Designing with nature in mind

By Anna Perry, February 2021. Posts

Nature. Is. Incredible.

There are no limits to what we can learn from it. Swimwear based on shark skin, wind turbines inspired by whale fins. Pretty inventive stuff. 

What are we talking about? Biomimicry, of course. The practice of seeking solutions for human technological and aesthetic challenges from the natural world. 

Our relationship with nature shouldn’t stop at considering our own impact on the world. We believe true innovators should also be looking at how nature can have an impact on us. And that’s where the wonderful world of biomimicry comes in. Designers, companies and consumers alike owe a lot to the organic original engineers around them. 

The environment and all that it can teach us should be protected and celebrated, so we wanted to share five of our favourite biomimetic innovations. Get ready to gawp at these creature-inspired creations. 

Speedo: Fastskin Swimwear

Fancy getting in the water with a shark? Maybe not. But pro swimmers need to move like the villains of the sea if they want to kill the competition.

Aiming for the absolute best in competitive swimwear, Speedo technicians observed the intricacies of shark movements. Turns out, the secret to a streamlined swim is a variation of scales and skin textures, efficiently directing water flow over the body. 

The plan of attack? Designers combined different fabrics in Speedo’s high-performance athletic range, managing to reduce passive drag by up to 4%. 

Incredible stuff from Speedo to help athletes sink their teeth into Olympic gold.

WhalePower: wind turbines

But let’s go bigger. Whales – the giants of the ocean. Yet what can they possibly teach us about wind? There’s so much we can learn from the sea, and thanks to this Canadian company, we just learnt a little more! 

Although whales are some of the largest mammals on earth, they’re able to move through water with speed and precision – thanks to the tubercles (a regular pattern of bumps) on their fins. 

So, by adding tubercle groove technology to their wind turbine design, WhalePower reduced drag by 32% and increased the aerodynamic performance of this vital source of green energy.

There we are. Speed bumps have a whole new meaning.

Polaris: airless tyres

Something on a smaller scale? How about bees? These busy inventors know a thing or two about strong structures and extreme work.

But what do bees and ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) have in common?

As an ATV company, it just makes sense that Polaris (US) would look to nature for the best ways to take on the earth’s roughest natural roads. 

Inspired by the natural geometric super-structure of honeycomb, Polaris’s airless Terrain Armour tyres give enough compression to support over 380kg. And that’s along the most demanding of military and extreme work landscapes.

Small but mighty manufacturers – yet another reason to save the bees.

Eastgate Centre: Zimbabwe

But which other tiny designer has paved the way for big innovation? Building a connection with nature is definitely a job for architecture.

Mick Pearce, designer of The Eastgate Centre in Harare, is no exception. His building was one of the first in the world to master natural ventilation and cooling to such a scale. And he was inspired by termites…

These mini makers have a sophisticated underground ventilation system, opening and closing vents throughout the day to manipulate the climate and keep stored food at the right temperature. 

The Eastgate Centre takes a similar technique, with outside air flowing from the bottom of the structure to the chimney at the top. The design lowers energy costs and impact on the wider environment.

Termites: creeping, crawling, and always creating!

BioX: Jube

Insects might want to stay underground for this one. We’re finishing with the weirdest but most wonderful invention. 

As part of the Biomimicry Design Challenge, technology innovation company, BioX, designed a sustainable food system like no other.

The Jube insect-catching device takes inspiration from the pitcher plant to trap deliciously protein-rich, edible insects in Southern Thailand. The artistic and colourful design includes inward-pointing hairs that work to guide insects down into the trap. Stylish and sinister. 

BioX hoped to combat food insecurity with this easy to make and sell design – offering alternative sources of food and income to all communities in the country.

Feeling inspired?

So, there you have it. Five wonderful ways nature has etched its genius ideas onto the drafting tables of designers around the world. Feeling inspired by these inventive insects and genius giants? We know the sustainable innovators of the natural world have it covered, but if you and your brand need help sharing your story, get in touch.


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