Design Brief

"A problem well-defined is half solved." --John Dewey, educational pioneer

The theme for the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge in 2015 and 2016 is "Food Systems." Teams are challenged to:

Look to the abundance of lessons nature has to offer and develop a biomimetic design that solves an important food system challenge while protecting the health of our planet.

Specifically, that means we're looking for design concepts that:

  • Identify and solve a specific problem within the food system.
  • Intentionally emulate one or more mechanisms, processes, patterns, or systems found in nature.
  • Enhance the sustainability of the food system, whether from an environmental, social, or economic perspective—or ideally all three.

What you choose to focus on within the broad category of the "Food System" is up to you. If you don't already have a design opportunity in mind, the information below may help your team narrow this broad challenge into a specific design problem—one with potential for impact and at a scope and scale that is feasible for your team.

In all cases teams should become familiar with the core concepts and methods of biomimicry, as outlined in the Biomimicry Toolbox, which is available in the Resources section of this website for all registered participants. How well your design concept emulates nature and how well you followed a biomimicry design process are both significant factors during judging.


Our global food system is incredibly complex and riddled both with problems and with opportunities for change. There is no single solution that can address all the issues. To improve our food system overall, we will need solutions at a variety of scales and in a variety of sectors, all working together.

For this reason, some of the most important steps in your team's design process will be narrowing the challenge to a specific area of intervention, setting clear goals, and identifying the context and constraints you need to work within. This process is sometimes called “problem definition," or “scoping." The information below will help you get started. For more on selecting and scoping a challenge, review the slides and recording from the Food System Challenges and Opportunities webinar, and refer to the Biomimicry Toolbox.

Consider food system challenges and leverage points for design

Just like all systems in our world, the food system is made up of many smaller systems and components, and is connected to other systems. Each of the subsystems and leverage points below contain multiple opportunities for design.

  • Food production systems: Growing and harvesting crops, livestock and seafood production or harvest, soil health, irrigation, pest control, soil erosion, energy use, climate factors, etc.
  • Processing and distribution systems: Spoilage prevention, packaging, water use, transportation, supply chain management, community food security, food safety, etc.
  • Resource use and recovery systems: Food and packaging waste, collection and capture logistics, utilization opportunities, returning nutrients to the soil, educating/engaging consumers, etc.
  • Connections to other systems: Economic system, social systems, political and regulatory systems, health system, ecological systems, etc.

Consider team context

It is also important to consider your team's context and membership when selecting a design challenge to focus on. You will likely have greater success working on a problem you have (or could have) direct experience with, or one that is aligned to your professional or academic skill sets. Some things to consider:

  • What individual skills, interests, and experiences does your team have? What kinds of problems most resonate with you?
  • What resources and mentorship opportunities are available to you? Are there any university, non-profit, or governmental groups in your community that are already working on food system issues? Do they have challenges they are working on that you could help solve? Local groups could make you aware of food system challenges in your own community and help you frame a challenge to explore. They may even want to join your team!
  • If you lack experience in an area of the food system that particularly interests you, seek out team members or mentors who can assist you and talk to people who have direct knowledge of the problem.
  • Especially if you are planning to enter the Open category of the food systems challenge, think about engaging team members with business or marketing skills early in the process. They can help ensure that your solution will resonate with those who ultimately will implement or use it—and better help you identify those stakeholders in the first place.