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Startup Design Systems [Design
Posted on February 25, 2015 @ 08:13:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Lately I've been immersing myself in my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course in an effort to fullfull the design project requirement.

In an effort to get myself motivated I purchased a DVD that consists of audio recordings of Bill Mollison delivering the lecture component of a 1983 PDC course. This was apparently when Bill was at the height of his powers, deeply involved in writing and consulting projects and passing on some of his knowledge and insights. The audio quality is not great, and all his lectures might not be equally interesting to you, but it is consistently sprinkled with interesting and provocative ideas.

Bill Mollison wrote the main book for a PDC course, Permaculture: A Designers Manual, in 1988. Now any time you have to read a 574 page book densely packed with information and need to potentially agree with much of it, you have to ask yourself if you are joining a cult or this is the real deal. I started to have my doubts if it was, but after listening to Bill's lecturing I have to concede that he is someone I want to learn from. Now that this barrier is broken down, I can proceed to get more involved with the book as a source of practical and design insights.

Everybodies journey through Permaculture will be different but if you take the PDC you are at least required to learn a design system for designing landscapes, food production systems, housing, and communities. I'm not saying this is the best design system in the world but I do find it interesting that many of us don't specifically try to learn a design system that would provide us with directives to use so what we might design landscapes, food production systems, housing, and communities better.

The Permaculture design system cannot be explained in a single blog and I doubt you want to hear it from me. I can tell you that learning the design system involves every PDC student knowing how to draw a Zone Map and a Sector Map. Drawing maps exercises parts of my brain that I don't often use - the more visual right-side brain. This is probably a good thing because my left brain works better and gets too much exercise. A design system needs to utilize the right brain.

A Zone Map breaks down a landscape into 5 areas defined by their proximity to your house. The zones are also defined by energy storages (e.g. wells, ponds, streams, animals, trees, shurbs, grasses, vegetables, etc... ) on the landscape and how often you need access to them. So in zone 1 you have your garden and nearby outbuildings and in zone 5 you might have wild forest area meant for observation and learning from. In between you define other zones that don't have to be arranged concentrically around the house, but logically given the form and energy storages on your landscape. The map below is a Zone Map for my farm. Zone 4 is where hay and some wild fruit storages are that I visit infrequently. Zone 3 is where the vineyard and orchards that I visit more frequently are (aeriel map is before they were installed) and so on.

A Sector Map identifies how energies of various types flow through your landscape (e.g., sun, wind, water, wildlife, heat, contours, people, etc...). Whereas a Zone Map is more about energy storages and access, a Sector Map is more about energy flow so that you might design ways to capture or deflect those energies.

The ideas of mapping energy storage and energy flow are sufficiently abstract that you could ask yourself if you can create zone maps and sector maps for an office, for a business, or for a city. Zone and sector Maps work well for planning a farmscape, and increasingly, cityscapes, but what about yardscape, the officescape, or the marketscapes?

So when we start a business or plan its growth, is there are any benefit to adopting a specific design system that would provide guidance to our practice? In the case of startups, one design system that is increasingly viewed as providing guidance is Lean Startup theory. Like Permaculture, there are some foundational Lean Startup theory texts that provide guidance in designing startups. Like Permaculture, knowing Lean Startup theory is no guarantee that you will be successful in your practice (e.g., climate and weather can play havoc) but it probably increases the odds of success versus having no startup design system.

The Lean Startup design system is one that you could specifically try to follow, just like many programmers often try to follow Agile Methodology of one type or another based on some foundational texts.

One question that nags at me however is that maybe some design systems are better than others (or more suited to your personality). Some Lean Startup theory is definitely useful but I also see some of it as derivable from Permaculture design principles (but not vice versa). I see the Permaculture design system as more general probably because the principles try to abstractly identify what makes sustainable systems work and how to design them.

That being said, Lean Startup theory is currently the preferred design system for startups (taught as the startup design system in many business courses) but I think you'll be seeing more about using Permaculture design principles for startups as a result of the upcoming Permaculture Voices convergence (March 4-8). One design system does not have to succeed at the expense of another, learning both may be better than only learning one.




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