Four Ways to Break Free and Start Designing

Photo© Craig Mackintosh

In one of the first segments of the Permaculture Design Course DVDs with Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton, in addition to the massive amount of information, a few comments made by Mr. Lawton struck a chord with me. The nature of his comment, as I understood it, was that the PDC is intended to empower the course participants to go out and start designing at any and every scale. This one passing remark still stands out to me as transformational and applicable across every aspect of life that permaculture design can influence, which is all of them.

With that comment in mind, I set about making the following list of ways that I can break the momentum of being the spectator that modern life lets so many of us slide into without realizing it.

This is my list, but I hope it helps you along your path as well. Feel free to add or edit and please leave any more great suggestions in the comments below.

1. Pick up paper and pencil… or a marker, or a paintbrush or a shovel and say something with it.

The real point of this first step is to find the language/media that you are most comfortable designing in and start practicing, refining your skill and growing your vocabulary. You probably have so many stories to tell and solutions to share built up inside that they are just ready to boil over. As your ideas start to come out in whatever design language you settle upon, you will be amazed at how many push through the floodgates.

2. Pick a problem and solve it three different ways.

I’ve seen lots of examples of powerful permaculture design creating abundance through application of appropriate pattern and cooperative systems. Another example of abundance that jumps to my mind in the context of design is the abundant variety of novel solutions to every problem in every system. By getting to know a system and then setting myself free to design not one, but many wild new creations around it, the attachment and fear associated with finding a single, perfect solution disappears and unleashes the creative flow.

Photo © Craig Mackintosh

3. Get Dirty! Play!

While Gaudi was designing the iconic Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, he was known to play with mud, letting it pour through his fingers to get a visceral understanding and experience of the flow of the natural form. This motivates me to listen to the wind and splash in puddles as I spend time taking in the the natural patterns of property I want to set free into abundance. Permaculture is revolutionary, so what better way to embrace the revolutionary in yourself than by stepping outside rules for adults and daring to experience the environment around you with all of your playful senses?

4. Finally, just go on, GET STARTED!

Put your pen on that paper! Get your hands in the soil! Get out on that property and start the conversation that will snowball into great design! The time will pass whether you start taking action or not. There are mountains of questions that you won’t even know about until you have started on the path and so many joyous discoveries along the way, there really is no time for us to lose. Go on, take that first step into the bigger journey.


  1. I like the way you have kept these tips short and sweet E.Ray
    An often perceived barrier to getting started in permaculture design is not having a site to design.

    For anyone with a PDC, joining a Permablitz Designers Collective is a great way to find not only like-minded design folks but also to be offered volunteer design opportunities. Each permablitz requires a Permaculture design and more often than not the host is very happy to have a budding new designer draw it up.

    Find out more at: (Melbourne – links to groups all over the world too) (Sydney)

  2. thank you! what you wrote here made my buy the DVD and hopefully we’ll also get permission to translate it into Hebrew. Keep up the good work!

    Alex, the College of Permaculture Agriculture

  3. Thanks for an awesome job Geoff: if Im not able for now to go to your hands on courses; but my company pays for all my college degrees.
    What college degree do you recomend me to take in addition to your courses that better help me to be a premaculturist? Agronomy, Plant biology, soil and water management?
    Thanks for you help
    Tomas Suria
    Miami Fl.

  4. I think it’s important to realize that conscious design is a habit. Building a habit takes time and much repetition, however once you’ve acquired that habit it’s yours to keep. We also need to keep in mind that as we design many mistakes will be made. We should embrace them for the learning experiences they are. I like to think that you have to get the mistakes out before the good designs come.

  5. It’s a funny thing with me, creating a design does not attract me. I feel quite happy to let others tackle that. I just want the design given to me and then it is at that point that I want to get my hands dirty. I am digging the paths for a mandala garden at the moment and it is this sort of stuff that I am most happy doing. Just give me the shovel, the hammer, the drill, the mulch and the plants to propagate and then for me it is party time. That may change as I develop greater systems understanding but I do love the application of the design more so.

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