“By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.” [Permaculture institute 2015]

Observe and Interact is the first principle of the 12 permaculture principles. It is the first, I believe, Observation is a technique in design that is talked about endlessly, but seldom used to its full potential. As you observe, you see reality. As it is, right here, right now, right in front of your eyes. In our overly anxious society, we have been told to ‘live in the present’ so much that it has lost its meaning.
So what does to live in the present really mean? Firstly, the universal law of nature is impermanence. This cannot be argued, everything is impermanent. Wether it be  your house, your mother, yourself or the very present moment. It will pass, eventually. Therefore to ‘live in the moment’ really means to observe the moment, as it is, right now. To fully live in the moment would mean to observe every passing moment, with absolutely no pre-conception, assumption or influence from the previous moments that have passed. So why is this so hard, and why is it so rare that us as designers use this as the fundamental framework for every single design? We need a serious shift in the fundamental framework of our societal values before we can even start to see a shift.

Permaculture Icon for Principle 1: It represents to become a tree in nature.

Two observations on my second day of the lab:

very few were even willing to observe or interact with the bins or with the dehydrated waste. I don’t expect to see any informed solution from anyone who doesn’t want to observe or interact with waste.

A classmate made a statement to me: “I always see pictures on facebook of your friend in dirt. It’s just weird.” This seems to be a more popular thought than the opposite.

How can we possibly hope for any decent solutions from people who think sitting in a patch of the very soil that has nourished our body and will continue to up until we die? If we keep thinking this way,our designs will continue to be as shallow as that very statement.


Interaction prototyping is a low fidelity method used mostly in the beginning stages of designing. It is a good way, in conjunction with observation, to eliminate any wrong assumptions you may have made out of sheer ignorance. The scenarios you create will inform and morph your brief to be much more informed. It can be used to inform any affordances, appearances or interactions you plan on integrating into a designed system. You can use any material you wish, but as the focus is mainly on interaction, cardboard and masking tape is fine.


Holmgren, D. (2011) Permaculture design principle 1: ‘Observe and interact’. Available at: https://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/_1/ (Accessed: 17 June 2016).

van Boeijen, A., Daalhuizen, J., Zijlstra, J., van der Schoor, R., Delft, T.H. and Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering Delft (2013) Delft design guide: Design methods – Delft university of technology – faculty of industrial design engineering. Amsterdam: BIS Publishers B.V.


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