Do biomimetic students think outside the box?

DS 87-4 Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 17) Vol 4: Design Methods and Tools, Vancouver, Canada, 21-25.08.2017

Year: 2017
Editor: Anja Maier, Stanko Škec, Harrison Kim, Michael Kokkolaras, Josef Oehmen, Georges Fadel, Filippo Salustri, Mike Van der Loos
Author: Lenau, Torben Anker
Series: ICED
Institution: Technical University of Denmark, Denmark
Section: Design Methods and Tools
Page(s): 543-552
ISBN: 978-1-904670-92-6
ISSN: 2220-4342


Biomimetics is a recognized method in ideation for getting access to new and – for the designer – novel knowledge, which hopefully will result in more novel and useful products. But do designers actually find new knowledge, i.e. think outside the box or do they stick to well-known biological phenomena? If they concentrate on animals and plants, which they beforehand have knowledge about, it could be expected that solutions will remind of what they would have found without using biomimetics. To investigate this question, the empirical results from a university course in biomimetics have been analysed. The empirical material comprises 111 students working on 28 different functional design problems. On average teams identify 9.0 relevant biological phenomena and manage to produce a physical proof-of-principle for the selected biological analogy. 39% of the analogies can be characterised as well-known phenomena and 51% are from the animal kingdom. These numbers indicate a tendency of fixating on well-known knowledge. The authors propose that applying a simple constraint during the search process can counteract the tendency.

Keywords: Bio-inspired design / biomimetics, Creativity, Early design phases


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