Broadening the Taxonomic Breadth of Organisms in the Bio-Inspired Design Process

Amanda K. Hund, Elizabeth Stretch, Dimitri Smirnoff, Gillian H. Roehrig, Emilie C. Snell-Rood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


(1) Generating a range of biological analogies is a key part of the bio-inspired design process. In this research, we drew on the creativity literature to test methods for increasing the diversity of these ideas. We considered the role of the problem type, the role of individual expertise (versus learning from others), and the effect of two interventions designed to increase creativity—going outside and exploring different evolutionary and ecological “idea spaces” using online tools. (2) We tested these ideas with problem-based brainstorming assignments from a 180-person online course in animal behavior. (3) Student brainstorming was generally drawn to mammals, and the breadth of ideas was affected more by the assigned problem than by practice over time. Individual biological expertise had a small but significant effect on the taxonomic breadth of ideas, but interactions with team members did not. When students were directed to consider other ecosystems and branches of the tree of life, they increased the taxonomic diversity of biological models. In contrast, going outside resulted in a significant decrease in the diversity of ideas. (4) We offer a range of recommendations to increase the breadth of biological models generated in the bio-inspired design process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number48
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a grant from the Templeton Foundation on Function as a Bridge between Biology and Design, within the broader “Science of Purpose” program (Award 10996).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.


  • biological models
  • brainstorming
  • divergent thinking
  • problem-based learning

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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