Permaculture Designers Manual



Section 3.1 –

Introduction to Methods of Design in Permaculture

Definition of Permaculture Design

Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms. It seeks to provide a sustainable and secure place for living things on this earth.”


Functional Design sets out to achieve specific ends, and the prime directive for function is:

  • Every component of a design should function in many ways.
  • Every essential function should be supported by many components.


A flexible and conceptual design can accept progressive contributions from any direction, and be modified in the light f experience.

Design is a continuous process, guided in its evolution by information and skills derived from earlier observations of that process.

All designs that contain or involve life forms undergo a long-term process of change.


To understand design, we must differentiate it from its component parts, which are techniques, strategies, materials and assemblies:

  1. TECHNIQUE is “one-dimensional” in concept; a technique is how we do something. Almost all gardening and farming books (until 1950) were books on technique alone; design was largely overlooked.
  2. STRATEGIES, on the other hand, add the dimension of time to technique, thus expanding the conceptual dimensions. Any planting calendar is a “strategic” guide. Strategy is the use of technique to achieve a future goal, and is therefore more directly value-oriented.
  3. MATERIALS are those of, for instance, glass, mud, and wood.
  4. ASSEMBLIES are the putting together of technologies, buildings, plants and animals.


There are many ways to develop a design on a particular site, some of them relying on observation, some on traditional skills usually learned in universities. I have outlined some methods as follows:

  1. ANALYSIS: Design by listing the characteristics of components.
  2. OBSERVATION : Design by expanding on direct observation of a site.
  3. DEDUCTION FROM NATURE: Design by adopting the lessons learned from nature.
  4. OPTIONS AND DECISIONS: Design as a selection of options or pathways based on decisions.
  5. DATA OVERLAY: Design by map overlays.
  6. RANDOM ASSEMBLY: Design by assessing the results or random assemblies.
  7. FLOW DIAGRAMS: Design for workplaces.
  8. ZONE AND SECTOR ANALYSIS: Design by the application of a master pattern.

All these methods can be used to start on sensible and realistic design, with innovative characteristics.