At Punctuate, we have been learning and applying eco-design principles, methods, and skills. While expanding our knowledge base on the subject, and while developing the tools we require to elevate our eco-design practices, multiple questions naturally emerged. We asked ourselves if is it possible for designers to integrate eco-design early into the ideation phase without constraining creativity?
As we were further implementing eco-design practices within our design studio, we were led to mainly reflect on our role as designers within this process. A major challenge for our team was identifying when and where to begin integrating this eco-innovation approach into our overall product conceptualisation and development processes.
Typically, this approach is incorporated once a formal first version of the product begins to see light. However, when this occurred, we noticed that we generally had to back-track and restart some of the preliminary steps: we had omitted to take into consideration - or even get inspired by - some of the eco-conception criteria that emerged later.
In most cases, the preliminary ideation phase is thought of as a highly creative process that should not be over-constrained. Some might think that adding too many roadblocks in the beginning could jeopardize the quality and quantity of innovative ideas brought to the project.
It is safe to assume that, for us, creativity and eco-design seemed to be facing a dualism where prioritizing one seems to jeopardize the quality of the other. However, we decided to push our research further in order to investigate this tension. After all, we can’t possibly be the first designers to have been faced with these types of questions.
Soon enough, through our research, we were able to learn about the paradox of the eco-designer as developed by Jensen et al. 1997 as well as Lagerstedt et al., 2003. This paradox helps us understand that the designer must act as early as possible in the design process to be more agile in implementing eco-design strategies. In fact, according to the research, 80% of a product's impact is created during the product design.
At Punctuate, we have defined our own paradox of the eco-designer by purposely choosing to integrate eco-design at the earliest stage of our process with our clients, and this during the first strategy definition workshop.
Our research has shown that the majority of eco-innovation tools available are more geared towards engineers rather than designers. In 2010, Wafa Samet Kallel's thesis "Développement d’une méthode d’éco-innovation" proposed a tool with the objective of not altering the designer's imagination but stimulating it through product customization. As an innovative design studio, our goal is to go further by leveraging all our strengths in eco-design.
As we know, multiple initiatives and strategies have emerged in recent years in response to today’s over-consumption models. By consequence, we have seen design discourses evolving from form equals function, to form equals emotion, designing today for the world of tomorrow might make us argue that form should most importantly equal sustainability. link to our article about emotional durable design.
At Punctuate, we agree that design has the power to increase attachment to products and services. We have therefore integrated into our traditional design processus multiple methodologies used in eco-design.There techniques enable use to gain a more holistic understanding of the product’s whole life cycle, allowing us to better target where and how to lower its impacts.
Therefore, our main purpose is to ultimately extend the product’s lifecycle as consumers are more encouraged, through purposeful design, to desire, become attached, preserve, fix, maintain, and eventually pass on the artifacts that they purchase instead of discarding them.
By focusing on delivering the most optimized user experience, designers can embody value in artifacts in both subtle and durable ways, thus extending the product’s life cycle. The user experience includes multiple interconnected aspects, including and not limited to the aesthetic experience of the product. In order to promote product attachment, the aesthetic criterion is just as fundamental as the others in eco-design.
By applying this perspective and our methodology to all our projects, we demonstrate that it is entirely possible to have a product that is equally aesthetically pleasing as well as eco-designed.
Furthermore, we have been increasingly working on electronic and phygital products at Punctuate in the past year (link to project Moduly). As we were integrating eco-design principles in the beginning of each project, our research revealed that the impacts generated by the use phase of these types of products represents between 60-80% of their total impact.
As we have previously pointed out, industrial designers are equipped with the skills and knowledge required to truly understand the stakes involved in the use phase through their user-centered approach.
In that sense, designers actively contribute in building and piloting the user experience, particularly once the product is purchased by the consumer and is put to use. The designer can optimize the interactions within this phase to limit or reduce actions which lead to negative impacts, thus adding value to the eco-design process.
Lastly, designers are used to stretching their creativity muscles on a daily basis throughout their design methodology, as can be seen in brainstorming sessions for example. Their creative analytical tools and skills can be of great value in terms of eco-innovation as they are wired to quickly and swiftly find ambitious solutions that go beyond the obvious.
The most important revelation is that designers must be exposed and thoroughly trained to understand and master eco-design principles so that the creative solutions they propose and develop have the least amount of negative impact on the environment - and who knows, maybe even a positive one.
For all these reasons, we have decided to redefine our own Punctuate methodology by seamlessly incorporating eco-design principles and practices. For us, it is imperative to collaborate hand in hand between engineers and designers towards a common goal which is eco-innovation.
This step falls within the research phase prior to any major concept brainstorms, and is based on the "design methods for successful circular innovation" developed by Ecodesign Circle (Workshops - Ecodesign Toolkit).
Within an eco-design project, it is important that all stakeholders are actively implicated and involved in the process. An eco-designed product can generate impressive amounts of meanings and value to these stakeholders, as well as the end-user. In that sense, the project collaborators need to be active contributors to the overall project, from the clients, engineers, industrial designers, manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, to the buyers, to name only a few.
Furthermore, in order to make sure that the project fulfills its eco-innovation objectives, it is important to define a few intentions early on in the process. For example, we have selected 10 sustainable development goals among those defined by the United Nations (THE 17 GOALS of Sustainable Development) from which the stakeholders can choose to act on through eco-design. We recommend choosing one to three for each project.
In addition, to complement the sustainability objectives selected, we have identified up to 14 mega trends on which we can offer an added value to our stakeholders through eco-design. Every year, the SITRA Foundation publishes the emerging trends of the year. Those of 2023 describe the entirety of future trends leading to change in various industries through five themes: nature, people, power, technology, and economy. At the heart of these trends lies the crisis of ecological sustainability and the erosion of nature's restoration capacity. As we all may know, temperatures are warming up, biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate, natural resources are overexploited, and the quantity of waste is increasing.
Therefore, choosing to act on these trends can be of great value from an ethical and socio-cultural perspective, let alone an environmental one. These types of considerations can be then adequately marketed through the product launch and release to raise awareness as well as grow notoriety.
We also recommend choosing one to three of these trends to be used as a guideline for each project. Here are some examples of mega trend cards:
The second step of the process consists of identifying the main environmental impacts of the product we aim to develop before starting the ideation phase. In our experience, this step is of crucial importance and has already yielded significant results in our projects.
In the efforts to be time effective, the first reflex should be to research any available life cycle analysis reports that can be used as a reference. If no report is available, we opt to purchase a comparable product and conduct a life cycle analysis in-house ourselves. This can also help us confirm or refute the numbers found in initial reports.
Let's illustrate this step with the example of an air purifier:
We found that around 60-80% of the product's life cycle impacts were caused by the electricity consumption in the use phase of its lifecycle. Therefore, when designing the product, we identified two parameters which should be kept in mind. Firstly, it is important to optimize the motor's energy consumption. Secondly, users should be guided towards minimizing unnecessary usage time.
When it comes to the integration of industrial designers within an eco-design process, the research as well as our own experience has shown us that a few hurdles can emerge in some instances. In fact, stereotypical assumptions or isolated situations may lead one to believe that designers are primarily concerned with aesthetic considerations. This view may also imply that designers tend to disregard the environmental impacts caused by some of the aesthetic choices they might prioritize. In that same gray area, we can also find advertisements for the use of so-called “green” materials which are associated with nature such as wood. Without a proper life-cycle assessment, such materials can be more harmful than expected as they need to be contextualized in relation to the whole product’s life cycle.
At Punctuate, the entire team has been continuously receiving multiple eco-design training sessions. We have observed that these trainings make the team enthusiastic about the eco-design process as well as make them increasingly aware of the impact of their design choices. A designer who understands eco-design is a designer who understands the environmental impact of their ideas.
In that sense, we have observed a shift in reflexes within our core design team, particularly during the ideation phases of the design process. In fact, our designers automatically include environmental improvement ideas and criteria without being reminded or asked to. In addition, we have observed that our designers tend to quickly set aside some directions because their knowledge allows them to anticipate the major impacts involved.
Once the product development strategy has been identified, a knowledge-base surrounding the impacts has been created, and the design team has been trained in eco-design strategies, methods, and principles, we can begin to develop the preliminary ideas. At this point, the designers follow a standard design project process where they brainstorm and review hundreds of ideas until they refine them into a handful of concepts.
These concepts are developed, reviewed and selected by the design team based on the previously-defined design brief, criteria, and intentions. The reviews can be made within the core design team, by consulting with the experts (e.g. engineering team), or even by involving the client themselves.
This is where the eco-design methodology comes in again.This fourth step occurs mainly during the concept development phase. It is an iterative step that can be repeated several times before reaching the final concept. In order to properly select the 3 to 5 concepts that are going to be presented, it is useful to analyze all their advantages and disadvantages in terms of environmental impacts.
We therefore recommend conducting a life cycle assessment (LCA) analysis at this stage to calculate certain impacts. However, it's important not to go too much into the specifics since the product is still at the conceptual stage. The objective is really to quickly and swiftly locate the sources of the main impacts. Once these are identified, we can choose to eliminate or change some concepts. If we really want to continue with a concept, then we need to find a solution to reduce any problematic impacts. This way of working can ultimately be compared to the double diamond of design thinking.
Through a few design review meetings with the stakeholders, the team can narrow down to one final concept to move on to the development phase. To help guide the choice towards the best concept choice, it is necessary to compare the potential impacts of the different preliminary concepts that are being explored. The comparison can help the team rate then weigh a handful of criteria and design intentions for each concept to find the right balance between the environmental impact amongst the other important considerations.
By utilizing this ecodesign methodology, the choices leading to the final concept are made simpler and easier: the designer have a holistic enlightened perspective on the different impacts, and some ideas can be eliminated or optimized much sooner in the process.
The methodology we have developed has already yielded interesting and impactful results within our design studio. However, we would be delighted to have your feedback, whether positive or points for improvement, in order to evolve eco-design for the greater good!
Do not hesitate to contact us at email@example.com.