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Business and design thinking are vital to bringing the field of biodesign into our every day lives. Blending business design skills, speculative design inspiration and collaboration with biodesign entrepreneurs into early stage innovation opens doors to more fulfilling lives.

20 February 2023 • 4 min read

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

How do we find our purpose in design? Over the last decade, Marketing has lost its appeal and many new disciplines have evolved within the intersection of Business, Design and Research. At the beginning of my career, I worked on Digital Product and Venture Projects in Germany. During that time however, did we know that the work we were doing would later be called User Experience, Business Design or Venture Architecture? Not at all. In some ways, a lot has changed in the development of specialisms, but in others, not at all.

In his book, The School of Life, Alain de Botton explains how we tend to all be leading fatally restricted lives as adults compared to childhood. When we look back at our childhood, on a Saturday morning, we might put on an extra jumper and imagine being an arctic explorer, then have brief stints as an architect making Lego houses, a rockstar making up an anthem about cornflakes and an inventor working out how to speed up colouring by gluing four felt-tip pens together.

Not only does this description always put a smile on my face, it also reminds me to be courageous enough to tap into new spaces, like all of us used to do as kids. ‘The expert of everything was once a beginner’ said Helen Hayes. To me, the role of a Business Designer works on the intersection of Design, Business and Research (Science) and with this mix of skill sets and disciplines, defines the basis to collaborate with diverse minds and makers of any field to bring it to the next level.

So, what if we connect our design skills to the things that set our hearts on fire? Can we design our way out of an ecological crisis? What if humans stopped harming the world, and instead harnessed her? What if nature were our only client?

The last question has been guiding the work of Neri Oxman, one of the pioneers in biodesign. Neri Oxman is an architect, scientist, engineer, and inventor, who founded The Mediated Matter Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010 where she established and pioneered the field of Material Ecology, fusing technology and biology to deliver designs that align with principles of ecological sustainability. In 2019 Netflix released season two of ‘Abstract: The Art of Design’ featuring Neri Oxman in episode two – which I highly recommend. A year before, Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab (2011-2019), also stated firmly that ‘bio is the new digital’ and it is a simple historical evolution until we reach that point, comparable with the evolution of the computer and the information age. Inspired by these happenings, our team at Speculative Futures London wanted to bring biodesign projects from London to the design community. Our first speakers on the topic were  vHM Design Futures’ founders Clive van Heerden and Jack Mama. They boldly challenge the status quo and open new windows in our minds, asking questions like, “what does a circular kitchen look like?” creating a Microbial Kitchen that utilises waste to fuel appliances – supposedly they shipped dried dung directly from India because British dung wasn’t good enough.


Speculative Futures London, founded by Michael Johnston, explores imaginative leaps taken into alternative futures. In 2021, together with Giuliana Manzetta, we’ve looked again into the world of biodesign in conversation between Lucia Pietroiusti and Dr Olivier Cotsaftis about their latest work and their insights on interspecies design.

Building on her professional practice as a curator working at the intersection of art, ecology and systems at the Serpentine Galleries, Lucia spoke about how creative fields can challenge ‘the monoculturalisation of the imagination’ and galvanise grassroots, interconnected and self-organising solutions to tackle the climate crisis. Although art and design are often assigned the vague yet overwhelming task of ‘raising awareness,’ the examples Lucia shared showed that a wider spectrum of effective alternatives exist that go beyond mere data interpretation.

Olivier reminded us that the more advanced a civilisation is, the more energy it consumes, yet that doesn’t necessarily translate into more equally distributed progress. In this context, design, like art, can also bring new universes to life and help us glimpse better futures. As snapshots of what is possible, Olivier shared his nature-centred design practice and guided us through examples related to the bioeconomy.


In 2019, I visited the open CELL exhibition ‘Biodesign HereNow’ in Westfield London where I met Material Designer and Researcher Paula Nerlich. I had been immediately drawn to Paula’s work about vegan compostable bioplastics. Some had the superpower to dissolve in water. At the same time these materials were made with surplus from household and industrial food production.

Only two months later, developed in collaboration with business designer Giuliana Manzetta, we launched the business design and innovation orphan workshop series which supports expert researchers to identify high-opportunity, customer led use cases and business models. Half a year later, Paula and I started to explore a potential collaboration: a virtual workshop series inviting businesses and designers alike to explore the circular materiality of turning food waste into home products and to rethink systems of waste, the food industry and community.

I was reminded how much I’d wish our world to look a little bit more like Paula’s exhibition, to embrace the knowledge that is already out there and create business cases based on these early-stage innovations. When we combine our purpose with creative thinking in design, the possibilities of how we can approach already-existing concepts and ideas in new ways become completely expansive.

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