Permaculture Design Guide Book reviews

Peter Bane - Permaculture teacher and author

from a longer review in Permaculture Activist Magazine, February 2013 issue

Aranya is a senior British permaculture diplomate with an obvious passion for his work. He teaches with flair and designs small properties. The book he’s given us presents the most comprehensive guide to the process of permaculture design I’ve seen. It would be difficult to offer this much detail in a permaculture design course, though there the learning is anchored by practice. Aranya mixes humor, colourful diagrams, personal story and plenty of clever tips from his extensive practice…
Don’t let the zany humour and the light hearted tone fool you. This pied piper is leading his reader right into the heart of a very rich, complex, subtle, and powerful understanding of the world. By the time you get there, nothing will be quite the same, but it won’t have hurt a bit, amazingly enough.
The book’s strengths include its focus on the nuts and bolts of marshalling information, and its visuals, an array of colourful and sometimes dizzying photos, sketches, cartoons, and flow charts that complement the text and stimulate pattern recognition in the brain. The central message that Aranya delivers, reinforces, and that is often heard in permaculture circles, that “information is the chief limiting factor in design” provides the grain of sand at the center of this pearl. Layer upon layer of nacreous brilliance are built up here in response to the need for revealing the core truths of landscape and human culture.
The book is a checklist in form and is also filled with checklists. However, what sets it apart from simple inventories is the author’s excellent way of unveiling the kernel of every concept. He does this with such disarming ease that you don’t immediately realise you’ve been given everything essential in a short sentence or paragraph and have to catch yourself up and go back to read it again!
Permaculture Design offers the reader a full look at the design process from team formation and management to client interview to data gathering to analysis. It goes on to give guidance for presenting proposals, managing implementation (including time management), and evaluating results. Filling an important and largely empty niche, it deserves to be in the hands (or in the back pocket or handbag) of every serious designer.
The book is a major addition to the permaculture literature by a deeply insightful and generous author. Highly recommended.

Patrick Whitefield - Permaculture teacher and author

from Permaculture Magazine, Spring 2012 issue

For most people, taking the permaculture design course is a major life event. It opens the door on a new way of looking at the world. It affects you on so many levels that, however well you took notes, inevitably some of what you learnt passes you by. That’s why Aranya wrote this book: so that people could go away from the design courses he teaches and have a reference to the design methods he’s taught them. In effect it’s a toolbox of permaculture design methods.
Some people keep their tools in a higgledy-piggledy pile, chipped, blunt and un-cared-for. Others keep them in perfect order in a neat toolbox, each one in its place, oiled, sharpened and ready to go. Aranya is one of the latter and this book reflects the keen clarity of his mind. Open its pages and you can put your finger right on the design tool you need, from triangulation to the enticingly-named desire lines. It’s all there, described and illustrated, clearly and comprehensively.
But the tool metaphor can be taken too far. Permaculture design is not a random collection of good ideas, it’s a process. It starts with the receptive stage of observing and listening, goes through the creative stage of making design decisions and leads on to implementation on the ground and to reflection on whether the odd tweak here or there might not be appropriate. Aranya takes you through the process with the same chisel-sharp clarity as he describes the individual design tools.
Nor is the design process the whole story by any means. No book is a substitute for taking the course itself. When I wrote the Earth Care Manual it was with a similar motivation to Aranya’s: to provide people with all the information we don’t have time to give in the brief span of a 72 hour course. But neither design tools nor information have the same value as the experience of the course, which centres on actually doing permaculture design with a group of like-minded people under the guidance of your tutor.
So this book provides two useful functions. It’s a useful primer to prepare you for the major life event that is a permaculture design course, giving you many insights into applying the design process. And if you’ve already done the course, it will consolidate and reinforce the many design skills you’ve learned, enabling you to put permaculture into practice on the ground.

Andy Langford - Permaculture teacher and founder of Gaia University

I teach permaculture. Teaching/learning how to do permaculture design work takes a lifetime and, as we usually only have people for 2 weeks (and there is plenty else to do) that's a big challenge. Generally we can only provide a broad brush overview of a design process and then a sketchy (but useful) go though to ground the information. That's usually much more than a person knew about before they came and yet there are a million questions that the novice so rightly needs to ask. Here, in this packed volume, there is a wealth of techniques and strategies for the newby and the not so newby alike. I am enjoying the read and I am recommending this book to all my students at Gaia University. Thanks for gathering all this together Aranya and thanks for explaining it all in your clear, informal and yet complete style ... Good job!

Gary Finch - Permaculture teacher

from Permaculture Works, Spring 2012 issue

A good teacher realises that they still have a lot to learn, an exceptional one realises that 'everything works both ways' and reflects on both the results of the students and their personal experience of the session. Aranya has taught Permaculture Design Courses in weekly, monthly and 72 hour residential formats and has a keen grasp of the educator's concept of process over content. This book is the accumulation of seven years of teaching full PDCs on an almost full-time basis in both the UK and internationally and constantly striving to refine and improve upon the one before.
To this end Aranya developed a series of worksheets that took the student through the design process in a staged way that gave them a point of reference if the teacher or peers were not around to offer advice. As an apprentice I have been privileged to observe this process and am regularly impressed with the depth of the resultant designs prepared by the students.
If the ethics and principles are the foundations which underpin what drives us as designers then the tools in this book are the scaffolding to hang it all on and provide what is missing from many otherwise excellent permaculture publications. It enables designers to work through the process, ensuring nothing important gets lost in the excitement (theirs or the client's) to get on - invaluable when presenting a proposal to clients who may want to know why a particular element is in and another has been left out.
Each chapter is packed with ideas, tools and concepts that should be familiar to anyone who has done a PDC. The beauty is the cohesive way in which they are presented, acronyms are explained, examples given and I was pleased to see low and hi tech mapping tools included as well as a section 'Beyond Land Based Design'.
This guide does not replace a design course but is a useful adjunct, especially for those wishing to take their designing seriously and beyond their PDC design exercise or own site. I found it immensely useful in completing my Diploma.
(Gary was one of the book's feedback team and had various draft copies during its evolution)

Steve Charter - Permaculture teacher, designer and author of 'Eat More Raw'

This is an excellent, important and evolutionary book for the permaculture movement.
'Permaculture Design: a Step-by-Step Guide' by Aranya is evolutionary because its focus is the ‘how to’ of permaculture design, rather than the ‘what is’ of permaculture overall – and that is new, and moves the worldwide permaculture movement forward. This book does what it says on the tin ... or in the veg box ... in that it guides you through the many and varied permaculture design tools, techniques and processes that you have in your imaginary permaculture toolbag, whether you are designing a garden, a small-holding or a community project.
If you’ve done a permaculture design course or an Intro course, or you are a good self-directed learner, or if you are a permaculture geek or grow-your-own raw food enthusiast, then this is THE book to give you loads of information on how to do permaculture design. It’s full of excellent illustrations, photos and diagrams, as well as a helpful layout to use in a practical way, because it is as it says, a guide. It’s probably not one you’ll sit in your armchair and read from cover to cover, but it is one to have in your pocket on site, or on the table as you survey, consider and design your site.
I can’t say a lot more about it than that ... partly because there’s no need to say more than, ‘well done Aranya - what a great book!’ and partly because it’s so useful I have of course lent it to a friend or student, so it’s not to hand as I finish this review because it’s usefully being looked at and used elsewhere! Doing the job it was designed and written for...

Nicole Vosper - Permaculture teacher and columnist in Positive News

As an apprentice on the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design and a Gaia University Associate, no other book has come close to the amount of times I have referenced it as much as Aranya's guide to the design process. I was fortunate to receive a pre-print copy as part of a diploma support event I attended with Aranya. Ever since I have continued to go back to the pages time and time again.
Aranya goes through the design process in a beautifully clear way - no other permaculture textbook really comes close to its logic and practicality. Always backed up with real life examples, Aranya brings the design process alive. Whenever I've felt lost in a maze of analysis - whether its designing for my smallholding or for the community projects I organise with - Aranya's book helps me to get the process straight in my head. The flowcharts, key questions and design tools all help me to organise my thinking in a way that I can get the most out of the design process. I get sent a whole lot of books to review. This has been one of the most useful I have seen to date.
If you are new to permaculture, or you are completing the diploma or even if you are an experienced designer - get this book! It is a must and one of the most useful texts in the permaculture toolkit to date! Even if you've never heard of permaculture before, make the most of these tools to help re-design your life or projects you care about, you will not be disappointed!

Esther Allerton - Staff at

I'm not a very organised sort of person. I love ideas. I love experiments. I love reading. I love learning new stuff. I love sharing what I learn. But I'm not very good at pulling everything together into any semblance of order.
About five years ago, I took an online design course, but when it came to drawing up the final design, I ground to a halt. I told myself it was because I hadn't done enough experiments to determine exactly what could be persuaded to grow where, so I'd need to spend a few more years trying stuff out. A final design, after all, is final. Isn't it? So it needs to be exactly right.
Perhaps if Aranya's book had been available five years ago things would have been a little different. In his book, Aranya gives you all the tools you need to assess a property, the needs of the people living there, the resources available and any fellow workers on a project, and then leads you step by step through the whole design process of taking each element and weaving them together into an intricate and self sustaining web.
Where the book scores is that it does exactly what it says on the cover - it walks you through the whole process. You never get left asking yourself 'I wonder what I should I do next?' because he's right there taking you by the hand and leading you through it. On the way he gives you a collection of tools to use to help keep you on track.
The book is divided into three main parts - preparations, the design process, and beyond land based design.
In part one, preparations, he introduces patterns, system thinking, spirals of erosion, and principles and directives that will help guide your design, followed by advice on what constitutes effective design and how to organise your team of helpers to get the best out of them.
Part two, the design process, is the real nitty-gritty of the book. This covers surveying the site, drawing your base map, recording site information, interviewing clients, analysis, placement, design proposal, implementation, maintainence and evaluation and presenting to a client.
Part three, beyond land based design, shows how permaculture design can be applied to other aspects, like course timetables, social structures or even your own life.
The whole book is designed to be small enough and well enough laid out to be useful out in the field. Each section has a useful summary of key points to keep you on track, and there is a great mix of high-tec and low-tec tools so you can select the most appropriate for your needs. He understands that when working for a client with a team of helpers that you will need to be very professional and organised, but appreciates that a lot of people are working on a budget and for themselves, so he's laid the book out with instructions on which bits to skip in different circumstances - you don't need to spend much time organising a team of one or writing a proposal to yourself!
This book fills a huge void in permaculture literature. Anyone thinking of designing properties for other people will find it indispensable, and I can't imagine there are many people who only want to design for themselves who wouldn't benefit from having this book by their side as they plan out their dreams and their gardens. It's not a complete introduction to permaculture, it is a toolbox and how-to guide for pulling everything together into a coherent, self-supporting whole. The book itself is laid out so it's very easy to dip into, with plenty of relevant diagrams and lots of sub-headings so you can quickly locate the info you are looking for. My advice is to read it right through once, then keep it in your pocket as you are out and about.

Vince Kirchner - Great Lakes Permaculture

Permaculture is relatively simple, simple concepts, simple ideas, simple applications, until you look at your first design application. Your mind goes blank, what do I do first, what do I do second, what if I make a mistake. After the initial panic set's in, you calm down and start to work through the principles one by one and the design starts to solidify. Because of those first time jitters, I was deeply interested in obtaining a copy of the book, “Permaculture Design: A Step-by-Step Guide” to see what others have accomplished and how they organized the design process. I was intrigued by a new book on design that would provide step by step instructions by an author that has obtained a very prestigious background in permaculture design and research. The book can be ordered by itself, or for a few dollars more you can receive and accompanying CD with the actual designs and background information on the work that Aranya has completed. With that, I pre-ordered the book and waited patiently for it to arrive and finally that day came. Okay, maybe not so patiently...
I understand the importance of the permaculture design class and the impact it has on your thinking and your way of life. So I take the information gained during that designer class very seriously, no book will ever replace the designer class but it can serve as a preparation tool or to fill in gaps that might not have been covered in as much detail as you would like in the 72 hour designer class. For me, I wanted to look at the organization tools and the way that Aranya organized the flow of the mass amount of information to be gathered, evaluated, and organized to create a final permaculture design. And this book did not disappoint me.
The book is organized in three major sections, the first covers the preparations which include observation skills and a brief description of the concepts of permaculture along with working with groups and conflict resolution. The second section covered the design process with details on the site survey and an excellent section on basic map types, map making using basic tools such as compass and measurements, and how to create your own maps, flowcharts, sector and solar maps, and soil type. Additional discussion on the client interview process, goal setting, choosing your systems and elements, and finally starting to create a design proposal of your thoughts and client wishes. The next information provided are details of how to organize the project using time lines, Pert and Gantt charts, the creation of a maintenance plan, resource list and finally how to create your formal presentation to the client. The third section provides information on organizational tools labeled incremental design that include additional flowcharts, mind mapping, the use of a diary, social structures and interaction between various networking groups for social stability and sustainability. Appendices, a resource list and glossary are also provided.
The book is heavily illustrated with color images of every phase of the design process, and descriptions of computer based software are also provided as a guide to making professional presentations and reports using open source software, freely available to everyone at no charge. The book was a pleasure to read, well thought out and presented with a desire to educate but also inspire us to make changes, changes in our own lives and for the good of the ones around us, changes of future generations to come by showing us just how easy it is to make those changes.