Design from Patterns to Details

"Can't see the wood for the trees"

The first six principles tend to consider systems from the bottom-up perspective of elements, organisms, and individuals. The second six principles tend to emphasise the top-down perspective of the patterns and relationships that tend to emerge by system self-organisation and co-evolution. The commonality of patterns observable in nature and society allows us to not only make sense of what we see but to use a pattern from one context and scale to design in another. Pattern recognition, discussed in Principle 1: Observe and interact, is the necessary precursor to the process of design.

The spider on its web, with its concentric and radial design, evokes zone and sector site planning, the best-known and perhaps most widely applied aspect of permaculture design. The design pattern of the web is clear, but the details always vary.

Modernity has tended to scramble any systemic common sense or intuition that can order the jumble of design possibilities and options that confront us in all fields. This problem of focus on detail complexity leads to the design of white elephants that are large and impressive but do not work or juggernauts that consume all our energy and resources while always threatening to run out of control. Complex systems that work tend to evolve from simple ones that work, so finding the appropriate pattern for that design is more important than understanding all the details of the elements in the system.

The proverb "Can't see the wood (forest) for the trees" reminds us that the details tend to distract our awareness of the nature of the system; the closer we get the less we are able to comprehend the larger picture.