Circular Design — With great power comes great responsibility

UX Rescue hold weekly clubhouse chats to talk about areas where we can create social impact through UX. Last week we had an inspiring conversation about Circular Design.

Circular design is about creating products and services that no longer have a lifecycle with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The purpose is to design products that can “be made to be made again”, as well put by Tim Brown, IDEO CEO. There will be as a result less waste and more value-added to the ecosystem.

The circular design process from Ellen Macarthur foundation

In conversation with Denise Tan, User Experience Consultant at Customer Experience Co.

Circular Design really came into the conversation for me more this year because I feel like, as designers, like Spiderman, we have a responsibility — the whole notion of “Great power comes with great responsibility.” We are so involved in the design process — not only to identify the right problem but to ideate the right solution for the future.

In terms of sustainability, I was looking at the circular design for principles for design thinking and ideating solutions that are regenerative for the future.

I want to promote circular design not only through sustainability projects but also outside of it as well (corporate projects, product/service design strategies, changing value propositions of companies!). One of my goals is to grow our impact across everything and anything we do. Whether you’re serving a client that manufactures makeup or chairs, or a particular service in childcare, circular design promotes a regenerative future, which means every design should be designed for the long-term and it flows from one to another. What I’m investigating is how we might use circular design for all — What frameworks can we use to design a regenerative future? What circular design principles can we adopt within our design thinking process?

You have such an opportunity for a ripple effect — you affect your clients, your clients affect their clients, etc.

Going from ‘make, take, and waste’ to closing the loop — HCD to Environment-Centered Mindset.

Not only do you design solutions, but it’s also about launching your design (in some way) to close the loop — it has to be circular! At the end of the day you’re working with clients, and some profit-driven companies might not have the right intention. As designers, we need to have that educational responsibility — whether you do call yourself a circular designer or not. You have the responsibility for whatever you ship out there to be sustainable.

There are definitely some challenges that we’ll be facing — we need to be talking about how can we face it head-on and educate people about circular design and why it’s important.

The circular design is connected to the circular economy — it’s about making sure the product or service you create is long-term.

At the moment we have a ‘make, take, and waste’ mindset. ‘Make’ is the process of manufacturing in a very non-environmentally friendly way, we, as humans, keep on taking. The earth only has limited resources, and then at the end of the day, we waste what we consume. The products/services usually made out there — are designed to have a short shelf life. One way or another, they end up in the landfill.

It is really about moving from a human-centered mindset to an environment-centered mindset.

Check out Monika Sznel’s article to learn more about this. (Español ver.)

HCD to environment-centered mindset

Desirability, Viability, Feasibility, and Ethical

In my company, as part of the projects we do, there’s always an ideation process where we can ‘make’.

And in this step, there’s always the opportunity where we can think beyond single-use solutions and apply circular design principles here.

As an example, I know Meld Studios have added another circle to the ‘desirability, viability, feasibility’, Venn diagram framework. They added ‘ethical’ questions to consider such as, “Is this idea for the long term? Is it regenerative? How do you ship this idea in a way that doesn’t waste any resources?”.

Even if it looks like a “small additional thing” in facilitating discussions — Including it within the design thinking and ideation process is what makes it so powerful than not having it all.

You’re sharing concepts and ideas with your clients that they may eventually implement. If you start with the right intention and with the right approach, I think that you can really make a difference and have an impactful ripple effect at the end of the day.

So beyond me, trying to get that thinking into my company, if the client applies this to their businesses and impact other stakeholders, and they end up implementing these ideas — that is really a solid gamechanger right there!

Check out Meld Studios’ article to learn more about this.

Meld Studios version of the Venn diagram, including “ethical”

Examples of circular design in daily life

Everyone knows about IKEA.

One of the things I appreciate about the brand is that they really try to put circular design into life.

Some of the products they produce can be upcycled and be transformed into other products.

For example, IKEA has a specific model of toddler bed that can be redesigned to another product when your child grows up. Its modular design allows you to transform it into a shelf and cabinet to extend its use.

Another example — I was so amazed the last time I went to IKEA and found out that you can actually resell your IKEA furniture back to them?

They have a section for second-hand furniture that customers can buy. I think that bypasses manufacturing and costs. This idea is great because whoever the innovator or designer who put this into practice really thought outside the box.

As UX designers, service designers — there’s always that stigma of our work being limited to just designing really cool websites and apps. But our work covers more than just digital. If we can really redefine our role and be more present as “Experience designers” in really impacting and revolutionizing how the business model works, we can really revamp customer journeys and create long-term solutions that are great for all — humans, planet, process!

IKEA’s buy back program

Designers are also Innovators — why are we limiting ourselves?

Lately, people only relate UX design to shipping out endless web-based products and apps. But that’s not really it. Why are we limiting and constraining ourselves to the digital world?

We’re here to cover the end to end of the experience. It’s more than just focussing on one part of the business, shipping out products here and there. As designers, we are innovators and the responsibility of creating truly something great is such a stellar purpose. It’s bigger than ourselves and the company we work for.

At the end of the day, we are designing for a better world.

So whatever — whether you specialise in UX, UI, Service Design, it really all comes down to designing experiences for all forms of life. From human-centered design to life-centered design. Giving respect to all the ecosystems around us and the movement we affect.

We have that responsibility to innovate through the gaps. And applying circular design frameworks and principles, just like IKEA — even if it’s really small — can truly make a difference.

How might we use design to close the loop and use the limited resources we have?

How can we as designers pave the way for new innovations that are truly better for people and the planet?

About the speaker:

Denise is a data-driven experience designer, UX consultant, and creative storyteller at the Customer Experience Company.

She has a background in business manufacturing and social development. She gained UX and CX experience working with various clients from fast-moving consumer goods, travel, healthcare, insurance to non-for-profit industries. Always advocating for customers, Denise loves solving complex problems by integrating design thinking and empathy into business strategies.

She wears many hats and is currently finding ways how she can incorporate circular design into her everyday work.

Feel free to reach out to her in Linkedin and have a chat!

To learn more about circular design:

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This upcoming week (May 13th 2021), we will be talking about how to drive behavior change across different cultures — and we will come back with more exciting topics! Join us at Clubhouse 🏠 and stay tuned for more!

Get inspired. Join the movement. Let’s create an impact together.

UX rescue is a volunteer community that empowers UX practitioners to learn, grow, and network by helping organizations across the globe.

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