Nature has inspired generations of urban designers and planners in pursuit of harmonious and functional built environments. Research regarding self-organisation has encouraged urbanists to consider the role of bottom-up approaches in generating urban order. However, the extent to which self-organisation-inspired approaches draw directly from nature is not always clear. Here, we examined the biological basis of urban research, focusing on self-organisation. We conducted a systematic literature search of self-organisation in urban design and biology, mapped the relationship between key biological terms across the two fields and assessed the quality and validity of biological comparisons in the urban design literature. Finding deep inconsistencies in the mapping of central terms between the two fields, a preponderance for cross-level analogies and comparisons that spanned molecules to ecosystems, we developed a biotic framework to visualise the analogical space and elucidate areas where new inspiration may be sought.