Humanscale Design Studio undertook a sustainable design challenge -- reimagine the design of a simple stool through three different sustainable approaches: biomimicry, circular economy, and biofabrication. The biomimicry approach was explored and completed by Humanscale Design Studio’s Jacob Turetsky (Industrial Designer II). When designing his solution, Jacob found inspiration in nature’s deep-sea sponge, the Venus Flower Basket, and its problem-solving ability. We sat down with Jacob to learn more about his design process and learnings.

What was the greatest lesson learned from completing the challenge? Evolution as a mechanism is not unlike our own design and development cycles. We call it natural selection. The resulting “products” – organisms and systems – rarely damage the larger ecosystem, and anything that did, would effectively harm itself, fail over time and disappear. We need to consider the artificial products of humankind similarly, or the result will lead to failure as well.

How did you decide on the direction you eventually used? Humanscale Sponge While examining a specimen of the Venus Flower Basket, I was astonished by the regularity of its structure. I decided to abstract this into a single repeatable segment in CAD. Then I linked, bent, rotated and reflected this unit into various arrangements until I found one which stood out. The radially symmetric form is common in primitive undersea creatures, and so the result feels like something you might discover while scuba-diving. Has the challenge changed your overall design approach? It’s another tool in my toolbox now. Being asked to look to nature for inspiration to solve a practical solution has shown me that biomimicry is an applicable approach. This stool would not be possible without the advancements in additive manufacturing. Thanks to 3D printing, we were able to produce a comfortable, light stool that uses minimal materials. The ability to create complex shapes, using only the material we need, based on lines of code we can download to anywhere in the world could be an interesting response to some of the wasteful practices we see today.

Special thanks to Lindsay James, professor in the Biomimicry Centre at Arizona State University, who helped the Humanscale team learn how to use nature to solve this design challenge! Interested in more? Check out the two other stool approaches -- circular economy and biofabrication -- that were a part of this sustainability challenge.