Design From Patterns to Details

“Writing a play is like smashing that (glass) ashtray, filming it in slow motion, and then running the film in reverse so that the fragments of rubble seem to fly together. You start – or at least I start with the rubble.”  TOM STOPPARD

The seventh of Holmgren’s Permaculture principles invites us to “design from pattern to details”. As with many of the principles this is a devilishly simple phrase, but during the confused and difficult times that we are living through what might it mean in our lives, the activities that we are engaged in, and the things that we create?

Making art, and life in general, is frequently about taking a journey where the destination is un-known. By thinking from patterns to detail we can do much to bring focus and clarity to our direction of travel. It is also an invaluable way to stop us getting into the tangle that life, on all levels, can sometimes become. So what are the patterns that we may look for, and how may they help us?

  • Seasonal patterns may help us direct focus an energy at different times of year.
  • General patterns can serve as a tool to break things down into bite-sized pieces.
  • Historical patterns can help us think about how things have been done before, why they were done that way, and how successful the approach was. They can also help to highlight previous solutions that can potentially be reused.
  • Looking at seasonal output and energy can teach us about positive qualities and patterns that we may want to try and replicate at other times of year.
  • Starting with patterns and moving toward details can help us slowly and gently bring ideas into life in the real world.

Now that we have an idea of what patterns we may choose to look for, what context do we need to create in order for this kind of thinking to flourish, what benefits may it bring, and what are the intrinsic characteristics of taking this approach?

So are you taken by this as an approach to clarify a project that you are currently involved in? Here are some tools that you could use to get started:

  • Look at different patterns that exist in nature and see how they are reflected in your project. How are the things that you spot grouped? And what can you take from those groupings?
  • Think of how the natural elements of air, fire, earth, water and wildness are reflected in your project. Where do the projects strengths and weaknesses lie based upon this observation?
  • Think about patterns that you spot in historical observations (if you have any) and see what you can learn from any that you find.
  • Look at formal and informal oral histories and see what you can deduce from learning that has gone before.