Science leads design just as technology does

jellyfish are pumps

Jellyfish may lead to new pump designs.

A recent article at gizmag reported on a new notion for flexible pumps based on how jellyfish work. Such pumps would be very useful for various medical uses because they could be more easily implanted in humans. This is obviously a case of the beginning of a biomimetic design.

More importantly, though, I think this is an excellent example of how science – an understanding of the natural world – can drive design just as well as technology can.

Don Norman recently wrote about the notion that technology comes before the identification of need.  It’s a very important discovery.  I say “discovery” rather than “invention” because I think it’s been true ever since there have been people and technology.  Technology is a raw material on which we can riff creatively, look for affordances, uses, purposes.

But I don’t think technology is the only source of inspiration.  Technology is artifice; it’s the stuff we’ve already designed and made.  It would be rather arrogant of us, however, to think that only the stuff we’ve made can be a source of inspiration.  Science – the understanding of the natural world – can also be inspiration for design. That’s the whole point of biomimetics.

I’ll take this one more step and say that, in fact, whether we take inspiration from technology or from nature is irrelevant – in both cases, we are reasoning about that which exists.  The real key here is that we observe an objective reality in a rational way to gain an understanding and ability to predict physical effects.  In other words, we do science.

I know some may think this is a very controversial statement, but I don’t think so, and I will write more about it in the future.


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