Teaching Students about Mutualistic Design: What Is It and How Is It Applied?


Sustainable and Circular Design leave too many questions when it comes to building a nature positive society. Mutualistic Design (MD - formerly Symbiotic Design) builds on 47 years of Permaculture Design and its ability to create a nature positive society and applies it to product design. Permaculture loosely defines the goal of a sustainable society as the development of a keystone human species that can heal and enhance the earth and its inhabitants through the fulfillment of its own needs. MD clarifies to designers what it means to design products that align with these goals. Traditional societies have done this before but transitioning an industrial society, peacefully towards this is the challenge. Permaculture offers practical and applicable solutions that build resilience in a world impacted by climate change and declining resources. Translating this process to the diverse world of industrial products within a capitalistic society is the challenge. A 4 page MD guide walks the reader and students through each product design consideration, integrating permaculture principles to build products that reflect the renewability and the finiteness of energy and materiality used in the manufacture and use of products. Permaculture/Regeneratively grown materials can also assist in Climate Drawdown, as identified by Drawdown.org. This paper will share the experience of teaching 4th year Industrial Design students about this topic in a studio setting and a lecture course around ID Theory and Methods and the results that came from the student work. It also shares a couple of industry results in applying these practices.


Braden Trauth
Assistant Professor of Industrial Design, College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, University of Cincinnati, Ohio, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Design Education


Regenerative Materials, Nature Positive, Permaculture Design, Mutualism

Digital Media


Teaching Students About Mutualistic Design: Ted Talk (Embed)
Teaching Students About Mutualistic Design: Pbs (Embed)
Teaching Students About Mutualistic Design: Generative Independent Products (Embed)
Teaching Students About Mutualistic Design (Embed)
Teaching Students About Mutualistic Design: Intro (Embed)
Teaching Students About Mutualistic Design :Regenerative Organic Certification (Embed)


Teaching Students about Mutualistic Design (pdf)