Design Project: Key Functions and a Design (nearly!)


The E for Evaluate Information phase from CEAP is nice and short after the extensive data gathering of the C for Collect Site Information phase. At this stage, we ask which functions are most important to the client for the design? What are the critical energy leaks for the property?

The beauty of a rainbow after rain in September 2014.  It's the closest thing I had to a symbol of scales to represent the Evaluation Information stage.

The beauty of a rainbow after rain in September 2014. It’s the closest thing I had to a symbol of scales to represent the Evaluation Information stage.

Aranya recommends in Permaculture Design to choose 3 or 4 functions for the newbie permaculture designer and then with experience, choose more. Priorities are:

  • Client desires
  • Addressing potential threats such as flooding or fire, and
  • Supporting the ecosystem by plugging energy leaks

I have a presentation on the Key Functions to show this process leading to a draft design (oooh!), and a spreadsheet to identify the key functions and brainstorm systems and elements of those functions.

The idea is to have multiple functions for each element to make an interconnected a design as possible, and also multiple elements for each important function to build in security.

Key Functions Analysis

You’ll see in the Key Functions Analysis that the client desires are:

  • Food production
  • Play
  • Privacy, and
  • Socialising

And the energy leaks that will have the biggest impact are:

  • Water supply
  • Soil improvement, and
  • Wildlife habitat

Design Project Key Functions

These are reflected in the Design Project Key Functions presentation, and the elements are then positioned to support each other, and then to show journeys to ensure efficiency. This is followed by a draft design and I hope you can see what I have drawn there in pen, and some comments about the design. In this design, I was trying to go above and beyond with the food production desires and that wasn’t well received so it was back to the drawing board.

I’ll share the design in my next post and show how I’ve applied permaculture principles.

The Design Project series

Making a Start

Creating an Example

Design Project Site Observations and Maps

Design Project Developing my Process and a Promise to VEG

Design Project Client Interview

Design Project Tools for Analysis


Design Project: Developing my Process and a Promise to VEG


In my post, Creating An Example, I outlined what I want to achieve from the design project, and shared the 12 permaculture principles that provide guidance for this.

In this post, I would like to share my journey of developing the process for the project.

The branches reach out like signs in all directions

The branches reach out like signs in all directions

The way I see it, there are two parts to this:

  1. What is the overall process?
  2. In what format shall I capture the information, analysis, and reporting?

What processes are out there?

I have found a lot of the reading about the process to be quite high level and intangible. Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual, which is the required reading for the course, offers a number of approaches for design methods such as:

  • design by listing characteristics of components,
  • design by expanding on direct observations of a site,
  • design by adopting lessons learnt from nature, and
  • design as a selection of options or pathways based on decisions, amongst others.

However, this doesn’t give an overall process.

So I turned to Permaculture Design by Aranya for more step-by-step assistance while this is new to me. When reading it, my first impression was that this was more what I was looking for, and it does place design in context of a project, which is helpful.

Aranya discusses a few different frameworks and their associated acronyms.

Some design frameworks

SADIMET represents Survey, Analysis, Design, Implementation, Maintenance, Evaluation, and Tweaking

OBREDIMET represents Observation, Boundaries, Resources, Evaluation, Design, Implementation, Maintenance, Evaluation, and Tweaking

Quite a mouthful, eh?

And this is where Ziga from Permablogger has put together a useful post on this.

Personally, I’m happy with a recipe-style guide, with number steps. I think the above can easily bundle similar activities together.

Choosing my process

Aranya also includes a shorter acronym in his book: CEAP.

C – Collect site information

E – Evaluate the information

A – Apply permaculture principles

P – Plan a schedule of implementation, maintenance, evaluation, and tweaking

That brings it down to 4 steps, which is far easier to remember, and not lose track of where you are in the process. Essentially, I want any process I use to be meaningful. It doesn’t really matter what you call the step; it’s what you do that’s important. I will need to reflect on whether these steps align with my process after this project is finished.

Which brings me to part 2, in what format shall I capture my work?

Capturing my work

In my working life, I was a System Manager a few short years ago, and our mantra with supporting projects was always to use the system that is fit for purpose. There are lots of systems out there, but you want to use the one that is:

  • accessible when and where you need it,
  • has training and support available to get you through the learning curve and to resolve any snags,
  • has acceptable costs,
  • scalable to your project size,
  • and importantly, fits into your processes so you can produce what you need.

My intention is to be able to take my permaculture lessons into a professional capacity in Melbourne, and since the requirements for the course assessment are so generic, it leaves presentation open to personal preference.

I had to wonder if there are industry standards for this documentation or is permaculture still finding its feet in that respect?

I found this article by Darren J. Doherty “A Case Study in Permaculture Design Business Development” published in 2007, who comments “The application of digital planning and mapping software and tools in Permaculture Design has to date not been prominent.”

This stands to reason that quick and easy documentation is the name of the game.

My formats and the promise

I’ve put together a Design Project Deliverables List in Excel to keep track of my documentation.  Letting clients know what to expect is a standard part of project delivery and enables a discussion about the level of detail they desire vs the agreed cost.

Design Project Deliverables List

You will see that I’ve organised it in terms of the design stages and noted the status.

I’m using the Microsoft Office suite, WordPress to publish and submit my work, plus a mind map from Mind Meister, all easy and free (aside from the initial cost of Microsoft Office).

The hard part for me has been the mapping, since the property is irregularly shaped.  I have used SketchUp for the base map. I had some timely local guidance for this from the director at Very Edible Gardens, Dan Palmer, who generously responded to my query about what they use and in gratitude I promised to mention it on my blog 😀  There you go, Dan!

You might be interested in seeing the responses from a question I raised in the Permaculture group on LinkedIn what they like to use for mapping, if you are a member of that group.

I liked the idea of using SketchUp as it can be used for both 2D and 3D rendering, and it can conveniently grab sections of Google Earth from within the program to sketch over.  It also has handy videos on YouTube to show different features of the program and that made the learning curve more approachable for me.  And I was able to use a free trial.  So that all makes it fit for purpose.  Hooray for making life easier!

So there you are, my process is CEAP, and I’m using computer-based tools for the documentation.  I have more C for Collect Site Information to share with you soon, including the all important client interview, base map, and PASTE analysis.

What about you?  Have you found any other useful processes in your permie work?

Learning from the Leaders



As you can see, I have some reading ahead of me.  Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual is the bible for the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) and part of the course assessment is a multiple choice exam based on this book.  If you are not aware, Bill Mollison coined the term “permaculture” and developed the concept with his student, David Holmgren, in the late 1970s in Tasmania.  It gives me a sense of pride that Australia can have such an influence on the world stage in such an overwhelmingly positive manner.

Another Australian, Rosemary Morrow is a leading authority in permaculture and has implemented permaculture in diverse and challenging environments internationally for nearly 40 years.  She is still teaching permaculture and contributing to the community, as you can see from her profiles on Retrofitting Your Home and Milkwood Permaculture, and her book Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture is frequently mentioned in the lectures as a highly-respected resource. 

From across the pond, American Toby Hemenway studied and worked across the US in biotechnology and then was inspired to change his career by permaculture, developing a permaculture site with his wife in southern Oregon.  His book Gaia’s Garden is the best-selling permaculture book in the world for the last 7 years, and his permaculture work is ongoing.


Photo credit:

I also have the following on my wishlist:

  • Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels,
  • Permaculture by David Holmgren,
  • The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka,
  • Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier,
  • Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke,
  • The Empowerment Manual by Starhawk,
  • Permaculture in a Nutshell by Patrick Whitefield, and
  • Permaculture Design by Aranya

What about you?  Have you read any of these?  What did you think?  Are there any others that you would add as a must-read?