Designing My Own Design Process

There is a new version of this desihn on my new website/blog, which you can read by clicking on the Permaculture Design Process link.


The second design in my diploma portfolio is my own design method. The version below is dated 26th March 2012. You can see the whole of the design by clicking on the link text below.

Design method

Designing My Design Process


I was in the middle of mapping a Poultry Scavenging System, when I realised that the way that I designed and created my projects, was not a recognised permaculture design process. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue for me, but having just handed over a cheque to register for the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, I realised that this was a potential problem in terms of my use of a recognised design process (one of the assessment criteria)

Initial Assessment of the Problem

I had a quick brainstorm, whilst standing gormlessly outside the chicken pen, and concluded that:

  • I did have a coherent system for producing designs, that it worked for me, but that it was not recorded anywhere.
  • None of the permaculture design processes that I was aware of appeared to represent the way that I worked.
  • It would be less energy expended to show that my process was an intentional one, than to make my prior work ‘fit’ a recognised permaculture system, and more honest.
  • My approach was always task orientated, and that I saw designing as an exercise in problem solving, and that I enjoy solving problems.

Outline Plan

Explaining what I did is much more complicated than doing it, as it sort of works backwards from the result, more than once.

I recorded my design process, at the same time as using it, in order to come up with a final process at the end. During that time, I compared the process that I recorded to recognised permaculture ones, to create the final process. Then I compared the final version, with the actual steps taken, as part of the evaluation. (Look at the flow chart, it’s easier to understand :-)

Permaculture Design process

What I actually Did

This is the record of the process that I used to solve the design

Initial Assessment and Outline Plan This is recorded above.

I gave myself the following aims and objectives.

To design my own permaculture design process in order to:

Record what my process is.

Explain it in permaculture terms.

Rationalise my own methods.

Explain my existing designs in a recognisable design process for diploma assessment.

My initial thoughts at this stage were:

That it would be easy to forget where I was designing, and where I was recording the process.

There was apossibility of becoming too rigid whilst recording what is normally a relatively flexible approach.

I was interested in the project.

It would be my first non land based design (See later)

I then asked a series of questions, and answered them.

What do I need to Know to achieve my aims?

Know what I do when I design

Know what permaculture design processes exist

What do I know already?

That my system differs.

What are the Gaps?

A written record of my process.

What are the recognised permaculture design processes?

How do I fill those gaps?

Record this process

Research Permaculture systems, (books, Association website).

How do I use this information? (Analyse)

Compare the two to identify similarities, differences, and areas of overlap, to Describe my process in permaculture terms.

Doing the Analysis

I wanted to break the steps recorded above down into functions. These are shown below in the table.

Association Literature Association Website Ross Mars Deano
Establish Aim
Observation Survey Information phase What Information do I have/need?
Evaluation Analyse Analysis phase Process Information
Design Design Design phase Create design
Implementation Implementation Management phase Use
Maintenance Maintenance
Evaluate Evaluate

The conclusions that I drew were that only I established an aim at the outset, which surprised me, and that my emphasis on the information stage was greater than the others. Otherwise, the process was very similar to all of the others, with the process described by Ross Mars as the closest.

Creating My Design

If the functions listed in my column are my process, what would be the best way to describe them to other permaculturalists? The ADIM, and EDIM bits of the established systems are easily recognisable, so if I use the same initials/terminology, it will them help to see the similarity. There is nothing that fits with my first process, so I can use whatever I want there. All of the functions of the OBR, or S, bits of the other designs all relate to collecting information, so a variant of that is appropriate, and may be more relevant to a wider range of designs.

My draft process was Establish aim, Gather information, Analyse Information, Design, Implement, and Maintain.

If this was my pattern, I needed to add some detail. To do this I compared this draft process to the one that I used to get to this point, and put back in some of the actual steps that I took. I then compared it with previous projects, to see if the process described the way that they were carried out. (This represents elements of both the analysis, and evaluation process, carried out within the design segment. That’s mainly because this design cannot be implemented until my next design is started, when this process can be used from the beginning for the first time.)

My initial design process looks like this:

Deano's Permaculture Design Process

My Design Process

Establish Aim.

Define Objectives (What do I want to achieve?)

Prioritise (Must do, Should do, Could do)

Identify potential pitfalls/constraints

Gather Information

Define information requirements (what do I need to know?)

Establish current knowledge/skills (what do I know already?)

Identify gaps (what’s missing?)

Create collection plan (how do I fill those gaps?)


What does it tell me?

What conclusions can I draw?

How does this inform the design?

Do I have all of the information that I need?


Led By Objectives

Add functions

Use design tools and principles

Can I visualise it?


Where am I now?

Where do I want to be? (from design)

What steps do I need to get there?

What do I need to achieve it? (resources, skills, time)

Are there any constraints?

In what order should I do this?





Modify if needed.

Overall Evaluation of the project

When assessed against my initial objectives, I’m pretty happy with the result. It describes how I work, but in terms that relate to permaculture. It also gives me a format to describe my existing work, and to use in future projects. I think that it will work in diploma terms, and publishing it here, and using it as the first design in my diploma portfolio, should help that along.

There are some specific areas that I want to look at again. The implement list that I’ve made could possibly be part of the design segment. I prefer to treat it separately, but acknowledge that if designing for somebody else, the design would need to include an implementation plan. I analyse/evaluate at each stage, but that would have added an unnecessary layer of complexity to the description. The same applies to my initial analysis. I cannot think of a time where I haven’t looked at a design process, without thinking about whether it was needed, should I do it, how might it be approached etc. Again, no real need to describe or record it. I think that I may end up having a separate EVALUATE stage, to emphasise it’s importance to me.

The design process itself was more complicated than it needed to be, as I chose to use the design itself, as the design project. A more normal design would have been easier, if there is such a thing.

Additional Benefits

Probably the most significant yield of the design was that it changed how I look at myself as a permaculture designer. Until now, I’ve been wearing permaculture ‘blinkers’ and considered myself to be a relatively inexperienced permaculture designer of land based systems, for myself. When evaluating the detail of my process, it was immediately obvious that it had been established and developed over more than two decades of prior work, and I could clearly see the areas that different parts of the process came from. I now see myself as an experienced designer, of a wide range of systems, currently concentrating on land based permaculture systems. A significant shift.

Wider questions

The lack of a clearly defined aim for other processes was brought into sharp focus by this design project. It begs the question why? Is there too much focus on the process, and not enough on the result? Linked to that is the question is it important that a clearly defined DESIGN process is used at all, provided that the aims and objectives are met, and that permaculture principles and ethics are used?

Second Evaluation 7th April 2012

The process needs to link more closely/refer to the other processes. For example, mentioning that the Gather Information phase relates to the OBR, and S, in OBREDIM, and SADIM respectively. Whilst it is noted during the design of this process, it will make it easier for others to understand the relationship.

Needs pictures, and flowchart. Needs linking to principles, criteria (including reciprocity).

Third Evaluation 23rd April 2012

I found another process described in Edible Forest Gardens. The outline is:

Goals Articulation

Site Analysis and Assessment

Design Concept Development




This may fit what I do better than my own process. Like mine, this process establishes an objective at the start. I like the Design Concept Development section. I tend to visualise what I want to create and then work towards that goal. That is noted in my own process by the term ‘can I see it?’.  Having an image in my mind is a powerful tool to aid in the design process, and I will use the Design Concept Development idea in at least one of the designs in the portfolio. I’m not so keen on the ‘Site analysis and assessment’. This seems to preclude analysis of anything other than the site.

Fourth Evaluation November 2012

Whilst the process that I used may have been a bit complicated, the Design Process that I created has been really useful, and I have used it for most of the designs in my portfolio. What has become clear is that the process actually starts with questions, and a period of reflection and thinking. What are my needs, priorities etc.? This then shifts into the establish aim segment. I alluded to this when I described the way that I do an initial brainstorm.

What is also clear is that the process isn’t strictly linear. Evaluation and Analysis in particular are carried out at a number of points in most designs, and any gaps in knowledge should spark further research (Gather Information).

In some of the designs I have hybridised two different processes, with this one providing the ‘spine’ of the new, customised process. I can see myself doing more of this type of design in future.

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