Plagiarism is terrible, every time. We should never use an idea and claim it as our own. But engineers, makers, and architects are often told to study others' work to get inspired for your own design. It can be as simple as asking the person next to you to designing the David L Lawrence Convention Center off of the Pittsburgh Bridges.
But if we are counting how much research and development all of humanity has done, it pales in comparison to the millennia to experimentation that life overall has had. This idea of mimicking life and our greater ecosystems, or biomimicry, is best explained by Vox and 99% Invisible below.
A whole train designed after shapes of birds! Not only did it reduce the sound, but it saved fuel as well. Life has had over 4,000,000,000,000 years to figure out how best to move around. But moving around is not the only thing.
If we look to our ecosystems, in our ideal economy:
I have been mimicking nature's work even before working at the Fab Lab. During our winter intensive during grad school, my cohort and I mimicked the building styles of the first peoples, who in turn were mimicking small mammals, by building snow shelters. All of us utilized the natural process we all share of giving off body heat and captured it, using snow, to stay very warm during the night. It might seem strange, but when sleeping in our structure I personally felt like I had been transported to some tropical climate!
What are some design challenges you are currently facing? Can you think of anything on earth that might have solved a similar issue millenia ago?