Finding creative inspiration in nature
By Adam Zoltowski
As members of the design community, we are all familiar with the idea of design being the first signal of human intention. The same, however, could also be said of nature and its ability to instinctively create formations and patterns that we, as humans would toil over with little avail. The video below, created by Jarbas Agnelli, takes the pattern of a flock of birds perched on telephone wires and extracts from it the basis for a beautiful musical composition. Agnelli allowed himself to be inspired by his natural surroundings, which are many times the best teacher available.
In 1997, Janine Benyus wrote a book called Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. In it, she explored how nature is really the best teacher for finding ways to create sustainable technologies and societal practices. She discusses prairies as alternative forms of farming and looks at abalone shell as a way to learn how to improve our manufacturing processes. Keeping this in mind and after watching the above video, it makes me wonder what other patterns in the natural world often go unnoticed. Is there something universal in how we as living organisms (like the birds on the wire) arrange ourselves that has a natural, inherent rhythm? Furthermore, what can we learn about how nature instinctively arranges things that can benefit the design process and help make our world more sustainable?
In Benyus’ book, she explores how natural systems have survived because they have not been tampered with and have evolved as part of a process that weeds out what does not work. Human-made systems, on the other hand, are not developed based on any sort of evolutionary system, but as a result of conscious decision-making, stakeholder interests, and financial and political concerns. The birds on the wire didn’t consider any of these things; they just simply landed wherever they were so inclined. In 200 years, those telephone lines will be gone, replaced by some other form of human technology, but the birds will still know how to arrange themselves in a harmonious fashion that would take us days and a great deal of ‘intention’ to compose. What remains to be seen is if we will still have creative thinkers like Agnelli, who are able to recognize the patterns and genius of nature and use them in their own inspired way.
Adam Zoltowski is an interactive designer living and working in New York City. Prior to living in New York, he worked for several years in Washington, D.C. where he did design work for advocacy and non-profit groups. Adam has undergraduate degrees in both political science and new media design and is most interested in how the Internet affects people’s daily lives and it’s ability to empower individuals to create social, environmental and political change. Outside of his work as interactive designer, Adam is also a painter, amateur photographer and enjoys film and live music.