It’s the end of Week 1 of this spring’s Intro to Biomimicry course. Our first design studio exercise involved looking to feet for design ideas and, as always, the students are so inspiring!
One thing that emerged for me is how some of the brilliant — and sustainable — functional strategies that human beings have evolved have been thwarted — sometimes intentionally — by our own designs.
One simple example: Shoes.
Shoes were originally designed to protect our feet, but fashion and hubris have led to shoes that inhibit the complex dynamically integrated system of our feet (that includes our ankles, legs, hips, and back). They make our soles weak, skew our postures and gait, and deform our feet, knees, and hips. Of course we “solve” these problems by designing corrective shoes and technologies, many of which are made from toxic materials in exploitative supply chains and that end-up in the landfill or floating in the ocean. These are not sustainable design solutions.
A not-so-simple example: Work-life balance.
Modern human societies allow, and now require, job specialization. This is wonderful because it means that each person or family unit doesn’t have to grow or make all their own food, shelter, and clothing. We have jobs — work — to earn money to buy the goods and services that we choose. But we can never seem to find “work-life balance” because the goals of “work” do not support the goals of “life”. The relentless pressure to meet and beat KPIs (metrics invented by humans) thwarts our ability to thoughtfully and thoroughly engage with our communities, to get outside and reflect and revive in nature, to play without purpose — to be human. This makes us more susceptible to the human constructs of marketing and predatory capitalism which, in turn has led to societies filled with people that are stressed and depressed, unfit and unhappy, obese and addited, and disconnected from nature and each other — all of which are intertwined. These are not sustainable design solutions.
The point is that human constructs like fashion and hubris, jobs and KPIs, marketing and predatory capitalism have led to an unsustainable world. Luckily, innumerable sustainable design solutions — a whole sustainable world — already exist. If we want to achieve sustainability — and be fully human again — we need to set aside some of our human constructs and start looking to nature, including ourselves and our own human nature, for inspiration and solutions.
Perhaps we can start by taking off our shoes.