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

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