrate the teaching of how to find the organisms that do what the design solution needs to do, and then you teach them how to translate the mechanisms. This is not rocket science, but it takes a lot of patience and practice and students must be dedicated enough to want to learn and 'go the extra mile'. Teaching this online has proven to be an even bigger challenge for me, because one of the most helpful tools are the natural artefacts themselves... I have a huge collection that I share with the students, and the blackboard in the innovation playground had proven to be perfect for drawing and visualizing each phase. I miss that enormously.”

“I see this minor continuing as a semester long Biomimicry Design Thinking course, and from that come a growing number of students and (teachers) who want to iterate, going to the graduation lab at Mission Zero to continue and improve their own translation phase. I also see the potential for a biomimicry research group, and I hope to educate enough new biomimic designers and other disciples in the field to tackle global challenges without the assessment phase that we have right now. This would mean that members of the research group would be able to focus on doing the research and design without having to worry about a grade. We could be an asset to the field by focusing on ecosystem services or on specific challenges where there is no 'sustainable' solution to yet. Inspiring those involved to be passionate about what they are doing is an added bonus.”

The potential of biomimicry design

“The potential is huge. I believe that you can consider just about every challenge we face today by using biomimicry methodology. It is all about asking the right question, what does the solution need to DO? 

For example, we don't say, "Design a new wheel", but "Design a way to transport from A to B in x manner or through Y medium"... then we ask Nature, 'How does Nature move or stay put?' . So, to me, the opportunities are endless to assist in thinking of and designing solutions for our current global challenges.”

“Biomimicry design offers a new way of looking at the challenge, has the intention to contribute to sustainability of the solutions and can bring multiple disciples together towards the same goal. Biomimicry emulates the mechanisms in Nature, Reconnects with Nature through the study of the awesome organisms and ecosystems, and offers guidance while considering ethical design decisions. Emulate, Reconnect and Ethos are the three essential elements of Biomimicry. If you just mimic (emulate) then you are missing 2 essential elements and may have forgotten about ethical decisions that should be made.”

“10 years ago, there were only a few biomimics... now is the time to become one since it is still an emerging discipline which combines many fields. It is something that offers new knowledge that can be added to your current knowledge. It brings disciplines together and teaches how to communicate their own field to that of the other through its visual but also deeply researched methodology.”

Final words

“Call me, text me, find me on Instagram (@biomimicry_education) or Join me in a Biomimicry Design Jam sometime and experience it yourself. It is actually the only way to gain the appreciation of the field while having fun and while getting inspired to find interesting solutions. I'm curious as to who might like to join a Biomimicry Research Group - and to take inventory of the need for a biomimicry research group so that this may become a reality - let your own interest be heard and, we might make an important mark for THUAS in the Netherlands and around the world. Biomimicry education and research is just in the 'kinderschoenen' - It is my own passion now and I always love sharing the knowledge I've been so lucky to gain. It would be awesome to share this with like-minded-solution-searchers. This is an important change.”

Get in touch with Laura

Linkedin: Laura Stevens