Biomimicry Remake


Janine Benryus. Newsweek.

Biomimicry as an example of cross-disciplinary design thinking: design and biology.

Janine Benyus is the recent recipient of the 2012 Cooper-Hewitt Design Mind Award, for her innovative research and advocacy with biomimicry within the design community. “Biomimicry is an emerging discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s designs and processes” (Omega). After hearing Benyus deliver a compelling presentation on biomimicry at the 2007 AIGA conference and 2009 TED talks, I was absolutely convinced that this was the next big thing in design. Alas, it’s time to revisit the topic and reflect on its progress.

We happen to use biomimicry in our everyday process: deciding color schemes, textures, form, shape, composition and proportion in order to execute design solutions for aesthetic value. However, Benyus’ presentation introduced endless examples of how mother nature can teach us advanced concepts for implementing and creating new designs. Take for instance, the peacock feather. Bird feathers have a structural color quality known as morphotex. The peacock feather is actually brown, yet appears blue through refracted light. Color itself is determined by light, but how does morphotex translate to innovations in industrial design? Benyus explained that by studying how the structural components of morphotex bend light, that it was possible to implement the same qualities into transparent displays that change color and even texture, with a single electrical charge.

Benyus’ Biomimicry Institute in Missoula, Montana has already provided solutions in our everyday, industrialized lifestyle. Studying how a gecko clings upside down to a ceiling, led to the discovery of the first glue-free carpet tile installation, therefore eliminating indoor toxins and pollutants (Omega).

Innovative concepts of emulating nature through organic technology have also recently been tested in 2011 at Heidelberg Druckmaschinen AG, in Heidelberg, Germany. Heidelberg has developed new printing surface finishing technologies, such as gloss with 3D tilt effects and printing with tactile qualities. Professor Edgar Dörsam, head of the Institute for Printing Presses and Printing Methods at the Technical University of Darmstadt, believes that organic electronics will reinvigorate the printing industry, by producing these new types of effects and ultimately, new products. Current examples of organic electronics include Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) that Dörsam refers to as “functional printing.”

Dr. Martin Schmitt-Lewen, Head of Technologies for Future Business in the Research and Development section at Heidelberg, believes that functional printing “includes OLED displays which employ electroluminescence for illuminated control elements, a printed keyboard with conductive polymer material, and an electrolumienscent demonstrator for the point of sale. In the future, Schmitt-Lewen envisages printed interactive packaging with a display, keyboard and power supply” (Weisser).

The idea of organic electronics and effects for printing, seems like it it’s “light” years away before it becomes mainstream, but perhaps not. Three-dimensional printing has become more of a reality with respect to our near future, if and when manufacturing costs match pace with supply and demand.

Biomimicry is an example of advanced design thinking occurring in cross-disciplines: design and biology. Whereas today’s design thinker advocates social responsibility, tomorrow’s design thinker may practice biological responsibility. Today’s Do-It-Yourself mainstream will become a Do-It-Yourself-Innovatively frontier. Naturally, we’ll need a trained eye to choose just the right color.

Works Cited

Omega Institute. Janine Benyus. Web. 12 Sept. 2012.

Weisser, Hilde. Future Technologies in the Print Media Industry. Heidelberg. Web. 3 May 2011.

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