Circular. Design. Process.
Circular Design is what makes the transformation to a Circular Economy possible. Or as my dear colleague Franziska would say:
“If Design Thinking, Systems Thinking and the Circular Economy had a baby, it would be called Circular Design”.
Currently, we are all consumers in an economy consisting of the linear process of take, make, waste. But as we transition to one that massively reduces waste and instead promotes a variety of re-use approaches, we will each become shareholders in the delivery and cycling of goods and services throughout the economy. The goal? Nothing is wasted, everything is regenerative. This requires a redesign of nearly everything.
Design, in this context, does not refer to the conzeptualization of the pretty furniture or the stylish shoes you see behind the shopping window you regularly walk past. Instead, design refers to any courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones (Herbert Simon, 1969). In short, it is creation with intention.
To us, circularity symbolizes more than the product and service loops of a Circular Economy. Rather, we understand it as a description of the interconnectedness of our complex world, and of the non-linearity of processes which are at the basis of both, biological and technical systems. Key words that are linked to this kind of thinking are: iterative, recursive processes, self-referential systems, balancing and reinforcing loops.
The Circular Design process comprises four iterative stages:
● Understand: Understanding the problem
● Define: Defining the problem
● Make: Generating, designing & prototyping solutions to solve the problem
● Release: Launching the solution & building a narrative around it
For each stage, we have selected a simple method that you can apply in innovation projects.
Understand: Brain Dump Map
Before we jump right into our innovation project and look at solutions, we first need to understand the system in which our project is placed. We need to discover all the stakeholders, their connections as well as the dynamics at play. This is where systems mapping tools come in.
One of those tools is a simple Brain Dump Map. In your innovation team, start by writing the topic of your project in the center of a large piece of paper or board. As a second step, each person writes down all associations you have with the topic – from concepts to stakeholders. Then, draw all connections between your associations. Finally, identify new insights that came up from simply drawing the system at-large around your project. The aim isn’t to already solve the complexity and chaos around your project but rather to embrace it (more information can be found here).
Define: 5 Whys
Chances are high that you are trying to solve some sort of problem with your innovation project. Here, it is especially important to not just look at the apparent problem, but to dig underneath the surface. In Systems Thinking, this approach is known as “root causes”. It helps us to find long-lasting solutions rather than short-term remedies for the symptoms.
One way to explore the root causes of your problems is the Five whys technique. It’s as simple as it sounds. Gather your team and drill down to the root of the cause by asking “Why did this occur?” five times. Each answer forms the basis for the next “why” question. The identified root-cause relationship then forms the basis for whatever solution you try to come up with in your project.
Make: Empty Chair
Having mapped the system and understood the roots of the problem, it’s time to create the solution. Design Thinking is a creative way of solving the problem of a solitary user, therefore often referred to as human-centered design. In Circular Design, you are not only designing for a customer or user, but also for a range of people who may sit within your extended value chain – the stakeholders. The goal is to include the stakeholders’ perspectives every step of the way and to evaluate your solutions’ positive and negative impact on them.
In an ideal world, you would actively include all stakeholders in the innovation process. In the real world, however, this is very complex or impossible. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, solves this dilemma by leaving an empty chair at the conference table that is figuratively taken by the customer. You can use this hack as well: Simply put an empty chair next to your meeting table, dedicated to representing the environment or any stakeholder who will be affected by your innovation project.
Release: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish
Launch your design when you think you can accomplish 80% of what you set out to do. Anyways, in this complex web of systems we’re living in, there’s no “finished” or “perfect”. Then, observe the outcome, mitigate unintended consequences, reinforce the positive impact, and release it again.
If you want to know more about the four stages of Circular Design and the above-mentioned methods, please get in touch with us.
We also put the Circular Design stages 1-3 into action at the Circle17 Impacthon.