Analogical Reasoning in Biomimicry Design Education

L.L. Stevens

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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“Teaching is both an art and a science” (Harrison & Coll, 2008 p.1). Good teaching excites students and cultivates their curiosity to learn more than they are asked. But what if students’ blank faces tell you that the teaching did not land, what can you do? Using an analogy or metaphor to explain the principle helps students visualize and comprehend the knowledge of difficult, abstract concepts by making it familiar. The National Academy of Engineers issued a report in 2008 emphasizing the need for design engineers to develop 21st century skills, such as ingenuity and creativity, and to create innovative products and markets. However, designers have a hard time ignoring evident constraints on their concepts during their design process. This is especially difficult for novice designers when attempting to use analogical reasoning (Osborn, 1963; Hey et al. 2008). Hey et al. explains how the multitude of design considerations is even more difficult for novice as compared to expert designers who are more able to focus on the important features of a problem. Kolodner (1997) iterates how novice designers have difficulty sifting through the mass of information they encounter. They need help with the transfer of knowledge that analogical reasoning requires. When students can clearly extract and articulate what they have learned, this helps them to internalize this. Biomimicry education teaches the clear extraction and articulation while learning to decipher and transfer function analogies from biology to design. This transfer can also improve reasoning when solving problems (Wu and Weng, 2013), reacting to the challenge in a more ‘out-of-the-box’ manner (Yang et al. 2015). However, not being able to fully understand this “conceptual leap between biology and design” in an accurate manner, is sited as a key obstacle of this field (Rowland, 2017; Rovalo and McCardle 2019, p. 1). Therefore, didactics on how to teach this analogical leap to overcome the hurdles is essential. There is insufficient research on the effectivity of biomimicry education in design to help establish ‘best practices’. This thesis offers advice to fill this pedagogical gap to find out how to overcome the obstacle of analogical reasoning for novice designers, while practicing biomimicry. The contribution to science is a not earlier tested methodology that leads to a clearer understanding of the translation of biological strategies and mechanisms found in scientific research. This translation from biology to design in visual and textual manner, is called the Abstracted Design Principle (ADP) and is introduced and explained in detail in chapters 4, 5 and 6 of this thesis. Together with the proposed instructions, we sketch the net-gain of positive mind-set for novice designers on their path to design for a sustainable future.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • de Vries, M.J., Supervisor
  • Mulder, K.F., Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date8 Oct 2021
Place of PublicationOegstgeest
Print ISBNs978-94-6366-446-2
Electronic ISBNs978-94-6366-445-5
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Dr. ir. Laura Stevens holds two MS degrees in the fields of Architecture from Delft University of Technology and in Biomimicry from Arizona State University. She is a biomimicry design educator in her role as a senior lecturer in the Industrial Design Engineering program at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. A sustainable design instructor since 2007, she writes peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on the topic of Biomimicry Design Thinking as a methodology to enhance circular, systems-thinking solutions in design by learning from time-tested biological strategies and mechanisms found in nature. Her aim is to evolve together with the education of Industrial Design Engineering to Regenerative Design Engineering enabling students to take charge of the design of their future world. Biomimicry, the field that teaches us to mimic biological strategies into design solutions, is the best of both worlds and can aid them to do this. Laura aspires to replicate strategies that work and cultivate cooperative relationships to offer a platform in which interdisciplined design teams tackle the complex challenges of today. By incorporating the education from the bottom up and combining modular and nested components one at a time, she hopes to integrate the development of biomimicry with the growth of a passion to learn more.


  • Biomimicry
  • Analogical reasoning
  • Design Education
  • Systems Thinking
  • Art and science
  • STEM
  • Life's Principles
  • Drawing to learn
  • Nature Technology Summary

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