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Iza Mrozowska
Head of Design
Product Design
19.05.2023 | 4 min

Designing for Sustainability: How Product Design Can Help Build a Greener Future?

In order for the green future to become a reality, it’s necessary to involve many different groups, and product designers are indeed one of them. What exactly is their role? Let's listen to Asia, our Product Designer.

Designing for Sustainability: How Product Design Can Help Build a Greener Future? - 2023 41
Table of Contents
  • What is Experience Design?
  • Understanding the Differences Between the Circular and Linear Economy
  • Core Product Design Principles in the Circular Economy
  • What can you do as a Product Designer to contribute to a green future?

I recently got myself a fax machine, which is basically an ancient way of sending and receiving prints through a landline phone. But I didn't get it for its original purpose. Instead, I got it because it uses unique printing technology that I can use to make tattoo stencils.

Although I doubt the fax machine designers considered future uses of their bulky phone-o-print machines, many modern product designers are now adopting this approach and asking themselves: how can we design products that will last as long as possible?

Designing for sustainability is inherently connected to two ideas: Experience Design and Circular Economy. They both lead to creating products that are reusable, eco-friendly, and still fun to use while using the Earth's resources minimally.

So let's start at the beginning and explain them first.

What is Experience Design?

Experience design is a fundamental aspect of creating long-lasting, environmentally-friendly products. This design philosophy is centered around ensuring that people enjoy using a product or service and thus will use it for as long as possible. It’s heavily focused on the user, considering their behaviors, expected outcomes, and experiences. An experience-designed product should be practical, easy, and enjoyable to use.

Experience design aims to create a positive user experience, encouraging users to continue using the product and recommend it to others. This can lead to business growth, but it can also promote sustainable behaviors and environmentally-conscious decision-making.

To fully understand how Experience Design can contribute to a green future, we must discuss another critical term: the Circular Economy.

Understanding the Differences Between the Circular and Linear Economy

The current economic growth model follows a linear approach known as a take-make-dispose strategy. It involves turning raw materials into products that consumers use and then discard as waste.

However, this model has a significant flaw: it doesn't maximize the use of products and materials. Instead, they only move in one direction, from raw materials to waste. This results in pollution and the gradual degradation of natural systems, leading to major global problems such as climate change and loss of biodiversity.

Linear Economy_600

On the other hand, the Circular Economy model aims to use resources for as long as possible to minimize waste and maximize their value. For example, instead of making products that are thrown away after use, products are designed to be reused, repaired, or recycled. This helps protect the environment and conserve natural resources while encouraging people to waste less and reuse more.

The Circular Economy promotes products as services through rental, leasing, and sharing models. This framework is known as Product-Service System (PSS), with rental vehicles like cars or bikes being good examples.

Circular Economy_600

Core Product Design Principles in the Circular Economy

The Circular Economy is a concept that is gaining momentum and becoming increasingly popular in product design. I remember discussing it as a future idea in my studies, but today, it has become a reality. Not to look too far, I myself work in a company that co-creates sustainable products, such as the Pyur, Kyoto, and Nuvvee projects.

So the future is here and now, and to design products in the spirit of the Circular Economy, product designers are to follow these values:

  1. Engage users in the design process and put much emphasis on user tests. Product teams should gather precise feedback and insights from users to create lovable, usable, and sustainable products and services.
  2. Avoid quirky and trendy designs and features that will soon disappear; strive for evergreen and universal solutions instead. Revolut’s design is a good example, as it hasn’t changed much over the years. In contrast, the tiled interface of Windows phones from 5-6 years ago looks like prehistory.
  3. Mind groups that are excluded (socially, economically, politically) and therefore have a greater problem with an ecological approach. It’s the role of designers to understand their needs and reasons for rejecting eco-alternatives.
  4. Design products to be long-lasting and durable, reducing the need for frequent replacement and minimizing waste.
  5. Use Sustainable Materials that can be reused, recycled, or biodegraded, reducing waste and pollution. Examples: recycled plastics, bamboo, organic cotton, cork, recycled metals, reclaimed wood, and biodegradable materials like plant-based plastics.
  6. Always design with the intention for products to be repurposed, refurbished, or recycled, creating a closed-loop system that maximizes resource efficiency and minimizes waste.
  7. Design products to be easily disassembled for repair and recycling and provide user manuals that describe how to recycle or reuse the product.

What can you do as a Product Designer to contribute to a green future?

I believe that our role as product designers in creating green products and supporting a green future is crucial. And even though many factors are involved in implementing a Circular Economy, often beyond our control, we can still contribute to developing this idea with small steps.

First and foremost, by educating ourselves, which includes reading articles like this one. :) Any change must start with oneself, and working on something you don’t know about is hard. So, dear designer, educate yourself primarily on Experience Design and try incorporating Circular Economy values into every project as much as possible.

The second step is to spread this knowledge among your colleagues and other designers. For example, if you come across an interesting article about a green application that has achieved commercial success, share it on Slack. You could even conduct workshops on Experience Design among your colleagues.

The third and final step is to work with Green companies or those that work for Green companies. It's hard to implement the idea of a Circular Economy in companies that don't care about the environment. The good news is that there are more and more conscious companies, also in Poland.

So choose your employer consciously, just like you choose ecological solutions daily.

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