Using Principles of Permaculture in Design: How Mother Nature is the Best Designer

Using Principles of Permaculture in Design: How Mother Nature is the Best Designer

permaculture design

In 2013, I worked on a farm in Brazil that practiced Permaculture, a philosophy (coined by Bill Mollison) that seeks to apply nature’s approach to the way we live. This farm I lived on was entirely self-sustainable. They caught rainwater in an apparatus on the roof that was filtered for showers. Plants grew in every corner of the property, and food scraps were composted or fed to the chickens who gave us eggs. The give and take was full circle. We needed nothing but what we had on that farm and the “work for food” process was extremely direct. Permaculture: permanent agriculture, no need for outside resources.

There are twelve design principles of permaculture and while some are specifically for farming, the idea of efficiency and observing what naturally works can be applied to design and in all areas of our lives. Yay Mother Nature!

Let’s use the natural world to create our worlds, businesses, and lives more efficiently and more beautifully. Nature is our best designer.

Design Principles of Permaculture

(underlined principles applicable to business)

# 1 Observe and Interact:

By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.

Application: Get to know your industry, your audience, your market and cater your solution to fit those needs.

# 2 Catch and Store Energy:

By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.

# 3 Obtain a Yield:

Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.

Application: Don’t continue with a ceratin way of working if results are not worth the work.

# 4 Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback:

We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.

Application: Have frequent discussions about what is and isn’t working. 

# 5 Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services:

Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on nonrenewable resources.

# 6 Produce No Waste:

By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.

Application: This applies to your own energy as well. Use all available resources before putting you or your business into overdrive to prevent burnout.

# 7 Design from Patterns to Details:

By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.

Application: Start out with a sketch of what you see in your mind. Every project starts with a good skeleton.

# 8 Integrate Rather than Segregate:

By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things, and they work together to support each other.

Application: This is a key to great UX. All things are integrated and build off of each other.

# 9 Use and Value Diversity:

Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.

Application: Bring in minds of all types to collaborate on design to get the best results possible.

# 10 Use Small and Slow Solutions:

Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.

# 11 Use Edges and Value the Marginal:

The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.

# 12 Creatively Use and Respond to Change

We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

Application: Our working environment and tastes in design are constantly changing. Keep aware of what is on the rise by observing. Then respond accordingly.

Permaculture design in practice


First image from:

Second image taken by author, Heather Hasselle

Design Defined: What it is and How it Applies to your Website

Design Defined: What it is and How it Applies to your Website

William Morris wallpaper

What are we talking about when we talk about design? Paul Rand (an American graphic designer–best known for designing the logos of ABC, IBM, UPS and more) says,



Design is the method of putting form and content together. Design, just as art, has multiple definitions; there is no single definition. Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated.



Design can mean any of the following:

  1. (v.) to indicate with a distinctive mark, sign or name.
  2. (n.) purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object
  3. (v.) to decide upon the look and functioning of an object (typically through a detailed drawing)

And these are only a few of the definitions. Design is simple. Design is complex. Design is a plan of intention. It is the idea before the product. It exists first in the mind and then in the senses. The designer creates an experience. Design (especially web design) refers to both a function and an aesthetic.

Ferninand A. Porsche (German Designer, best known for the Porsche 911) agrees. He says,


Design must be functional, and functionality must be translated into visual aesthetics, without any reliance on gimmicks that have to be explained.



Design can not exist alone as a function, as how something works (though certainly it is that); however, it must also, if we’re doing it “right,” lean toward form–how it looks, feels, etc. And as we live in a time of efficiency, of fast streamlined production, it is important that we not lose the importance of art in design. That we focus on both what it it looks like and how it feels (how it works).


Porsche 911
Porsche 911

With a medium so complex and vast as web-design, it might be useful to remember this when formulating an idea for design:


Keep nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.



William Morris, British artist, designer, writer in the 1800’s, said this. The same can be said for design. Design combines use and beauty; it is art with a purpose.

A well-designed site allows us to accomplish our intended task online easily and with pleasure. And if pleasure is what we most seek in life (if Freud is right, and I think he might be on this one), it only makes sense as designers, as marketers, as business owners, that we add pleasure into the aspects of function. And why not be a pleasing experience, when after all, 72% of Millennials do online research before buying in store (Forbes). With that much time spent online, we want to have fun doing it.

How do you keep us coming back?

We are impatient creatures, and sensitive to time. So sensitive that if a site takes more than three seconds to load, 40 percent of us will leave the page, making load time the most important factor in site traffic. This is where back-end design comes in–the “how it works.”

Visual design comes in second in importance of maintaining site traffic, specifically color theme. It comes as no surprise that the color we most prefer is the most pervasive color in the natural world: green, with blue not far behind; followed by purple, orange, and yellow (respectively), and then red which actually is aversive, causing sites to lose traffic (-1.35%).

Usage is also affected by layout and whether or not a site uses html (html increases traffic). But perhaps the most important reason to put the effort into building a well-designed site is to maintain the trust of your readers/users. After all, 94% of people cite design (or lack thereof) the reason they do not trust a site.

The Formula

Let’s say a formula for what good design can bring us looks something like this: art with purpose (design) creates a pleasurable experience and trust (increase in site traffic) creates wealth (sales). A win-win-win situation, if you’re asking us. And if you are, we can help you make it happen.

Shuhari: Follow, Break, Transcend–A Guide to Mastery

Shuhari: Follow, Break, Transcend–A Guide to Mastery

We’ve all heard that practice makes perfect, but maybe it’s a little more than that–or a little less.

The way to excellence is to learn the rules and then toss them, letting our inner creative compass guide us.

This is the lesson of Shuhari–the martial arts concept that describes the stages of learning toward mastery. To understand the full meaning of Shuhari, we must look at its three components: Shu, Ha, and Ri.


Shu: This is the first stage of learning in which you must learn all the rules. You must come to know them by heart, so much so, that they are internalized into second nature. They become so ingrained that the movements are mere muscle memory.

Ha: This step involves breaking the rules which you have become so familiar with, not just thoughtlessly, but with a focus on self-reflection. This is the search for your individual potential and goals, asking yourself which techniques are the best fit. In which areas do you as an individual excel? This stage is about innovation and customizing the rules to fit you.

Ri: This final stage happens more subconsciously, as the other steps have been internalized. It is “form without being conscious of form.”

It is the intuitive expression of technique, creating through inspiration instead of guidance.

Once you have been given the proper tools and know how to use them and have searched within yourself to find your own, you then transcend–becoming the only tool necessary.

The concept of Shuhari can be applied to business, art, theater, poetry, web design, etc. To see it more clearly, we will look at Shuhari applied to the art of figure drawing (drawing the human body):

To draw the human body, you would first need to become entirely familiar with both the body and with the act of drawing–learning, for example, exactly how to draw an arm, practicing it over and over and over. Then doing this with each part, with precision of your tool (pencil, charcoal) knowing exactly how to wield them to get the look you desire. This is Shu.

Then once you’ve reached the point in which you are able to successfully depict a person in their physical likeness, you must then break from these rules you’ve learned (Ha), trying different drawing techniques—(mis)using your tool, using an entirely different tool, drawing quickly, using your fingers to smudge, etc. So that with experimentation you progressively move in to Ri, in which your instincts guide you. So that you would not only be able to use the foundation of the basic rules that have become instilled in you to draw a person, but also able to pick from a variety of methods which feel most natural and inspiring. Then moving and acting not from a feeling of what has been learned, but by an internal guide of inspiration, so that you end up conveying not just the human body, but a person, and their essence, and within that, as an expression of yourself, the artist.

shuhari (1)

So let us, in this time of the rise of the creative mind and individual expression, apply Shuhari to our work, our art and ourselves–forever becoming closer to pure inner inspiration and mastery.