Biological Analogies and Environmental Lead-User Insights as Sources of Ideas for Conceptual Design

Biological analogies are often credited for inspiring innovative design concepts, but not often reported is how the source of biological inspiration was found. Such analogies could be identified by consulting biologists and databases that catalogue biological knowledge to support design. Instead, my laboratory has developed tools and methods that search through information in natural-language format, e.g., books, papers, etc., to find and apply biological analogies relevant to any given problem. I will describe the benefits and challenges specific to this approach.

An expanded definition of lead users is used to gain insights on developing products that support environmentally conscious behaviors. While products have become more resource efficient, product use has also increased, offsetting gains enabled by technical efficiency.  By studying lead users in resource conservation, including the Mennonites, we were able to identify principles that may enable more people to engage in pro-environmental behaviors.  We are examining how these principles may be incorporated into products that encourage green behavior.

Li Shu is an Associate Professor with the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at University of Toronto. She received her S.M. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  She has held research fellowships at the Technical University of Denmark, AlliedSignal Aerospace Canada Inc., Eastman Kodak, Naval Ocean Systems Center, and Naval Training Systems Center. She received the CIRP (International Academy for Production Engineering Research) F.W. Taylor Medal and numerous best paper awards for her work on biologically inspired design, and held leadership positions in both the Design Society and the ASME Design Theory and Methodology community. Dr. Shu¹s research interests are in creativity in conceptual design, systematic identification and application of biological analogies in biomimetic design, and identifying and overcoming obstacles to personal environmentally significant behavior.

Event Details


  • Monday, February 18, 2013
    10:00 am - 11:00 am
Location: TSRB Auditorium