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Arts et Metiers Institute of Technology, LCPI,
F-75013 Paris, France
Arts et Metiers Institute of Technology, LCPI,
F-75013 Paris, France
Arts et Metiers Institute of Technology, LCPI,
F-75013 Paris, France
A Shared Framework of
Reference, a First Step Toward
Synergic Reasoning in
Biomimetic Design Teams
Biomimetic practice requires a diverse set of knowledge from both biology and engineering.
Several researchers have been supporting the integration of biologists within biomimetic
design teams in order to meet those biological requirements and improve the effectiveness
of biomimetic processes. However, interdisciplinarity practices create well-known commu-
nication challenges. Based on functional representations (like SAPPhIRE or function beha-
vior structure (FBS)), several approaches to model biological information have been
investigated in the literature. Nonetheless, actual communication processes within interdis-
ciplinary biomimetic design teams are yet to be studied. Following this research axis, this
publication focuses on communication noises and wonders if a shared framework of refer-
ence can be deﬁned to improve communication between biologists and engineers? Through
the comparison of processes and graphic representations between biology and engineering
design, a set of guidelines is deﬁned to structure a shared framework of reference. Within
this framework, a new tool referred to as LINKAGE is then proposed to assist interdisciplin-
ary communication during the biomimetic process. [DOI: 10.1115/1.4047905]
Keywords: cognitive-based design, collaborative design, conceptual design, design teams,
multidisciplinary design and optimization
From Leonardo Da Vinci, to Otto Schmitt, to Benyus ,
bio-inspiration, or looking at living organisms for inspiration, has
been an approach of increasing interest in the scientiﬁc community.
Biomimetics, as the technical prism focusing on bio-inspiration, is a
crucial element in the spread and implementation of these new prac-
tices. Biomimetics is deﬁned as “the interdisciplinary cooperation
of biology and technology or other ﬁelds of innovation with the
goal of solving practical problems through the function analysis
of biological systems, their abstraction into models and the transfer
into and application of these models to the solution”.
If the potential of biomimetics has been proven over the past
decades [3,4], it struggles to become an innovation strategy of refer-
ence. Scientiﬁc literature underlines interdisciplinary communica-
tion as one of biomimetics’main challenges [5–9]. Following a
literature review on biomimetics and communication theories, a
set of impediments to communication are identiﬁed and analyzed
in the context of interdisciplinary biomimetic design teams.
This paper then investigates communication challenges between
biologists and engineers and wonders if a common framework of
reference can be deﬁned to support communication between biolo-
gists and engineers in interdisciplinary biomimetic design teams?
To answer the research question, we compared engineering
design and biology regarding processes and representations. The
results of this comparative analysis are formalized as guidelines
building a shared framework of reference. Within this framework,
a tool referred to as LINKAGE is created and its structure and
characteristics are presented. Relying on the abovementioned
guidelines, LINKAGE aims at guiding the biomimetic practice
while assisting interdisciplinary communication.
This study is made up of two phases. First, the theoretical part
leads to the formalization of the common framework of reference
and the design of LINKAGE. Second, the practical part presents
the tool’s development in the form of an open-access website
along with its evaluation through assessments by experts and work-
shops with professionals. Where this publication describes the the-
oretical part, it does not address the practical part.
2 State of the Art
This section presents the current methodological approaches sur-
rounding biomimetics and focuses on communication issues. For
information on the historical development and legitimacy of the
biomimetic design approach, we refer the reader to thorough
reviews of the literature [10,11].
2.1 Biomimetic Methodologies. Biomimetic processes are of
two types. Either the design phase occurs after a biological discov-
ery, which leads to a new product often with a high added value: the
biology push approach , or biomimetics operates as a
problem-solving process: the technology pull approach . The
latter is the core of engineering design processes in industry.
Thus, numerous research projects have been investigating its meth-
The literature describes more than 15 processes allowing the
implementation of a technology pull approach , the procedural
model of doing bionics , the biomimetic design methodology
, the problem-driven analogical process , the BID process
, etc. Overall, according to Fayemi, biomimetic processes can
be described with eight main steps synthesized into a uniﬁed tech-
nology pull biomimetic process . A recent study optimized the
Contributed by the Design Theory and Methodology Committee of ASME for
publication in the JOURNAL OF MECHANICAL DESIGN. Manuscript received January 24,
2020; ﬁnal manuscript received June 23, 2020; published online October 12, 2020.
Assoc. Editor: Daniel A. McAdams.
Journal of Mechanical Design APRIL 2021, Vol. 143 / 041402-1Copyright © 2020 by ASME
uniﬁed technology pull process for interdisciplinary teams and risk
management (Fig. 1).
To perform these different steps, practitioners rely on tools.
According to Wanieck et al. , these tools can be speciﬁc to a bio-
mimetic process, and as a result were designed for biomimetic pur-
poses only, like BioTRIZ , or they can be adapted from
engineering, such as 5-Whys , or biology, for instance, 16 pat-
terns of nature .
We must specify that the tools that are said to come from biology
are neither biological tools nor tools designed to be used by biolo-
gists. They have been mainly designed for engineers to learn about
Despite those methodological contributions, biomimetics fails to
spread and to reach its full potential.
2.2 Methodological Limitations. Vattam and Goel  and
Kruiper et al.  summarized three main issues designers currently
face during biomimetic projects:
•Findability, that we may interpret as how can design teams ﬁnd
suitable biological data for each, or at least most, of their
•Recognizability, that we may interpret as how can design
teams identify, among the incredible diversity of living
beings, which organisms are relevant for a given design
•Understandability, that we may interpret as how to overcome
the lack of biological knowledge of design teams during the
steps involving biology (step 3 to 7 of the uniﬁed process)?
Consequently, the gap between the engineering and biological
ﬁelds (knowledge, reasoning, data structure, etc.) is one of the
main issues. In previous work, we drew a distinction between two
types of biologists. “Vertical biologists”to refer to biologists who
punctually interact with design team and have an in-depth expertise
in a speciﬁcﬁeld (i.e., a vertical knowledge) identiﬁed as research-
ers, and “Horizontal biologist”to refer to integrated teammate
having a broad training in biology (i.e., a horizontal knowledge)
associated with a cross-domain thinking [17,23].
Numerous processes suggest interacting with vertical biologists
[13,16,22,24,25] but only a few prescriptive processes, in the
sense of Wynn and Clarkson  and Gericke and Blessing ,
describe the practice of an interdisciplinary team composed of biol-
ogists and engineers [28,29]. As stated by McCardle et al.,
“Promote best practices for interdisciplinary working, ensuring
biologists, life science specialists and experts are effectively
involved with design teams and technologists. This is a major
part of biomimicry practice and training but is not a standard
approach with many industries or universities”.
A fundamental contradiction thus emerges. Facing these chal-
lenges, the need to further integrate biologists is underlined in the
literature [30,31], but the methodological framework (process and
tools), has not been originally designed to include these unusual
proﬁles. In other words, methodological research on engineering
design have been focusing on the process-centered aspects (the
“how?”) but have not been much investigating the profession-
centered aspects yet (the “who?”).
In addition to the inadequacy between process-centered and
profession-centered framework, interdisciplinary teamwork itself
is challenging. As presented in Sec. 1, poor communication
between actors having different backgrounds appears as one on
the main obstacles. Helms et al. explain these obstacles as follows
“biologists and engineers typically speak a very different language,
creating communication challenges,”“they typically use different
methods of investigation and often have different perspectives on
design”. Fayemi also identiﬁes three explanations “Their dif-
ferent backgrounds lead to divergent disciplinary or functional
understanding of a concept, whether due to perception, languages,
or ‘thought styles’.”.
To guide our reasoning, Sec. 2.3 presents the foundations of com-
2.3 Communication Theories as a Prism to Consider
2.3.1 Origins and Related Concepts. Also known as the infor-
mation theory, the ﬁrst theory of communication was proposed by
Shannon in 1948 . This theory describes several fundamental
concepts surrounding communication to quantify a coded informa-
tion through statistical analysis. According to this theoretical cor-
nerstone, communication systems comprise ﬁve elements:
•An information source, which is the origin of a message or
group of messages to be transmitted. These messages represent
the information of interest as understood by the source.
•A transmitter, which converts the message into a signal
(encoding) suitable for a given channel of transmission.
•A channel, the medium which transmits the signal.
•A receiver, which interprets the signal to reconstruct the
•A destination, the entity to whom the message is intended.
A sixth transversal element, the “noise source,”modiﬁes the
signal at its emission, during its transmission or at its reception,
altering the encoded message. Shannon’s theory presents communi-
cation with a technical standpoint which leads to a model that
cannot be generalized to all the system, people debating for
example. Following this seminal theory, several researchers pub-
lished additional contributions and optimizations.
In particular, Berlo extends the model to the communication
between two people , Schramm integrates feedback along
with the crucial role of context , and Devito characterizes
four types of noise: physical noise, physiological noise, psycholog-
ical noise, and semantic noise .
Altogether, these studies constitute a representative part of the
conceptual foundations on communication.
2.3.2 Communication Theory Applied to a Biomimetic Team.
Applied to interdisciplinary design teams, these theories can
be used to question the emergence of communication issues.
Figure 2presents a communication model applied to an engineer
(source/receiver) and a horizontal biologist (source/receiver)
talking (channel/signal) about a biological solution (message/
According to the communication theories, a lot of interrelated
factors can prevent a good communication: noises caused by a
lack of common context (commonness, social and cultural frame-
work of reference, etc.), source/receiver’s defaults (poor communi-
cation skills, attitudes, knowledge, etc.), a badly encoded/decoded
message (wrong code, ill-structured), etc.
Fig. 2 Communication theory applied to a biomimetic design
team (based on Shannon model and communication theories)
Fig. 1 Uniﬁed technology pull biomimetics process optimized
for risk management
041402-2 / Vol. 143, APRIL 2021 Transactions of the ASME
The different backgrounds of the actors can be associated with
several of these issues. First, because of the distance between biol-
ogists’and an engineers’habits, know-hows and knowledges, their
point of view, and cognitive reasoning vary. This diversity induces
a lack of common cognitive reasoning, also called “cognitive disso-
nances.”For example, engineers are trained to design solution
through a prescriptive approach and biologists are trained to break-
down and describe phenomena through a descriptive approach, ulti-
mately leading to different considerations when dealing with a
problem as described by Bogatyrev and Bogatyreva .
Moreover, semantic noises are likely to occur. The most obvious
example here is the linguistic gap between engineers and biologists.
Depending on the source’s and receiver’s backgrounds, a word
might also carry several pieces of information. If a biologist talks
about “photosynthesis,”the concept associated with this word is
probably much more complex than what might be understood by
an engineer. The biologist then assumes the engineer’s degree of
knowledge on associated concepts, which can lead to loss of
Furthermore, since the background impacts the process of encod-
ing, the types of signal can signiﬁcantly vary. Among other signals,
engineers transmit information in the form of requirements speciﬁ-
cations, equations, technical schematics, etc. These forms of encod-
ing might be unknown by biologists and so not easily decoded. The
receiver will detect a signal but will wonder how to deal with it.
Finally, team members may reason on different frameworks of
reference regarding the project’s objectives. If they do not share
the same mental model of constraints, expectations and goals, the
overall project is likely to fail .
As our study focuses on the methodological aspects, the source/
receiver’s defaults, like researchers’bad communication skills, are
To summarize, interdisciplinary teams need guidance on seman-
tic and psychological noises to allow actors to keep their speciﬁci-
ties while communicating efﬁciently.
2.4 Lack of Communication, a Challenge for Biologists’
Integration. The inability to communicate efﬁciently is as a well-
known issue in interdisciplinary teams  and the integration of
biologists in biomimetic teams is not exception to the rule.
As presented in Sec. 2.3.2, linguistic differences (semantic noise)
leading to vocabulary shortcomings or misunderstanding are widely
recognized and easily understandable issues. In the biomimetic lit-
erature, various publications deal with semantic divergences
through a data-centered prism.
Aﬁrst set of studies focuses on semantic issues during the search
for biological information by engineers. To support this search
phase, Cheong et al. identiﬁed biological meaningful keywords
and associated them with engineering concepts through computa-
tional tools leading to search algorithms . On the same axis,
Nagel et al. established an engineering-to-biology thesaurus
which aims at “providing a list of synonymous biological terms to
the generalized engineering terms of the Functional Basis modeling
lexicon.”Applications are oriented toward both the search and the
analysis of biological data “without having an extensive back-
ground in biological knowledge”. Where this tool has been
evaluated by an expert in biology, it is designed to assist engineers
during their manipulation of biological data. Likewise, the Bio-
mimicry Institute published the Biomimicry Taxonomy , a
tool co-designed with biologists to help engineers formulate bio-
logical requests from functional concepts. The aim of this tool
is to support the search for biological data in the AskNature data-
Finally, at a more abstract level, Vincent studied the formaliza-
tion of networks of concepts in an ontology  with the aim of
building a computational tool supporting searches based on trade-
According to the concepts presented in Sec. 2.3, these contribu-
tions deal with the format of signal (suitable for biology or
technology) and its encoding/decoding. The ﬁnal goal is to
improve the effectiveness of engineers’(destination) search in data-
bases or ontology (structured sources) or on the web (non-
Another part of the literature studies the representation of biolog-
ical systems through causal models. The aims of these approaches
are to enhance understandability through modeling, improve ﬁnd-
ability by linking biological models with technical models and to
generate databases of structured biological information. The ﬁrst
type of representation is functional model. These models can be pre-
existing and adapted for biomimetics purposes, such as the function
behavior structure (FBS) model for the DANE database , or
format speciﬁcally designed for biomimetic, like the State change,
Action, Parts, Phenomenon, Input, oRgan, Effect (SAPPhIRE)
model for IDEA-INSPIRE . Both constructs aim at identifying
causalities between elements to explain functional properties. The
second type of model is ﬂow-based functional model. Nagel et al.
designed such model, presenting the ﬂows of energy, matter, and
signal between generic functional sub-systems based on the previ-
ously presented thesaurus (e.g., Export, Store, etc.) . Models
are then stored in the Design Repository. In the case study presenting
the approach, Nagel indicates that the model was discussed with an
expert in biology but the contribution of the model on communica-
tion itself is not analyzed. The last model, BABELE, proposed by
Fayemi et al.  aims at combining the theoretical approach of
biology, in particular the concept of autopoiesis , systemics,
through the Miller’s Living System Theory  and engineering,
using TRIZ . The model “tries hard to allow people, without
any speciﬁc biological knowledge, to arrange by relevancy the
identiﬁed biological systems on their own.”As speciﬁed by
Fayemi, it is a tool made for “designers with limited biological
knowledge”and to delay biologists’intervention.
According to the concepts presented in Sec. 2.3, these contribu-
tions deal with the implementation of generic signals’formats to
support message encoding/decoding and data storage in an artiﬁcial
destination (databases or Design Repository).
Thus, a lot of work has been done on linguistic models to reduce
the gaps between biology and engineering. However, in all these
approaches, the common idea is to make engineers able to represent
biological information in an engineering framework of reference,
not to improve communication between biologists and engineers
sharing the same project. As previously described, interdisciplinary
communication suggests various actors from different ﬁelds acting
as sources/transmitter, and receiver/destination which is not the case
in the abovedescribed studies.
The second noise identiﬁed in Sec. 2.3.2 is the lack of common
context (psychological noise). This communication brake focuses
on the conceptual framework (commonness, scientiﬁc and cultural
framework of reference) used as a prism to decode the signal and
interpret the message. This type of impediment is particularly chal-
lenging with strong background differences. For instance, between
researchers and industrial stakeholders since “they have different
norms, standards, or values”.
Biomimetics is based on an analogical transfer of biological solu-
tions into technological ones. As described in the literature, this ana-
logical thinking is performed based on relations rather than feature
 and so on interconnected systems rather than isolated ones
. To summarize, analogies are dealing with systems embedded
within a ﬁeld-related conceptual network. As a result, practitioners
having a different background are unconsciously referring to dis-
tinct framework while trying to communicate. Where this variabil-
ity of prisms represents an asset of interdisciplinary collaboration, it
also leads to impediments preventing proper communication.
Based on this divide, Helms developed the four-box method, and
the associated T-chart . This tool aims to clarify design prob-
lems and biological analogues through contextual information.
The Four-Box method is structured following the “four most fre-
quently occurring descriptive elements of problem formulation.”
extracted from students’projects . Through the deﬁnition of
the problem’s framework, solution search is supported, and
Journal of Mechanical Design APRIL 2021, Vol. 143 / 041402-3
analogical biological solutions can be compared through both their
features (Functions, Speciﬁcations, and Performance Criteria) and
their interacting environments (Operational Environment). The
case study presenting the tool is performed by an interdisciplinary
student team but on the communication part, “biologists report
ﬁnding the tool more useful for communicating knowledge about
biologically systems to their peers.”, suggesting an intradisci-
According to the concepts presented in Sec. 2.3, this contribution
deals with the implementation of a generic signal format suitable for
both biology and technology, as well as improving encoding/decod-
ing through contextual data. The ﬁnal goal is to improve the effec-
tiveness of the search and selection steps.
Finally, the communication between biologists and engineers in
biomimetic teams has been studied by Hashemi Farzaneh et al.
 following a rather similar approach than the one we have
used in this article. Through the description of features identiﬁed
in representations from biology and product design, a graphic repre-
sentation is suggested to improve communication between engi-
neers and biologists. This article then follows the same research
axis and considers alternative guidelines from the comparison of
both processes and representations.
According to the concepts presented in the previous section,
these contributions deal with the channel of communication
(visual communication) and the format of encoding (graphic
Following the observations made on the scientiﬁc literature, the
communication theories and the current approaches dealing with
interdisciplinary gaps in biomimetics, Sec. 3presents the research
question and the hypothesis developed in this publication.
3 Research Question and Hypotheses
Biomimetics holds great potential but still has not reached its full
potential as it struggles to spread. Biology-centered steps are iden-
tiﬁed in the literature as particularly challenging steps. To close the
gap between the biological and engineering world, numerous arti-
cles recommend the integration of biologists. However, this
approach is not without its own obstacles and communication
between engineers and biologists appears as a crucial lever to con-
sider. Several types on noises can be identiﬁed to characterize the
communication brakes to solve.
First, the semantic noises. On that matter, the formalization of the
data from biology has been the center of attention in knowledge
transfer through tools but little research has been targeting commu-
Moreover, we would argue that semantic noises are crucial given
that horizontal biologists are not integrated enough within design
teams. We assume that a few weeks of shared work would be the
best solution to assimilate speciﬁc concepts and create shared
semantics. Once operational, horizontal biologists should act as a
bridge between technical and biological experts. Where semantic
tools can be a fundamental ﬁrst step in communication, the stability
of the team’s composition between projects and so to maintain
social bonds between actors  appears as a long-lasting strategy.
A second type of noise, psychological noises, more speciﬁcally
cognitive dissonances (the lack of common framework of reference
and message structure) also plays a part in communication issues
within interdisciplinary teams. Some previous work focused on
cognitive dissonances but overall this research axis remains
As a result, this article deals with biologists’and engineers’ways
of reasoning and structuring information, as they witness their
respective processes of converting message into signal. The
research axis of this article is to question how to improve commu-
nication within interdisciplinary design teams, and more speciﬁ-
cally, we wonder if we can deﬁne a common framework of
reference to support communication between biologists and engi-
neers in interdisciplinary biomimetic design teams?
The hypothesis of this article is that such a framework of refer-
ence would reduce cognitive dissonances, improving the ability
of the team to communicate. Based on guidelines extracted from
the comparison of visual representations and cognitive frameworks
used in both ﬁelds, a framework is built. Within this framework, a
tool is then designed to guide the reasoning and the generation of
shared mental models to improve team’s effectiveness . The
underlying assumption here is that cognitive dissonances represent
an issue only if they disturb each other by overlapping. If cognitive
dissonances are structured as complementary approaches then they
represent the added value of these stakeholders, the abovemen-
tioned variability of prisms, and therefore the core of biomimetics
reasoning. We assume that solving the lack of common framework
of reference and message structure will lead teams to better commu-
nicate and to take advantage of these speciﬁcities through a synergic
Through the design of this tool based on a framework of reference
combining biological and engineering approaches, we propose a
space for interdisciplinary interactions to support communication.
4 Material and Methods
This section summarizes the deﬁnition of various concepts used
throughout the article and presents the method used to build the
shared framework of reference.
4.1 Concepts Associated With the Study. As modeled in
Sec. 2.3.1, interdisciplinary communication is strictly understood
in this article as a two-way process between actors having a differ-
ent background. In this context, and according to Choi’sdeﬁnition
[56,57], interdisciplinarity is an approach which “analyses, synthe-
sizes, and harmonizes links between disciplines into a coordinated
and coherent whole.”Thus, interdisciplinary teams are considered
to be composed of interdependent contributing actors  with
various backgrounds and structured as a “coordinated and coherent
whole”to reach a common goal.
To assist communication within these teams, as well as their
“coordinated and coherent”practices, this publication relies on
the design of a shared framework of reference. From a generic
standpoint, a framework of reference is understood in this article
as “a set of ideas, conditions, or assumptions that determine how
something will be approached, perceived, or understood”.
The aim of this construct is to give a set of guidelines through
which information can be properly interpreted and assimilated.
Stakeholders’mental representations of information, and so the
subject of cognition, are deﬁned as “mental models”. Sharing
a same framework should allow actors to position themselves in a
common conceptual space, making them able to use similar and/
or complementary prisms of analysis .
Based on the framework, a tool incorporating the various guide-
lines is designed to create an interface through which the team can
establish a shared mental model and reason in a synergic way. The
aim of this tool is to support communication to reach a “transdisci-
plinary”practice of biomimetics. The mental model shared by the
team is neither an engineering nor a biological model but “trans-
cends each of their traditional boundaries”. In this new confor-
mation, actors share a “reciprocal interdependence driven by goals
that include integrated input/output and affecting the other disci-
plines by reorientation”. The team itself is then considered
as a whole, having a common transdisciplinary ﬁeld of expertise.
4.2 Methodology. The formulation of a common framework
follows a methodology inspired from the previously described pub-
lications of Hashemi Farzaneh et al.  and Fayemi et al.  and
synthesized as follows:
(1) Analysis of the ﬁeld-speciﬁc frameworks.
(2) Comparison of key features: concepts, conditions, con-
straints, assumptions, etc.
041402-4 / Vol. 143, APRIL 2021 Transactions of the ASME
(3) Selection and/or combination of features and formulation of
(4) Synthesis of the guidelines generating uniﬁed framework.
In the case of our study, the framework analysis (1) is based on
the literature, the authors’experiences, and discussions with
experts. Key features are then extracted into two aspects, visual
representations and processes (2). The formulation of guidelines
(3) follows elements extracted from the communication literature,
the speciﬁcities of biomimetic practices, and the hypothesis of
this article. Guidelines composing the framework are then synthe-
sized in Table 3(4).
Following this ﬁrst phase, we designed LINKAGE through the
embedment of the guidelines composing the new framework.
LINKAGE aims to support the synergic reasoning and communica-
tion of team members through the collaborative modeling of shared
representations of problems and solutions.
5 Formalization of the Common Framework
To identify key features to turn into structuring guidelines, we
studied the processes generating the data used in biomimetic pro-
jects. The uniﬁed biomimetic problem-driven process is
taken as a reference for biomimetic processes and a generic biolog-
ical research process as described by Bernard et al.  is taken as a
reference to study biological research processes (phase 1, Sec. 4.2).
Features are then listed and compared with underline cognitive dis-
sonances between actors (phase 2, Sec. 4.2). Based on this compar-
ative analysis, guidelines are formulated (phase 3, Sec. 4.2).
Following the same methodology, graphic representations are
analyzed (phase 1, Sec. 4.2) and compared (phase 2, Sec. 4.2)to
validate features extracted from processes. Additional guidelines
are also formulated (phase 3, Sec. 4.2).
5.1 Analysis of the Field-Speciﬁc Frameworks and
Comparison of Key Features on Processes. The overall idea of
engineering design lies in the ability of design teams to create a
system performing a given set of functions. Function is deﬁned as
the “general input/output relationship of a system whose purpose
is to perform a task”or, at the early stages of the process, as the
“abstract formulation of the task, independent of any particular
solution”. The term “system”is considered after De Rosnay’s
deﬁnition, “A system is a set of elements in dynamic interaction,
organized according to a goal”.
Design processes thus guide design teams from a design brief to a
product which functions answer initial requirements. This brief is
based on client/company’s understanding of “what products
would be the most likely to be purchased by consumers?”,oron
larger scale “human needs/challenges”. Design practice then
appears subjective and profoundly dependent on the perception of
needs by clients, and so ultimately users. The approach intrinsically
depends on design choices leading to the variability of products
designed to perform the same task. From a technical standpoint,
the main validation parameter of these choices is the compliance
with the product requirements and from a strategic and economic
standpoint it’s the consumers’acceptance, and so the commercial
success. Whether they solve a problem, or offer new functionalities
without an original problem, the rationale behind products then
appears as the provided service, the functions at the users’disposal.
As Simon stated “The engineer, and more generally the designer, is
concerned with how things ought to be (…) in order to attain goals,
and to function”.
In biological research, projects emerge from observations and the
identiﬁcation of a missing piece of biological knowledge. The
choice between research axes appears subjective because highly
dependent on funding, but the research results are supposed to be
inherently objective. Biological research process has the fundamen-
tal aim of answering a research question, in the words of Claude
Bernard, “An experimenter’s mind must be active, i.e., must
question nature”. Comparing with design, biological studies
are “seeking the truth and approaching it as nearly as possible”.
Facing a research question, choices are called hypotheses and are
tested through experiments. The rationale behind biology then
appears to be knowledge. This knowledge can be turned into inno-
vation in a second time, but the core output of biological science
remains the understanding of living beings.
Based on 13 criteria, from the origin of projects to their ﬁnal
outputs, processes of references are then described in detail
(phase 1, Sec. 4.2) (Table 1). These key features are then compared,
and cognitive shifts are identiﬁed (phase 2, Sec. 4.2). Guidelines
synthesizing the various criteria are then formulated (phase 3,
Sec. 4.2). Five guidelines have been identiﬁed through the compar-
ative analysis presented in Table 1.
Guideline A: Embed subjective elements in external constraints.
We suggest engineers to embed subjective elements of the project
(concepts 2 and 3, Table 1) as external constraints. Doing so, biol-
ogists may approach the problem with objective questions (concept
3, Table 1), trying to understand how a biological system (concept
2, Table 1) would react facing given constraints (concept 1 and 2,
Guideline B: Combine prescriptive and descriptive approaches.
We suggest interdisciplinary teams to establish phases for prescrip-
tive (concept 5, Table 1) reasoning leading to functional scenarios
(concept 4, Table 1) describing the system-to-be (concept 6,
Table 1) as if it was real (concept 6, Table 1) allowing, in a
second phase, biologists to raise alternative technical questions
(concept 4, Table 1) or to describe (concept 4, Table 1) biological
Guideline C: Expose the cognitive links to bridge functional,
structural, material and behavioral abstracted concepts. We
suggest team mates to explain their reasoning (concept 8,
Table 1) on a shared representation, allowing the various actors to
make connection with their own, ﬁeld-related, conceptual frame-
work (concept 7, Table 1) and generate hypotheses to be turned
into solutions (concept 9).
Guideline D: Present problems and solutions within their spatio-
temporal contexts. In both ﬁelds, context is key. First, it dictates
requirements for the design project and environmental constraints
from a biological standpoint (concept 10, Table 1). Second, it
ensures the solution’s validation (concept 11, Table 1) and ﬁnally
it underlines the possibility of evolving conditions, questioning
the validity and adaptability of the biological/technical systems
(concept 12, Table 1).
Guideline E: Dedicate spaces for both product design and knowl-
edge gathering while supporting their synergic contribution. Since
biologists’system of reward is based on knowledge and engineers’
system of reward is based on the generation of well-functioning
products (concept 13, Table 1), we suggest interdisciplinary
teams to implement a biomimetics innovation strategy along with
a knowledge management strategy. Stakeholders should feel recog-
nized for both their team and ﬁeld-speciﬁc work to prevent frustra-
tion while maintaining a collaborative, non-competitive, team spirit.
Section 5.2 then presents several biological graphic representa-
tions that have been analyzed and compared with intermediate
representations from engineering design . Since biological
process is similar to most scientiﬁc processes, this section presents
the identiﬁcation of additional, more biology-speciﬁc, guidelines.
5.2 Analysis of Biological Information Representation. In
research, communication mainly occurs through conferences or
through the encoding of results in the form of scientiﬁc articles.
Within biological articles, ﬁgures representing biological systems
synthesize biological knowledge and thus holds a fundamental
role in communication. Figures data measurements, such as
graphs, matrix, etc. were not studied in this publication since they
do not appear speciﬁc to biology. Through the literature, the
authors’experience in biology and the discussion with biology tea-
chers–researchers, we pointed out three common biological types of
Journal of Mechanical Design APRIL 2021, Vol. 143 / 041402-5
Table 1 Comparative analysis on processes and guidelines synthesis
Concepts In Engineering In Biology Cognitive shifts Guidelines
1. Origin of a project Potential proﬁt from the product’s
Absence of knowledge, and/or ﬁnancial
incentives toward a biological truth
Where projects in engineering are
based on strategic choices and target a
consumer, projects in biology are
based on scientiﬁc knowledge and
target a scientiﬁc truth
Guideline A: Embed subjective elements in
2. Input of the project Client/marketing brief A biological system or phenomenon to
3. Project orientation Subjective Objectives
4. Type of problem “How to design a system that
“How do”+biological system +perform
Where biologists deeply characterize
the system to describe its functioning,
engineers adopt a functional
reasoning and look to prescribe a
system that would represent a solution
Guideline B: Combine prescriptive and
5. Type of reasoning Prescriptive Descriptive
6. System studied in the project Conceptual: The studied system
doesn’t exist yet
Concrete: The studied system is observed
7. Solving process’inputs Abstracted function and associated
Abstracted biological generic concepts
associated with a set of rules
Both proﬁles use abstraction to solve
their problem. However, where
engineers use abstraction as a
formalized prerequisite for analogical
thinking, biologists, through their
reasoning, unconsciously abstract the
various parts of an existing system to
generate hypotheses on their potential
functional interaction, and ultimately
Guideline C: Expose cognitive links to bridge
functional, structural, material, and
behavioral abstracted concepts8. Solving process For biomimetics, analogical reasoning
through the identiﬁcation of
biological models sharing the same or
close abstracted function/technical
Based on concepts’interaction and
associated biological principles.
Resolution in the conceptual space.
Analogical reasoning may also be used
between biological studies
9. Solving process output Identiﬁed solution Generated hypothesis
10. Embodiment Generation of numerical models and
prototype to verify that requirements
Design of a protocol and experiment
based on the hypothesis. Identiﬁcation of
data to be measured
Most of the time, biologists would not
perform biological experiments
during biomimetic design processes
and will directly look at knowledge.
However, the system’s adequacy and
properties will be tested. For the tests
to be relevant, contextualization in
both space and time/state appears
Guideline D: Present problems and solutions
within their spatiotemporal context
11. Testing phases Test both if the solution performs
efﬁciently the function and what are
Test if the model (in vitro/in vivo) reacts
the way it was predicted
12. End of the project steps The design of the product is
improvement. The detailed design and
industrialization phase then begin
Based on the results, the hypothesis is or
is not validated, the researcher generates a
rapport or an article to explain its ﬁndings
13. Final output A product An increase of knowledge Where a system is the ﬁnal outputs in
product design, the system is the
initial input in biology. Where
information and knowledge are the
inputs in product design, they are the
outputs in biology
Guideline E: Dedicate spaces for both
product design and knowledge gathering
while supporting their synergic contribution
041402-6 / Vol. 143, APRIL 2021 Transactions of the ASME
representation that we characterized as observational, nested, and
5.2.1 Observational Representations. This ﬁrst type of repre-
sentation reﬂects biologists’observations. Among these are obser-
vational drawings (through microscopes or with the naked eye)
allowing biologists to describe biological specimens, present
results and characterize newly discovered species. Figure 3gives
an example of an observational drawing describing the anatomic
speciﬁcities of the wings of Pantarbes, a genus of bee.
Observational drawings are nowadays strongly supplemented
with numeric alternatives, photographs, electronic microscopy,
2D or 3D imaging, etc.
Among other ﬁelds, observational representations are used in
animal or vegetal anatomy, histology, morphology, etc.
At a conceptual level, this type of representation underlines the
necessity for biologists to communicate on the biological concept
of form .
5.2.2 Nested Representations. The second type of representa-
tion aims to describe organization of biological structures at multi-
ple levels. These schematics thus represent, on the same ﬁgure,
different magniﬁcations, zooming in a nested biological structure
in order to point out its complex hierarchical organization. These
representations are often used in anatomic descriptions to give
insights on the origin of systems’properties. Figure 4gives the
example of the various levels of genetic condensation.
At a conceptual level, these representations deal with the biolog-
ical concept of structure .
5.2.3 Dynamic Representations. Dynamic representations can
be divided in at least two categories. The ﬁrst category represents
biological entities in successive states, explicitly modeling given
changes of state and so dynamic phenomena. Analyzing these
representations, we determined at least four main dynamic patterns
that can be distinguished: cyclical, acyclical, mixed, and
In cyclical processes, biological systems return to their original
state. Figure 5presents an example of a cyclical process with the
behavior of ionic channels during the propagation of an action
potential. The separation of ions, their speciﬁcﬂows, and their com-
bined transports allow the propagation of an action. Processes with
a cyclical pattern often constitute functional sub-units.
Multi-cyclical pattern can also be observed. During action poten-
tial generation phase, a ﬁrst type of cycle can occur when the stimu-
lation remains under a threshold (failed initiation on the center of
Fig. 5). Once the threshold is exceeded, an action potential is gen-
erated, and the second type of cycle emerges as previously pre-
sented. The overall phenomenon is then multi-cyclical.
In acyclical processes, biological systems undergo irreversible
changes (evolutionary process of species, the growth of an individ-
ual, etc.) and then do not usually return to their original state
Acyclical processes are often the result of several biological func-
tioning units as they induce deep and synchronized modiﬁcations of
the biological entities: growth, differentiation, evolution, etc.
Finally, mixed processes are identiﬁed. For example, a cyclical
process, such as the cardiac cycle, might evolve progressively
through time, strengthening thanks to exercises, or evolve in a
more sudden way in the case of a stroke. As all cyclical processes
ultimately change because of aging, the combination of cyclical
and acyclical patterns is the most complex, but the most accurate
Since a biological structure can be highly variable between two
individuals at the same age, the concept of time is highly relative
in biology. Biologists then rather refer to states instead of time
when describing a biological process. For example, a highly
damaged lung could be caused by 20 years of smoking or caused
by 40 years of extreme work conditions. What we consider here
is the state of the lungs’degradation process, not its age per se.
However, duration can be, and often is, critical in processes. As a
Fig. 3 Observational representation of the wings of Pantarbes,
a genus of bee. From Comstock, “The Wings of insects,”1918,
Fig. 4 Nested representation of genetic material: (a) chromo-
somes, (b) 300 nm chromatin loops, (c) 30 nm chromatin, and
(d) 2 nm double-strained DNA
Fig. 5 Example of a cyclical process, here the behavior of ionic
channels during the propagation of an action potential. Based on
Fig. 6 Example of an acyclical process representation, six of
the developing stages of a chick. Image by Franz Kreibel
adapted from Ref. .
Journal of Mechanical Design APRIL 2021, Vol. 143 / 041402-7
result, biologists often artiﬁcially determine t=0 at the starting
point of processes with a cyclical pattern.
In the second category of dynamic representation, the different
states are not explicitly represented but are suggested in the sche-
matics, mainly through arrows (Fig. 7).
They focus on the dynamics of interactions between various ele-
ments (molecular, living organisms, external parameters, etc.). For
example, they model molecular pathways or ecosystemic relation-
ships for example. These schematics allow the representation of
successive change of states, like chain reactions in cellular
biology or microbiology. Combined with the recent emergence of
computational approaches, these representations lead to the emer-
gence of the ﬁeld of systems biology that would not be studied in
this article. The dynamic type of representation thus represents
the biological concept of function .
It has to be underlined that other types of representations exist in
biology, such as phylogenetic trees, models in systems biology ,
etc. Nonetheless, through this quick description of three types of
representation, the importance of a multiparameter prism (scales,
interactions, states) appears as a key aspect of biological
In biology, it is a well-known fact that forms and structures allow
function . The representations abovementioned lead biologists
to structure speciﬁc forms in order to consider functions, such as
“dealing with internal and external energy”or “managing informa-
In engineering, the types of encoding are strictly characterized,
they follow well-deﬁned structures depending on the phases of
the project and the required level of abstraction. In order to validate
the previously identiﬁed cognitive shifts, the characteristics of these
intermediate representations  have been compared with the
observations made on biological representations.
5.3 Comparison of Biological and Engineering
Representations. This section presents several key concepts
explaining potential cognitive dissonances (phase 1, Sec. 4.2) and
compares them (phase 2, Sec. 4.2) to synthesize guidelines (phase
3, Sec. 4.2) (Table 2).
Four new guidelines are thus synthetized. Guideline F: Consider
system’s evolution through state-based reasoning to represent func-
tions. Biological literature uses state-based reasoning to represent
the dynamics of processes leading to functions. We suggest engi-
neers to formalize problems in a similar format to align biological
Fig. 7 Example of a generic molecular pathway, from signal
ﬁxation (molecule A) to the secretion of a response protein
Table 2 Comparative analysis on graphic representation and guidelines synthesis
Concepts In engineering In biology Cognitive shifts Guidelines
1. Objective of the
Explain the objectives to meet
and how to design a system or
parts of the system performing
the determined functions
Represent the characteristics,
structures, and functioning of
biological organism and
phenomena in order to
hypothesis, or results
explain what is expected and
prescribe how to meet these
expectations where biologists’
biological systems and the
way they function
Validate the guideline B
(from Table 1): Prevent
noises coming from
overlapping channel of
2. Concept of
Represents the product’s
legitimacy (client brief,
Octopus diagram, etc.)
Represents the consequences
of the forms’and structures’
evolution through states
Where, in biology structured
forms allow functions and
give an evolutive advantage to
biological systems, in
engineering, structures and
forms are design to perform a
Guideline F: Consider
reasoning to represent
3. Concept of
Association of functional
sub-units from various
sub-systems (FAST diagram,
Deeply intricate association of
elements of the biological
system  developed along
the evolutionary process
Where engineers reason on
structure with a sequential
approach linked with
zoom-in biological nested
structure to understand how
functions are performed
Guideline G: Model
systems through nested
4. Concept of
Final embodiment of the
technical elements performing
the subfunctions (CAD, etc.)
Initial observation of a
biological entity in the real
representation, etc.) (early
Where form’s representation
in engineering is an
embodiment of subfunctions,
form’s representation in
biology is a clue toward the
solving of a research question
Guideline H: Be speciﬁc
Taking a systemic standpoint
increases the number of
constraints and so the
The resolution of a biological
problem is intrinsically linked
with the consideration of
various systemic levels, and of
environmental elements .
Living systems are complex
We can see a shift toward the
consideration of the systemic
reasoning which represents an
increase of complexity in
engineering but a requirement
to solve problems in biology
Guideline I: Support a
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and technical visual channels along with signals’encoding (concept
2, Fig. 2).
Guideline G: Model systems through nested structures. We
suggest using nested modeling to support communication by align-
ing visual channels and by creating a conceptual link between func-
tional sub-units and biological sub-systems at various
organizational scales (concept 3, Fig. 2).
Guideline H: Be speciﬁc on forms. Forms are the ﬁrst visible
clues toward the understanding of biological phenomenon. Where
biologists may understand forms as characteristic features, engi-
neers may also analyze forms from their technical standpoint.
Doing so, they can bring additional expertise, on ﬂuids dynamics
for instance, and identify functional properties. Synergic practices
should then lead to the creation of new communication paths by
allowing practitioners to identify which messages, and types of
signal, are relevant, and for which teammates (destination)
(concept 4, Fig. 2).
Guideline I: Support a systemic standpoint. We suggest adopting
a systemic standpoint to align the teammates’shared mental models
through an increasing number of characterizing conceptual links
(concept 5, Fig. 2).
Section 5.4 concludes Sec. 5and summarizes the main elements
structuring the common framework of reference (phase 4, Sec. 4.2).
5.4 Synthesis on the Guidelines Structuring the Common
Framework of Reference. Through the comparative analyses pre-
sented in Sec. 5, nine guidelines have been formalized to structure a
common framework of reference to assist interdisciplinary biomi-
metic design teams’communication and practice.
In the words of Simon “The natural sciences are concerned with
how things are (…) design on the other hand is concerned with how
things ought to be”. Among his main difference is often
referred to as “prescriptive”versus “descriptive”reasonings in the
First, reasoning shifts regarding processes have been identiﬁed
on processes and summarized into ﬁve guidelines (Table 1).
The analysis then focused on visual communication channels,
identiﬁed in the literature as a potential lever for improving commu-
nication , and questioned messages’encoding/decoding,
signal’s characterization, and mental models. Four more guidelines
have thus been added to the common framework of references.
The synthetized framework combines both ways of looking at
problems or solutions to support biologists’integration, interdisci-
plinary communication, and promote a synergic teamwork:
•Guideline A: consider subjective elements as embedded in
•Guideline B: combine prescriptive and descriptive approaches.
•Guideline C: expose cognitive links to bridge functional, struc-
tural, material, and behavioral abstracted concepts.
•Guideline D: present problems and solutions within their spa-
•Guideline E: dedicate spaces for both product design and
knowledge gathering while supporting their synergic
•Guideline F: consider problem/solution dynamics through a
•Guideline G: model systems through nested structures
•Guideline H: be speciﬁc on forms
•Guideline I: support a systemic standpoint
Based on this common framework of reference established,
Sec. 6describes the designing of LINKAGE, a new tool destined
for biomimetic interdisciplinary team.
Link an Interpretation based on Natural science Know-how with
an Applied Goal from Engineering (LINKAGE) is a tool intended
to design project-speciﬁc common frameworks based on the
various structuring generic guidelines identiﬁed in Sec. 5.
6.1 LINKAGE’s Goals. LINKAGE’sﬁrst goal is to assist
communication between “classic”design teams and horizontal
Its second goal is to optimize the biomimetic design process by
guiding the reasoning of the practitioners.
Lastly, LINKAGE aims to offer a way to store both structured
information, and coupled technological challenge and biological
solution, to capitalize on biomimetic studies, maximize their proﬁt-
ability, and recognize the increase of knowledge as an objective
The long-term goal of this tool is to increase biomimetic design
teams’effectiveness and to contribute to biomimetics implementa-
tion and spreading.
6.2 LINKAGE’s Formalization. LINKAGE’s building is
presented through examples and following the steps of the uniﬁed
problem-driven process . Guidelines from the common frame-
work used to design LINKAGE are explicitly identiﬁed. Their
embodiments are then summarized at the end of Sec. 6(Table 3).
6.2.1 Step 1: Problem Analysis. As presented previously, tech-
nology pull processes are based on design problems. For example,
how to design a system that selectively ﬁlter a liquid without clog-
ging? usually comes from the following cognitive reasoning:
Through time, residual elements of the ﬁltered liquid accumulate
at the ﬁlter’s surface and clog it, as a result, how can we prevent
this phenomenon? Following the guideline A, we embed this
problem as external constraints. Since problems are dynamics, the
modeling leads to scenarios. As guided by the guideline F, these
scenarios follow state-based dynamics rather than linear time-based,
dynamics. In order to visually represent the dynamics, states are
linked with arrows. Teams may question the problem through the
various patterns existing in biological representation (Sec. 5.2.3).
Whatever the scenarios, LINKAGE suggest closing the loops to
implement a homeostasis-based reasoning.
Applying this ﬁrst step to our example, the original problem is
decomposed in three states, “Initial state”(clean), “In use”(not
clean but not clogged) and “Clogged”(not functional). The evolu-
tion pattern is acyclical if the ﬁlter is discarded after it clogged, it is
cyclical if the ﬁlter is cleaned and reused. LINKAGE suggests
looking at the problem through the second angle, allowing to
reach back the initial state. Logically, the ﬁlter will be discarded
eventually so the mixed pattern can be used to represent the
whole life cycle of the system.
Facing this scenario, the design team can approach the problem
from an objective standpoint since the subjective orientation is
already imposed by the states. In this ﬁrst step, the system is not
characterized yet, the design problem is.
6.2.2 Step 2 and 6: Abstraction of Design Problems or
Biological Solutions. Step 2 and 6 of the process both aim to
model systems. As a result, they are described simultaneously.
Following the guideline G, the LINKAGE tool allows systems’
representation at multiple organization scales leading to a nested
structure. Based on the guideline I, this approach is also associated
with systemics reasoning, more speciﬁcally the ontological axis
In practice, LINKAGE presents at least three nested systemic
levels: the super-system, system, and subsystem. Yet, the tool sug-
gests considering further levels. Within LINKAGE, speciﬁc spaces
dedicated for each systemic level questions users, leading them to
deeply characterize the various elements to consider (guideline H)
and their interconnections (guideline C).
Interestingly, during these phases LINKAGE’s inputs can come
from functional analysis tools such as “Octopus diagram”from
the APTE method (Fig. 8) which are well-known bydesign teams.
Journal of Mechanical Design APRIL 2021, Vol. 143 / 041402-9
It should then be easily compatible and implementable with design
team’s preexisting practice.
One interest of LINKAGE is to force design team to further con-
sider the space of the super and sub-systems and so create intercon-
nection at multiple scales. For example, “how are weather
conditions impacting a plane’s wing? On which subparts? On
which organizational layers?”(guideline G).
Based on this new nested representation, users can model either
technological systems (step 2) or biological systems (step 6),
through textual descriptions and structured graphic representations
(observational representation, blueprint, etc.) (Fig. 9).
Based on the guideline F, the system’s dynamics in imple-
mented through the states and patterns previously deﬁned.
System’s functional features linked with the problem/solution are
If we take the example of the ﬁlter previously used, the ﬁlter and
liquids are linked during the structural description, but the ﬁlter’s
function only appears once the liquid get from one side (state 1)
to the other side (state 2).
Figure 10 illustrates a mixed LINKAGE representation com-
posed of three systemic levels, a three-step cyclical phenomenon
(A, B and C) and an acyclical phenomenon of n−2 states. Guide-
lines which embodiments can be directly perceived on the represen-
tation are speciﬁed in red (G.
(Fig. 10). Through this state-based functional reasoning,
LINKAGE allows interdisciplinary design teams to express the
system’s evolution in a framework that is more coherent with bio-
logical processes. Doing so, LINKAGE assists teammates commu-
nication through the implementation of a common format (visual
representation) and guides the abstraction of external constraints,
functional features, and structural elements during modeling steps.
To summarize, LINKAGE aims at allowing users to visualize
various systemic levels, along with their interactions, at various
states. LINKAGE’sﬁnal structure combines elements from both
ﬁelds and supports the constitution of a shared space of representa-
tion and mental models (Table 3).
6.3 LINKAGE, a Tool Fitting the Current Biomimetic
Conceptual Framework. Various biomimetic innovation axes
are characterized in the literature. Existing theoretical concepts
can be linked with the structure of LINKAGE (Table 4).
The biological concept of function , which is the basis of
engineering reasoning, appears as the synthesis of the whole repre-
sentation as the form and structure allow the system to fulﬁl its func-
tion through processes.
7 Intended Contributions
Through the description of LINKAGE’s potential outputs on
communication, team collective reasoning, modeling, and abstrac-
tion, this section describes the main expected contributions of the
7.1 Contributions to Prevent the Cognitive Dissonance.
Cognitive dissonances, identiﬁed in the literature as a main
source of communication noises (Sec. 2.3.2), is the disruptive over-
lapping of variable cognitive frameworks (cultural, reasonings
habits, practical goals, etc.).
When unusual teammates are integrated in design teams, no spe-
ciﬁc spaces are dedicated for them at ﬁrst. Cognitive dissonances
then appear to be linked to the fact that several people are trying
to do the same things at the same time with different frameworks
without acknowledging or understanding these differences. So
“Where can I (and my ideas) ﬁt?”may be the ﬁrst question horizon-
tal biologists will ask themselves. Indeed, since the design reason-
ing and methodological framework were established as working
Fig. 8 From a functional analysis representation to a nested
standpoint. Interacting sub-systems are connected through
Fig. 9 Example of LINKAGE’s formalization focused on levels of
organization, for the surface of a boat’s hull and the surface of
Salvinia molesta. Pictures based on Ref. .
Fig. 10 Empty version of a LINKAGE representation with guide-
, and G
041402-10 / Vol. 143, APRIL 2021 Transactions of the ASME
wholes, no pieces appeared missing and so no spaces were
Through the formalization of an expended common framework
(Sec. 5), new spaces are likely to become available, allowing the
integration of alternative reasonings and approaches represented
by horizontal biologists. This step is intended to recognize ﬁeld-
speciﬁc differences, supporting the avoidance of disruptive
LINKAGE structures the combination of prescriptive and
descriptive approaches and is expected to guide the teams’practice
toward the identiﬁcation of several layers of information and several
use phases on a single shared representation.
The ﬁrst step of the biomimetic design problem is the deﬁnition of
the design problem and can be associated with the generic question
“what do we actually want to do?”. Such questioning is linked with a
prescriptive approach. However, relevant design objectives rely on
context and requirements and so the deﬁnition of elements and
their interaction at various systemic levels. This descriptive approach
can be represented by the following question: “What is it that we are
looking at?”.The implementation of a dynamic evolution of the
model and the characterization of the elements’interaction involved
in the system’s change of state should lead the team to deﬁne the
functions through a descriptive standpoint: “What does the system
need to do to reach the following state in the given context?”Pre-
scriptive design requirements are then embedded in the context.
Foundations of the project may thus be determined in a shared
framework, and the analysis of the model should lead to the techni-
cal problems by wondering “how to get from state nton+1at each
Again, a descriptive approach is expected to be used by the team
during this step, which should lead to the abstraction of the design
problem on several layers of analysis. Keeping the interactions’
patterns while abstracting the elements composing the system,
sub, and super-system levels should then allow the design team
to perform more easily an overall abstraction of the technological
The following step in the biomimetic design process is the trans-
position to biology. Based on the context and abstracted elements,
the design team should be able to describe a biological solution
space. Thanks to its states-based and nested structure, this space
deﬁnition is intended to depend not only on prescriptive functional
constraints but also on the descriptive contextual constraints. Each
super-system that includes our systemic level of interest can bring
The source of biological models may either be a horizontal biol-
ogist or already existing tools. We will not go further into details on
that subject in this article.
Table 3 Guidelines’embodiment on LINKAGE tool
Guideline A: Embed subjective elements in external constraints Characterization of the super-system and of the system’s various states
Guideline B: Combine prescriptive and descriptive approaches Separation in space (embed constraints versus description on multiple levels)
and separation in time (phases of use)
Guideline C: Expose cognitive links to bridge functional,
physicochemical and behavioral abstracted concepts
The network of concepts designed at different scales of the model and at
various states of the problem/solution (Fig. 10,G
Guideline D: Present problems and solutions within their
Deﬁnition of super-systems (depend on space and time) and states (depend on
duration) (Fig. 10,G
Guideline E: Dedicate spaces for both product design and knowledge
gathering while supporting their synergic contribution
Capitalization of the results through a database or an ontology based on
models formalized with LINKAGE. Recognize generated knowledge for their
Guideline F: Consider system’s evolution through state-based
reasoning to represent functions
Evolution patterns through states (Fig. 10,G
Guideline G: Model systems through nested structures Nested structure and interaction through double-head arrows (Fig. 10,G
Guideline H: Be speciﬁc on forms A speciﬁc space is dedicated for each level to characterize the features of
involved elements (Fig. 10,G
Guideline I: Support a systemic standpoint Based on Le Moigne :
The nested structure refers to the ontological axis
The evolution patterns through states refers to the functional axis (cyclical
pattern) and the genetic axis (acyclical pattern)
The network of concepts that can be abstracted refers to the teleological axis
Table 4 Synthesis of biological and biomimetic concepts alignment with LINKAGE’s design
LINKAGE Biology Biomimetics
Description of elements at each level of organization Form Form 
Interactions within and between systemic levels,
Structure (Eco)system 
Pattern of organization 
Pattern of evolution between states and single-head
Processes Change 
Analyses of representations made with LINKAGE Deﬁnition of internal or external constraints
and of solving strategies
Abstraction of technical problems (step 2) or
biological solutions (step 6) 
Journal of Mechanical Design APRIL 2021, Vol. 143 / 041402-11
Once a biological model is identiﬁed, it should be possible to
model it on the exact same framework, using the same approach,
then with the technological problem. From the biological model,
the team is again oriented toward a descriptive standpoint. The
team will then face the following question: “How does the biolog-
ical model perform this function?”(descriptive).
The reversal of the expert roles between engineers and biologists
at this speciﬁc step is expected to be supported by LINKAGE and
should then be acknowledged by the team. As a result, even if they
adopt different roles, team members should be able to represent
information on a shared representation. LINKAGE is then intended
to bring an expression support for horizontal biologists to be heard
and understood while the team shares a common mental model.
In a rather similar way than with the technological aspects, the bio-
logical model may be analyzed and compared with the design
problem. Horizontal biologists should then ensure the scientiﬁc rele-
vance of gathered data while the rest of the team is guided to deﬁne
the proper level of abstraction of the biological strategies. The simi-
larity of representation of both design problem and solution should
ease the transfer toward technological application leading the team
back to a prescriptive reasoning, “based on the chosen biological
model, how to design a system ﬁtting our functional requirements?”.
Thanks to its common framework, LINKAGE tool may be used
in either a technology pull or a biology push approach. The abstrac-
tion and transfer steps are not ﬁeld related which should make
LINKAGE a tool adaptive to any kind of project.
Finally, as the build of such representations, and more broadly of
a biomimetic project, demands time and resources, it appears as a
fundamental aspect for companies to capitalize on the acquired
knowledge. In addition, biologists’system of reward is based on
knowledge. Consequently, we support the idea that a biomimetics
innovation strategy must be implemented along with a knowledge
management strategy. Such strategy is intended to be made avail-
able by LINKAGE. Its representations are likely to gather a lot of
interconnected information that may be used as a storage format,
enlarging a database or an ontology with structured and interrelated
The synthesis of a common framework of reference and its imple-
mentation through LINKAGE thus aim to decrease cognitive disso-
nances all along the biomimetic process.
7.2 Contributions to the Encoding and Decoding
Processes. This Sec. 7.2 explores LINKAGE targeted contribu-
tions on a second noises’source, the encoding and decoding pro-
cesses (Sec. 2.3.2).
First, the variability of mental models representing the project’s
objectives, constraints, and the system to design can lead to misun-
derstandings (psychological noise). As a result, the encoded mes-
sages may be irrelevant.
Moreover, because of frameworks’differences, a relevant
message can be inadequately encoded or decoded. This aspect
does not appear speciﬁc to interdisciplinary teams, but the risk of
non-compatible mental representations seems higher in such cases.
Through the incorporation of the project’s objectives within the
states and the formalization of information in a shared framework
of reference (constraints, elements to consider, interactions, and
functions), LINKAGE aims at supporting a common understanding
of the project. The tool should also allow teammates to encode and
decode signals through the same overall prism deﬁned by the
co-designed LINKAGE representations.
Second, semantic noises were identiﬁed as an issue. Where voca-
bulary has not been considered in this article, LINKAGE contribu-
tions on contextualization is here discussed.
The tool should lead the team to represent concepts in intercon-
nected networks. The increase in the number of characterizing inter-
actions may help teammates to correctly interpret concepts, and so
to decrease semantic noises. This reasoning may also lead the team
to identify understanding errors. Furthermore, the context surround-
ing potential missing information may be better characterized,
leading to the encoding of a clear communication signal to be
exchanged with external experts from engineering or biology (ver-
Finally, the model is designed to act as an interface between ﬁeld-
speciﬁc representations. As a result, LINKAGE should give teams
the ability to encode ﬁeld-speciﬁc message through common repre-
sentations. The tool may then act as new communication channel.
LINKAGE then targets the reduction of semantic noises through
contextualization and the formalization of new communication
channels having speciﬁc encoding/decoding processes. Section
7.3 presents what LINKAGE’s speciﬁcities are compared with the
other available tools.
7.3 LINKAGE, Why Isn’t it Just Another Tool? This last
section summarizes in a short table the main aspects differentiating
LINKAGE from other biomimetic tools presented in Sec. 2
(Table 5). The key difference of our work lays in its research
axis. Through the designing of a common framework of reference
for stakeholders coming from different ﬁelds, this publication inves-
tigates interdisciplinary team’s internal communication. Following
guidelines involving a series of cognitive shifts, we presented a
framework designed for practitioners to ﬁnd spaces to express them-
selves. LINKAGE appears as an embodiment of these guidelines,
guiding interdisciplinary teams during the biomimetic process.
We truly believe that performing the conceptual shift needed to
design tools for biomimetic interdisciplinary teams is crucial for
the actual integration of biologists (whatever their actual proﬁle
might be) in design teams and during the practice of biomimetics.
These interdisciplinary interactions are the very core and wealth
of biomimetics and are requirements for teammates to transcend
their ﬁelds to form a transdisciplinary whole in the long run.
As presented in Sec. 1, this study on communication within inter-
disciplinary biomimetic design teams is composed of two parts.
This article presents the theoretical foundation behind the tool,
but we are currently working on its practical implementation.
Since there is an inherent difﬁculty for users to combine differ-
ent forms of information (image, video, scientiﬁc references,
description, etc.) on paper, and because it should make dissemi-
nation and capitalization much easier, a computerized version
of the tool is currently under development. It should also allow
Table 5 Comparison of LINKAGE and already existing biomimetic tools on several methodological characteristics
Existing tools Linkage
Speciﬁc aim Gives a way to perform one of the biomimetic
Structure the information gathered by the team and guide the communication
process to reach a synergic reasoning
Fitting user proﬁle Mostly unidentiﬁed Full potential with interdisciplinary biomimetic teams
Conceptual framework Engineering design and biomimetics Common framework of reference combining, engineering design,
biomimetics, and biology through structuring guidelines
Scope Mostly step speciﬁc Contribution identiﬁed at least during steps 2, 3, 6, and 7
041402-12 / Vol. 143, APRIL 2021 Transactions of the ASME
the automation of some redundant steps to increase the tools
Furthermore, this computerized version will allow us to test the
tool’s impact at a greater scale and implement feedback loops to
keep on improving its ergonomics, design new features and imple-
ment the knowledge capitalization through closed or open databases
depending on the use.
As previously described, we are also working on the potentiali-
ties offered by LINKAGE regarding the identiﬁcation and the selec-
tion of biological models.
On a more general note, our current work focuses on the remain-
ing issues about biologists’integration, which is the ill-deﬁned hor-
izontal biologist proﬁle.
The difﬁculty here arises because only a few tools and processes
are designed to include biologist. Taking such a starting point, it
locked the door for biologists, leading engineers themselves to
have trouble formulating realistic expectations for biologists. As a
result, it appeared necessary to start by focusing on the overall
framework adjustment (Why? When? Where? How to include
this potential new proﬁle?) before determining and training (How
to match design team expectations?) a ﬁtting new proﬁle having a
background in a biology and cross-disciplinary skills.
All along this article, we talked about horizontal biologists to
ease the reading but the question whether the proﬁle of interest is
a biologist per se or another type of proﬁle (engineer, designer,
etc.) having followed speciﬁc training in biology remains unsolved
and will be extensively studied in coming articles.
This publication dealt with the integration of a new proﬁle having
an expertise in biology within biomimetic design teams. This study
takes the hypothesis of an already integrated actor and wonders
about his/her ability to act in a symbiotic way with the rest of the
team. Communication, as a crucial aspect of teamwork and a well-
known issue during pluridisciplinary project, is at the center of our
reﬂection. Anticipating on those challenges to fully beneﬁt from
biologists’valuable expertise appears as a requirement to support
their proper integration.
Through the literature review, we identiﬁed various noises at the
origin of communication problems and chose to focus on expres-
sion spaces (channel), cognitive dissonance,encoding format, and
decoding process, and more generally on the framework of refer-
ence leaving aside the issue of ﬁeld-speciﬁc vocabulary.
The research question studied in this article was: “Can we deﬁne
a common framework of reference to support communication
between biologists and engineers in interdisciplinary biomimetic
By looking at both design or biological processes and graphic
representations, the ﬁrst contribution of this article is the extraction
of various concepts and cognitive shifts that were turned into nine
guidelines structuring a framework of reference common for both
integrated biologists and classic design team members. Second,
through the embodiment of those guidelines (Table 3),
LINKAGE, an interdisciplinary tool leading to support the synergic
reasoning of the biomimetic design team was designed. Finally, its
compatibility with preexisting conceptual frameworks and its tar-
geted contributions are described.
The second part of this study, combining applications, tests’
results, and users’feedback, will be soon addressed along with
the release of a computerized version of LINKAGE. This open-
access tool will be available to the greatest number possible in
the form of a website.
Data Availability Statement
The authors attest that all data for this study are included in the
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