ā€œInnovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.ā€ - Steve Jobs

Functioning Form – Designed by Nature

Luke W. in his latest article, “Designed by Nature” looks at an example he recently found showing the extrapulation of a natural form into a design for a car. This is sometimes called Biomimicry, or some call it naturalist design. Mimicry is a bit more specific, as it implies a direct mimicking of nature, while naturalist design is just “inspired” by nature.

Luke saus he is interested in “seeing interface design solutions based on how naturally occurring systems work”. Just reading that my mind went afire with ideas, but few that translate easily into 2d interface design. I’m interested in two concepts of this discussion though (before I get completely stumped):

  1. What are examples of natural interfaces?
  2. Is naturalism or even biomimicry anything more than just an aesthetic approach?

Some examples that came to mind right away are:

  • opening a banana
  • rocks on a creek for crossing it; a falling tree has a similar effect
  • a beach as an easy means for gently getting into water
  • waves as a form of propulsion
  • the whole or walled crevice for storing or disposing
  • rock for throwing
  • natural borders for separation

But to be honest, it is actually difficult to come up with natural interfaces, as so little of nature, is about the same type of interfacing (2-way communication) that we think of when we are creating software and hybrid solutions. Yes, there is much ecological interaction, and the symbiosis that is created in nature is a wonderous systemic design, but that is occuring at an unconscious level. The examples above probably aren’t interfaces so much as they are innovative creations of what are now affordances (except for the banana thing. That is is just brilliantly, G-dly industrial design.

This being said, it becomes really hard to imagine 2 things: what would a naturalist even biomimicry version of a 2D interface be and to bring this down speicifically to interaction design, are there natural behaviors, flows, types of responsiveness?

What I can see for “interface design” are taking natural 2D forms, colors, lines, spaces, and using those to influence the layouts of interfaces. This has been done within graphic design many many times as it has obvioiusly been done in architecture and industrial design, even fashion design, and interior design.

No doubt the forms in nature are quite inspirational. What I’m not sure about is if they are functional in the ways that we are primarily using computer interfaces, given the very unnatural Input/Output of computer systems, I’m wondering if beyond the aesthetics of layout form, we can do much more than that.

I know that from an aesthetic point of view of interaction, we constantly try to take what we think are naturally beautiful modes of movement and interaction, such as fluidity, softness, and soothing, for example. The reality is though, that these are as much unnatural as they are natural and there are definitely equal examles of non-beautiful inspirations in nature as there are beautiful ones.

But still, why not be inspired by the positive (and the negative) forces of nature when thinking about interfaces. I’d be interested in hearing from people about how this would become manifest outside of form, and inside the behaviorial interaction layers of an interface design.

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