Apr 25

Design Thinking – A permaculture Approach

Title: Design Thinking – A permaculture approach

Design thinking is a term popular in the field of product innovation. It can be defined as a non-linear, iterative process which seeks to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test (Interaction Design Foundation).

It encompasses generally five different stages:

  • empathize
  • define
  • ideate
  • prototype
  • test

Design thinking in the above context is currently focused on product development. However, this process is very familiar to those who have knowledge in permaculture or ecological design. Previous to the emergence of design thinking in product design, the pinnacle concept in sustainable design methodology was cradle-to-cradle design. The fact that design thinking moves from a linear design process to a non-linear design process (taking into consideration all outside variables), brings us to the established process of ecological design.

Permaculture design (also known as ecological design) is a science discipline focusing on sustainability in all aspects of human activity. Permaculture design encompasses traditional knowledge, ecology, sustainability, organic food production, efficient energy use, natural home design, recycling, appropriate technology, ecological economics and much more.


The term Permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s, and now is in practice in over 130 countries by thousands of Permaculture Design teachers and consultants.

Permaculture is a systems design tool. It is a way of:

  • Looking at a whole system or problem
  • Seeing connections between key elements (parts)
  • Observing how the parts relate,
  • Planning to repair sick systems by applying ideas learned from long-term sustainable working systems.

“In Permaculture, we are learning from the working systems of nature to plan to fix the sick landscapes of human agricultural and city systems. We can apply systems thinking to the design of a kitchen tool as easily to the re-design of a farm. In Permaculture we apply it to everything we need in order to build a sustainable future. Commonly, “Initiatives that are taken tend to evolve from strategies that focus on efficiency (for example, more accurate and controlled uses of inputs and minimization of waste) to substitution (for example, from more to less disruptive interventions, such as from biocides to more specific biological controls and other more benign alternatives) to redesign – fundamental changes in the design and management of the operation”. (Hill and MacRae 1995, Hill et al, 1999)

Permaculture is inspired by natural systems, so all techniques are used to build natural systems again. The following principles of Natural Systems Design are used in Permaculture Design:

  • Everything is connected to everything else
  • Every function is supported by many elements
  • Every element should serve many functions

There are several principles used in permaculture. You can have a complete review of them here. For the purpose of design thinking, the following principles and strategies are the most suitable.


Permaculture Design – Principles and strategies related to Design Thinking and Sustainable Design    

  • Redundancy – Have a backup plan. Be prepared!
  • Multiple Functions – Stacking functions. Wearing multiple hats
  • Design from Patterns to Details – Can’t see the forest for the trees.
  • Produce No Waste – Waste not, want not. A stitch in time saves nine.
  • Observe and Replicate Natural Patterns
  • Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – Let Nature take its course

When applying these principles, design thinking can move from a linear to a more circular and sustainable process and help make better outcome that are part of the solution and not the problem.



If you want to learn more about permaculture, we recommend visiting our friends page of PERMACULTURE EDUCATION

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We also recommend some books to study permaculture in more detail

David Holmgreen

Gaias Garden


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