I teach Biomimetic Design (the technical side of sustainable design) and Creative Leadership (the social side of sustainable design) for MCAD’s Master of Arts in Sustainable Design (MASD) Program. Without taking either of these classes, Stefanie Koehler (MASD ’13) managed to design a technically innovative biomimetic water purifier along with a bio-inspired social enterprise for its production and distribution for her thesis work. Her work, along with her compelling story-telling graphics, helped land her in the winner’s circle of finalists for The Biomimicry Institute’s Global Design Challenge, as well as the deep admiration of biomimicry’s founder, Janine Benyus.
I was Stefanie’s thesis advisor, but our relationship easily shifted from advisor-student to mentor-mentee to co-creators. This is because, perhaps unbeknownst to Stefanie, I was not only learning by teaching her, I was constantly learning from her.
Stef is a visual thinker and has amazing graphic storytelling capabilities. These are fantastic qualities in a designer, but can pose a real challenge when it comes to writing a lengthy thesis paper. When Stef was struggling to generate text, I told her to draw her process and ideas – something that came naturally to her. Then on a skype call I told her to show me what she had drawn – a set of sketches and tiny story boards — and talk me through them. While she talked, I typed. After a few minutes I stopped her, showed her what I typed, and said “This is the kind of text you need for your thesis.” After that, she was able to do express herself the way what worked best for her AND write her thesis paper.
Later, when I was getting bogged down writing what was feeling like a lengthy book, I recalled the advice that I gave to Stef. I love crafting slide decks for lectures, so I ended up writing the whole book in PowerPoint. I love to draw, too, but I knew that my illustrations were not really capturing, let alone enhancing, the concepts I was trying to convey. My publisher agreed. So when it came time for me to find an illustrator for my book, Re-Aligning with Nature: Ecological Thinking for Radical Transformation, I knew it had to be Stef. Together we used design thinking, systems thinking, and biomimicry thinking to create a richly illustrated highly accessible book that strives to take sustainability thinking to the next level. Learn more about the book here. Please let us know what you think!
Image courtesy of Stefanie Koehler