Circular design: A solution for a post-2020 world

Katja Forbes

  • Managing director of Designit, Australia and New Zealand
Katja is an Australian pioneer in the field of experience design and all its components.Back in 2014, Katja founded syfte, a specialist business in research and experience design acquired by Wipro in 2018. She was then appointed Australian MD of Designit. Katja was also a co-founding member of the Interaction Design Association Board (IxDA) in Sydney, helping build a community of over 1600 designers. Today, Katja is international director on IxDA’s global board. Katja is a sought-after speaker for organisations including Women In Design, Leaders in Heels, Women In Commerce, Code like a Girl, Telstra and Macquarie Bank. Katja was recognised as a Top 10 Australian Women Entrepreneurs 2018 by My Entrepreneur Magazine and one of the 100 Women of Influence by Westpac and the Australian Financial Review in 2016.

The way humans have been treating one another and the planet up until now has consequences. These consequences have clearly all waited until 2020 to show themselves and that’s what we are now experiencing all around the world. 

This year, focus across businesses has unarguably been different to every other year in recent history. First were the shocking Australian bushfires, which called for renewed emphasis on sustainability and climate change. People all around the world came together to donate and fight the good fight.  

Immediately after that came the COVID-19 pandemic, during which individuals were told to stay home, and businesses had to adapt the way they operated literally overnight.  Businesses were either flooded with sales or came to a grinding halt, depending on the products or services they offer, and the way customers are served.  

It wasn’t so long ago most Australians ventured out of their homes, while still maintaining a social distance and disinfecting themselves. Then at the height of the pandemic in the US, a black man was murdered by a white police officer, and the sickening event became public knowledge and spread very quickly globally. Protests were held all over the World, with some becoming violent, to show that Black Lives Matter. How to show due respect to people of colour has become very much part of the political and business agenda, and a discussion point everywhere.  

The need for design is now at an all-time high; for design of both new and existing products and services that take these three massive events into account. This year will feature in history texts for the foreseeable future because of how it has clearly changed our human course, in both significant and smaller ways.  

It is clear to me these events happened because we cannot continue on our current path. We absolutely must respect one another, the environment and everything that exists here. This is at the forefront of design as we forge forward, creating new strategies, realities and playgrounds.  

With these objectives, the production, or the way we go about design, will change as well. We will see design head toward ‘circular design’ more often.  

So, what is circular design exactly? It’s a term relating to the ideal ‘circular economy,’ where a focus is on reducing waste and moving toward sustainability. David Pearce and R. Kerry’s circular economy refers to the opposite of a linear economy, which is what we have been producing until now. Basically, it is an economy that focuses on the minimisation of waste and pollution, the regeneration of natural systems, and the extension of useful life for various products and other materials. In other words, waste is recycled and other uses are sought for various materials, rather than just declaring them useless and throwing them away.  

Circular design is based on these principles. It is design that moves away from the linear form we have always used, and rather ensures the life of the item being designed is more sustainable. This type of design fits into the circular economy because it meets the main criteria: It minimises waste material from life of the item and whatever by-product is produced, is diverted into another use.   

The circular design model was introduced by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the IDEO. The product life cycle doesn’t just end up as waste: It can be reused (second-hand items), refurbished and restored to its initial state, remanufactured and recycled (used to created something else). These new elements to the design process will certainly create extra thought and perhaps time. But the result is fewer products become waste immediately after first use. This business model is sustainable and gentle on the environment.  

Moovster is a recent example of circular design is a transport option by BMW and Designit; a smart mobility budget solution to transport that is sustainable and flexible. This solution, a spin-off from BMW), involves an app that rewards customers for flexibly using all kinds of transportation in a city according to individual needs. Its points system rewards users for taking advantage of active and sustainable mobility choices, like bikes and public transport. Partners like Adidas would accept points for in exchange for items.  

Not only does it also provide tax benefits when used, but offers cities the possibility of forecasting and influencing traffic flows. The initial test of this platform concept was such a hit within BMW, Moovster was then taken to market.  

Circular design makes a lot of sense; it respects humans, the Earth and everything on it. Since this is the way we, as a global community, are going, it is the right way to forge ahead.    



Tags: sustainability, design thinking

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