Bionics And Design – Bionic Effect versus Tools

Published in »Bionik & Design, Kapieren und Raffinieren vs. Kopieren und Frisieren – ein experimentelles Kooperationsprojekt zwischen UdK Berlin und TU-Berlin«, 2008

In nature, forming processes appear as seemingly unintentional endeavours of optimum. An individual survives or dies as a vehicle of evolution, because not he, but his species must adapt. On the contrary, forming processes in culture are supremely intentional and they do not always occur in the course of enhancement. In this very context, nature reminds design not to avoid the pressure of inevitable optimization by a further generation of variants from those already existing, and encourages it to search for new-found solutions.

Nature rewards the most adaptable, the strong, the more skilled and cunning, those who remain superior in any prevailing circumstances. Therefore, it is not surprising when successfully surviving nature helps us understand why numerous bionic developments trigger military associations. Modern industrial design is acquainted with those labour pains of civil discipline, because, apart from consumer goods designed by Peter Behrens, marginally later, there also occur standardized, industrially produced artefacts of the First World War, which also mark the beginning of functional design. For example, the steel helmet was one of the earliest products to be designed functionally, with due effort and according to demand. It was ergonomically formed, developed interdisciplinarily and mass produced. Therefore, the crucial mission of design and bionics is the quickest possible civil utilisation of insights obtained from nature.

Design and bionics find themselves within a preconceived form. The form is the consequence of any input, be it evolution or artificial intention. Bionics presents us with the task of understanding the concept of an already existing form in order to use this concept. On the other hand, a designer first develops a concept and only then dresses it in a form – the overlapping is clear here. Nature offers and enriches concepts and, along the way, raises a suspicion that much or all could be different. An energy saving optimization potential possible thanks to a better understanding of natural processes cannot be ignored, or, if so, only insolently. A corresponding flow resistance or weight reduction as an optimally recognized natural meta-form is a challenge to design and will join famous dogmas against which true creativity must rub.

Culture – the handling of the world – is created using tools. The software components of this tool concept progressed from ritual to modern law, the hardware from club to machine. A designer furnishes machines with information, and they, in turn, inform material, semi-finished products or tools. This way of thinking has there, by nature, a blind spot where it will be confronted by the unproduced because it is naturally grown. Nature allows a form to originate from within. A direct translation of DNA sequences into functional and form building units has no equivalent in known manufacturing strategies, which typically move from the outside towards the forming. The product engineer’s argument that this kind of the unproduced may not be (re)produced can be countered with novel production alternatives or with bionics whose content is, in fact, the concept which broke loose from the already existing form. This concept, just like any other, can be produced.

Culture requires forms which inspire confidence, gratify vanity, assuage fears, compensate shortcomings, lend strength and enable rituals – in short, forms which understand human nature. Bionics and design recognise themselves as reciprocal contenders in the spirit of optimization resting upon two worlds. Contrary to virtual influences on product design, bionics represents an influence from the material world. The contrast between physically available alternatives from nature and culture possesses its own attraction. Numerous natural phenomena expose solutions of designers or engineers as bricolage. It is the ability of nature’s forms to remove a destructive thorn from every contact with the surrounding environment, be it friction, force or temperature, or even to derive from them their own benefit. It is this quiet accomplishment of multidimensional demands which challenges those who are sentenced to producing their own tools.