WHAT IS BIO-INSPIRED DESIGN?
(also known as bio-informed design, biomimetics and biomimicry)
is an approach to design in which natural processes inform solutions to human problems. Designers and scientists have often looked to nature for insight and inspiration from very different perspectives; the former mainly focus on aesthetic qualities, the latter on function and behaviour.
In 2014, Dr Veronika Kapsali (Bio-Inspired Textiles lead researcher) worked in collaboration with Angel Eye, and the Design Technology Association (D&TA) to produce a series of short films that examines a basic set of biomimetic principles. Not just for children, these are a great resource to get you started with Bio-Inspired Design.
Bio-Inspired Case Studies
Design for Efficiency
The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is one of the largest animals on the earth. It can grow up to 15 metres (40 feet) long and weighs 40 tons yet is capable of precise and agile manoeuvres. For example, the humpback can swim in tight circles as narrow as 1.5 metres (5 feet) in diameter.
Scientists discovered that this extraordinary behaviour was made possible by the design of the pectoral flipper. With its characteristically irregular large bumps along the leading edge of its flipper, called tubercules, this enables the wale to manage the flow of water as it moves. This design has been applied to improve the efficiency of wind turbines.
Design for Longevity
It is important for parent plants that their seeds travel far away from them to find their own space to germinate and grow. Without legs to move them they rely of other methods of transportation. The burdock (genus Arctium) addresses this challenge through a very clever design. Its seeds (burs) are covered in prickly hairs that enable them to attach to animal fur or human clothing in which to be transported away.
Engineer George de Mestral wanted to find out why the burs were so tricky to remove from his clothes. He discovered, by looking under a microscope, that the prickly hairs were in fact hooks and saw the potential for a reversible dry adhesion system. Working with a textile mill he recreated the hook and fur system to create what we today call Velcro. This reversible sticking system has allowed us to create adaptable clothing and accessories that we can use for longer.
Design for Recovery
Solid structures in nature are rare, rather we find that nature designs very strong materials using a cellular structure. Due to this biological structural design, it provides a way to create strong structures from weak materials which uses less material overall. We find these structures in bone, wood, and honeycomb.
In 2014 Lillian van Daal was inspired by the cellular structure in nature and used it to create a 3D printed chair. Rather than print a solid block or use a combination of hard and soft materials (as in traditional upholstery), she designed the cellular structure to introduce both soft and strong sections, to make the seat comfortable but the legs stable. Informed by nature the design was made from a single material promoting recovery at the end-of-use.
What is Bio-Inspired Textiles?
Bio-inspired Textiles is a research project that is taking focused look at how some of the principles of bio-inspired design can be used to aid sustainable textile design.
The project is creating a range of resources to make it easier for designers to translate and apply the design structures that are found in nature into their own textile design practice.
Find out more about why we need a bio-inspired textiles approach.