Designing My Own Permaculture Design Method

Designing My Permaculture Design Method

As part of my graduation plan, I analysed the accreditation criteria for the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, which are published on the Permaculture Association website. There seemed to be some overlap of terminology, and meanings in the guidebook, and I have asked for that to be clarified. Meanwhile, I did some quick research on the various design methods that are taught. The accreditation criteria suggests that using more than one method would be preferable, so I wanted to refresh my memory. I have used design by random assembly for my nectary, and use a variation of design by analysis for most of my work here. However, I felt that the recognised design methods start from a point where the designer has already chosen elements and objects to use. This seems to contradict the principle of Design from Pattern to Detail. Whilst others may select these during the analysis part of the design process, that is not made clear. It is also apparent that there is sometimes confusion between what is a function, and an element, and that it can be difficult to work out how to use the various permaculture tools/techniques to create a multifunctional design. I therefore decided to use the way that I ‘assemble’ my own designs, to design my own Permaculture Design Method.

Establish Aims and Objectives.

The aim is to design a permaculture design method that fulfils the following functions (Every Element should perform more than one function):

Better incorporates permaculture tools and techniques.

Makes clear the pathway from pattern to detail.

Emphasises the need for adding functions to elements in a design.

Additional yields would be:

The creation of another ‘non land based’ design to my portfolio, to demonstrate my versatility as a designer.

Add another design method to the range available to other permaculturalists. (This is evidence of my engagement with the wider permaculture community)

To use this design to help evaluate my design process design (Apply self-regulation and accept feedback)

Gather Information


What do I need to know?

What the recognised methods are?

To find these I did some web based research. These are the methods that I found.

Limiting factors (McHarg Exclusion)
Analysis of Elements (Linking, Inputs/Outputs, )
Placement in the Landscape
Options and Decisions
Random Assembly
Flow Diagrams
Experience and Intuition
Incremental Design

Do any of them meet my needs?

No one method fits well with how I want to design/have designed projects. As stated in the background paragraph, I prefer to design from function, as I feel that it makes me consider all of the available options, before choosing which elements to use.

What do I already know?

I use elements of the Analysis of Elements method, and Options and Decisions, in my own method. However, Analysis of Elements assumes that the elements have already been chosen, which I think is a weakness.

I also start with the functions that I want the design to fulfil, and use those to decide what elements, and components would meet those aims, and provide the most additional functions.

What is missing?

A method that begins with the required function, and makes it easy to assemble a design in logical steps.


What does the information tell me, and what conclusions can I draw?

That there is a value to taking this further.

I need to start from the functions needed for a design.

It needs to be linked to my/a design process, to show how the two relate, and my gut instinct is that a diagram/flowchart will show that best, and be easier to follow.


Identify Functions

In order to Design from Patterns to Details, I need to go back further in the design process, and look at what functions I want the design to fulfil. In my design process, this would be set out in the Establish aims and objectives section. The functions need to be prioritised, and every important function should be supported by more than on element. Using this Mollison principle, ensures that redundancy, and resilience, are planned into the design from the outset, and is a bit more of a practical aid than the related integrate rather than segregate, Holmgren version.

Additional functions come from the Analysis phase of the design process. An example of this is the function ‘provide my food’. This may be an objective, but in order to do this other functions need to be met. These would include things like catch and store water, maintain/improve fertility, provide shelter. The depth of these additional functions really depend on the knowledge of the designer, or good information gathering.

Choose Elements

Once I have clarified what functions the design needs to fulfil, and noted which functions would need to be met by more than on element, I now need to analyse which elements might be suitable. The key driver here must be the primary aim/objective, and this is likely to have the most influence on the design. At this stage I would look at the strengths and weaknesses of each, choosing the elements that best met my needs, and which gave the most additional functions (Every element should perform more than one function). Note that some of this information may come from the analysis part of the design process. This section resembles the options and decisions method.

Decide on Components

Each element will be built of a number of individual components, for example, a coppice woodland will have trees, herbaceous plants, possibly chickens. It may also have swales, fences, paths, or ponds. In design terms it is again important to choose components that will fulfil as many functions as possible, both in terms of the stated aims, and additional ones. This part of the method is where I would consider the use of Succession, to continue to obtain a yield over time.

By actively seeking to multiple outputs (Whitefield) to both elements, and components of the design, I will get a sort of stacking of functions. In doing so, it makes it easier to reduce consumption (of space), and obtain a surplus to be redistributed.


We can increase functions and yield by good use of placement, and most of the established design methods concentrate on this. From pattern to detail, I consider placement in relation to:

The overall design within the wider landscape.

Elements within the design.

Elements relative to other elements.

Components relative to the element within which it is placed.

Components relative to other components.

The key to placement is the establishment of beneficial relationships, and some of the design tools that we can use are: Patterning, Edge, Guilds, Zoning, and Stacking. It can also incorporate parts of other design methods, such as the linking of outputs and inputs (design by analysis).


Where am I now?

I’ve reached the point where this design process, using EGADIME, has designed my own design method (function-element-component-placement).

Where do I want to be?

I need to put this into a format that separates the process from the result.

What steps do I need to take?

Create a simple text list of the method. Include tools, and principles if applicable. Do the same with a diagram. (see below)


Pattern Detail Principles and tools
Identify Functions From establish aims and Objectives (EGADIME) Every Important Function should be supported by more than one Element.Integrate rather than Segregate
Choose Elements Informed by functions, and analysis.
Identify possibilities and choose for each Function.2+ for Important functions SWOC/positive and negative.Similar to Options and DecisionsmethodEvery Element should perform more than one function.
Select Components Select for additional functions Every Element should perform more than one function.
Multiple Outputs (Whitefield)
Consider Succession, to obtain a yield over time.
Consider Placement Overall design within the landscape. Designing in wholes (Whitefield), Design from pattern to details.
Elements within the design. Relative location to establish beneficial relationships.Patterning, Guilds, Zoning, Sector, Stacking.Linking of outputs and inputs (Design by Analysis)
Elements relative to each other.
Components relative to the element within which it is placed
Components relative to other components.

The picture below shows this in a flowchart form. The top line is my Design Process, and the remainder is this design,my design method.


Permaculture Design Method

My design Method


The Maintenance of this design (my design method) relies on my using it, and applying self-regualtion.



This Design

This method was used to create the overall design of my site, and most of the elements within it. The value of the method can be judged by these designs. The method worked well, and suits my way of designing. I have yet to use the method for a non Land based design, and cannot be sure that it would be as effective.

It meets the objectives listed at the outset, although I’m not sure that it is better at describing where the permaculture tools and techniques fit into the design method, and process, than the existing design methods. When a new design is needed, I will try using another method, to compare the methods.

In terms of dissemination, the diagram is better at showing how the method fits within a/my design process, but the table is easier to refer to. This observation is perhaps as much of an evaluation of how I think, than of the suitability of either display method. I have posted a copy of the diagram on the Diploma group Facebook page (March 2012), and asked for feedback. This is an example of Apply Self regulation, and accept feedback, and will be used to refine the method. I am particularly interested in feedback from people who create mainly non-land based designs, as there may be ways to adjust this method to make it more widely usable. There are a number of design methods available, so if this proves to be less useful for that type of design, it would not be a problem. It also demonstrates my engagement with the wider permaculture network, offering a potential new design method, and asking for feedback in return.

An additional output from the posting is to ensure that if a similar method has been promoted in my tutor’s forthcoming book, he will know that I haven’t plagiarised it.

Second Evaluation 5th April 2012

I used this method in my Designing a Successful Diploma Graduation Design. As I noted there, the use of this method felt forced. The functions and elements were alright, but the components and placement segments were less convincing. Before writing it off as a land based design method only, I need to use it again for a process.

My design process

I’m relatively happy with the effectiveness of the EGADIME process. It works for a process, although there were times where I felt that I was sticking too rigidly with some of the sub headings, rather than use what felt right. Doing the latter, and then using the results to apply self-regulation, might have been more useful to me in the long term. I think that the final ‘E’, is a necessary part of the process, and will amend the original design to accommodate that.

Third Evaluation 8th April 2012

Having just read ‘Permaculture Design’ by Aranya, it is clear that he does the selection of elements during the Analysis/Evaluation phase. Whilst I agree that it is important to Gather Information, and Analyse all of the available options, a choice of element is a decision, and therefore part of the design process. Whilst the analysis may ‘inform’ the choosing of elements, the decision is not analysis. If not, the design phase is simply an exercise in positioning. These three parts of the design segment are not neccessarily done in a purely linear fashion, but their functions are different. Gathering Information is collection. Analysis is the processing of that information. Design is the decision making part of the process. Therefore a choice is a decision, and falls within the design segment for me. The separation may be more clear for me as a result of my military background. Gathering and analysing information is a G2 (Intelligence) function, whereas decisions based on that information is a G3 (Operations) function.

4th Evaluation 23rd April 2012

Having just read issue 72 of Permaculture Magazine, Aranya seems to be confused over the D in SADIMET. In his book he chooses elements during the Analysis, but in his article he states that the ‘D’ is where the decisions are made. Over to you Aranya

5th Evaluation November 2012

Looking back at this design at the end of my diploma, what is clear is that the method has a limited use, and seems best suited to designs with some complexity. It’s not the scale that’s important. For example a house garden could have lots of different part to it, like hedges, ponds, vegetable growing, fruit, social space etc.

The most useful outcome of doing this design was practise at doing another non land based design, both in terms of my diploma portfolio, and the experience itself.

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