Design Across Biological Scales

The art of emulating life: design across biological scales!

Workshop Dates: August 26-30, 2019

This workshop is taking place in the Costa Rican jungle! Read more about accommodation at La Selva Research Station here.

Faculty: Rebeca Mora & Monika Seyfried

Enrol here!

What is this workshop?

At this point in our global ecological crisis, the survival of humanity will require a fundamental shift in our attitude toward nature: from finding out how we can dominate and manipulate nature to how we can learn from it. This course could be summed up as an awakening: reconnection with Nature of which we are part. Participants will know a tool of design, a scientific discipline, a creative method, a strategy for our survival and a movement with a distinctive character of sustainability. It will capture your imagination in a pragmatic and culturally transforming way. We will find sustainable and practical solutions to problems of daily life by emulating the countless recipes and strategies that nature has developed (bacteria, crustaceans, birds, plants, forests, etc.) in 3.8 billion years of evolution. This course involves an active search, a conscious foresight; it does not imply extracting from nature, it implies learning from it. Human beings are not simply observers of nature, as if we were looking at it from a bubble. We are 100% nature. Therefore, ingenious and beautiful as well as the countless strategists on which this course is inspired, it is time to intensify the inventiveness and look for more practical applications and answers based on the sustainable, effective and even aesthetically attractive solutions that nature developed a long time ago. In general, designs, products and systems inspired by the principles of nature have the potential to be leaders in innovation, energy efficiency, production of limiting resources and sustainability in general.


This course is designed to introduce students from different backgrounds, interests and careers the basic fundamentals of Bioinspired design from the aesthetic and also functional point of view, its methodology and its application as a design tool in creative processes. Participants have the opportunity, through dedicated time and access to sources of interest, to explore the application of these basic foundations in their own field or area of interest. The course offers the opportunity to connect, see, feel and touch local biodiversity, and to experience the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary nature of the proposal, learning how to access and communicate with people from diverse perspectives and experiences.

What will you learn?

This course falls within areas such as design, science, problem solving methods, sustainability and radical innovation and, according to the professional profile, answers the following driving questions:

How can we learn from and then emulate natural forms, processes and ecosystems to create more sustainable designs?

What would nature do here?

How do we make the act of asking nature for advice a normal part of everyday inventing?

The acquirement of the following skills, values, attitudes and abilities will be promoted during the course:

a) an in-demand skill set for innovation, creativity and collaboration

b) an avenue for contributing to meaningful work

c) a way to bring the natural world into professional and personal lives

d) the ability to understand and generate sustainable biomimetic solutions

e) Team work and leadership

f) Being the change, we want to see in the world

g) Turning to nature for inspiration

h) Admiration, respect and awe for nature

i) Reinvent what you make and how you make it

j)  Infusing life’s systemic wisdom into design

k) Design consciously

l)  Converse with nature

m) To create conditions conducive to life

n) Oral and written communication

o) Interacting well with others, transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary connections.

p) Negotiating while inspiring trust and empathy

q) In-depth observing

r) Paradigm shifting

How will you learn it?

This course imbibes a transdisciplinary/multidisciplinary discipline that requires the interaction of professionals of different formations at the design table. The course covers the fundamental tools through lectures, exercises, conversations and reflections. Through work with specific tools in nature, participants will develop relationships with the other members of the course and the environment in which they are learning. The participants will be more intimately acquainted with the diversity of local species by spending time outdoors with the instructors and the rest of the participants fostering an atmosphere of dialogue and exchange. The course ends with a final presentation of the stage called “Design Lab”, to its colleagues, highlighting the integration of the learning program in a set of individualized instruments for its practice, strengthening and formalizing the relationship of the participant with their professional area through group feedback, exercises, conversations and reflection. The course consists of master classes, demonstrative and theoretical-practical of the different subjects. Within the didactic principles, the principle of proximity will be implemented, where the aim is to integrate teaching as close as possible to the student’s daily life.

We want to encourage free expression, creativity, brainstorming and debates within the group.

In general, this course is characterized by problem-solving and inquiry-based learning activities with which students formulate and test their ideas, draw conclusions and inferences, and pool and convey their knowledge in a collaborative learning environment.

  1. Social learning.
  2. Project-based learning.
  3. Inquiry, prompt students to formulate their own questions.
  4. Multiple intelligences.
  5. Hands-on activities.
  6.  Daily journal (helps the students to better understand how their own experiences contribute to the formation of their theories and observational notes, and then comparing them to another student reiterates that different backgrounds and cultures create different outlooks, while neither is wrong, both should be respected).
  7. Biomimicry tool.
  8. Brainstorming.
  9.   Design Tables




  1. Origins of bio inspired design, history.
  2. Biomimicry and other similar research lines.
  3. Definition of bio…tools

“Consciously emulate the genius of nature”.

“Active search for strategies of nature prior to the proposal of a product”.

“Learn from and emulate natural forms and strategies to design”.

   III.  Levels:

Emulate forms

Emulate processes

Emulate ecosystems

  1. Essential elements, paradigm shifting:

Ethos: the fundamental character of the spirit of a culture. The essence of our ethics, intentions and our philosophy of why practice biomimicry.

Emulate: our intention to proceed appropriately on this planet using nature as a mentor, model and measure.

Reconnection: recover the knowledge and understanding that two separate identities are totally linked (humanity and nature).


  1. Principles of life, study definition and examples:

The following are the life principles/strategies used and endorsed at world-wide levels and proposed for the methodology of biomimicry (Janine Benyus, founder of, Ask

  1. Evolve to survive
  2. Adapt to changing conditions
  3. Integrate development with growth
  4. Use local materials-energy
  5. Using natural chemistry
  6. Use of the Principles of Life tool

The importance of life principles to achieve paradigm changes.

Application of the Life Principles to design.

The circle of the principles of life.



  1.  Phases of bio thinking and practices for its implementation.

IDENTIFY: The problem and the context

DISCOVER: Exploratory research to identify the inspiration of my design

CREATE: Persecution of creative solutions and designs

EVALUATE: Measure, evaluate and estimate the friendliness (with the environment), sustainability, quality, ability and significance of a certain solution.


  1. Know the local species, which allows access to the genius of the place in practice.

How to evaluate case studies?

From Biology to design.

From the challenge to Biology.

How to manage databases:,

SESSION E: “DESIGN LABORATORY”. Multidisciplinary Design table.

Each group will be given a design challenge for which they will have to propose a product (inspired by nature) that solves the problem raised using the proposed methodology. A final presentation is evaluated that includes the prototype of the design, recognitions for the organisms/mentors, systems, emulated principles, integration of the principles of life and the detailed steps of the whole process. The development of visually appealing, clear and concise presentations will be encouraged.

Is this for you?

It is recommended a multidisciplinary group conformed by students from different backgrounds, interests and careers. The nature of problem-solving from this perspective reflects the very essence of the transdisciplinary methodology used for creating new knowledge. First, transdisciplinary knowledge is complex and emergent, meaning the knowledge is continually changing as it is created, an idea which parallels with bioinspired solutions assumption that people have to adapt, deconstruct and recreate as needed. Transdisciplinary knowledge is alive because the problems being addressed are alive, emerging from the life world. In the case of biomimicry, the solutions emerge from nature (which is alive as well), as discovered and interpreted by a multidisciplinary design table of humans and other species used as mentors.

What you need to bring to this workshop:

In bold (provided by CIID)

Numerous field trips will be scheduled to sites of interest in order to illustrate the theoretical concepts presented in class and thus expand knowledge. However, constantly, as part of the lessons and development of objectives numerous exercises of the course will be held outside, parks and open air.

For the field trip you will need:

  • Sketching book with writing tools
  • Diary
  • An easy to transport treasure box or chest
  • A blanket to lie on nature
  • Magnifying glass
  • Pamphlets with the biological diversity of the area, natural guides

For design table you will need:

  1. Custom materials according to projects
  2. We will have to print certain material per student
  3. Cards with glue for brainstorming
  4. Large cards to diagram

In order to facilitate learning and course development a range of recent bibliographic materials, multi-media equipment for individual presentations (with wi-fi access in each classroom), furniture and acrylic boards are placed at the disposition of students for weekly sessions.

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