How to meet the challenge of circular design?

In my previous article, we looked at the use of circular design, an economic and social model that is bringing about a quiet revolution in the way we see products and services.

In my previous article, we looked at the use of circular design, an economic and social model that is bringing about a quiet revolution in the way we see products and services. Producing in a responsible way is a challenge that must be met, including in the digital field.

Circular thought before design

Setting about changing the system means adopting a circular way of thinking. Circular thinking is important and must be present at managerial level in order to be effective. It makes the manager an actor in the decision-making process, rather than the master of the process. It is a form of management that gives and takes. It means developing an ability to interact, where energy comes from each person and flows between everybody: it must be meaningful, trust-based and exemplary. Of course, all actors (shareholders, clients, suppliers, employees and civil society) are integrated into this form of management, where openness, doubt and engaged communication are virtues. Together, we must search for common sense and links, allow ourselves the freedom to express doubts, and avoid self-censorship when analysing risks.

The four seasons of circular design

Isabelle Kocher, CEO of ENGIE, identifies a key quartet with a strong influence on the corporate ecosystem. This quartet decides whether the sun will shine or the rain will fall on a collaborative project, so its roles must be understood and taken into account to best integrate the circular method into the creation process:  

The comsumer


"The impact a company has on the environment is increasingly important for me. I will not hesitate to communicate directly with the company on Twitter to point out any deviations and make it take action."


The employee


"I like to be stimulated by my work environment and in agreement with the company's identity. If I do not agree with the company's purpose, it may be a cause for me to leave."

The regulator


"I make sure the social and environmental consequences of business activities are properly reported."

The investor


"I appreciate companies that demonstrate transparency regarding their global impact."

  These are the key players who must begin and carry out the circular method on a daily basis. If each one of them plays their role with recurrent actions, the company's entire ecosystem can change. Faced with users who are now more aware of their consumption of digital services and products than ever, it is up to us (as user experience designers) to consider these new behaviours in order to review our design methods with a more responsible approach.

So how do we go about doing it?

As digital players, adopting a circular vision in our working methods, right up to the services we sell, brings concrete benefits:

  • Belief in a sustainable economy with a strong and differentiating position. Today, digital creation agencies are positioning themselves in the environmentally responsible niche and talking about eco-web design in order to respond to the new challenges of companies with a strong CSR commitment.
  • Optimisation of our working methods by facilitating accessibility, communication and decision-making.
  • Avoiding projects that are energy-consuming for teams and products/services that are time-consuming for users.

On our end, we could meet this challenge by applying circular thinking as early as the brainstorming stage. When searching for a concept, here are the questions that should help us get started:

  • How can we make our product or service more modular and adaptable ?
  • How can our product be inspired by living systems ?
  • How can we transform our product offering into a service ?
  • How can our product be reconditioned over time ?

Methodologies specific to design are also part of this circular approach. The design system is a case of regeneration, through which design and tech teams will be able to find information during a collaborative project. It can be described as a graphical charter to which we have added rules regarding usage, behaviour, positioning, etc. The design system defines the design, from the smallest elements (text, titles, forms) up to grids, colour palettes, blocks and components. Design sprints are an excellent way to speed up innovation, making it possible to come up with and test new products in five days, by adopting a multi-disciplinary (integrating designers and developers) and human-centred approach. At WAX Interactive's Experience Design division, this Design Thinking method is offered to clients looking to speed up their creation process in order to produce a product/service in a very short space of time.


We should bear in mind that, beyond doing circular design, we must first raise awareness among all actors in the company about a circular approach that can be integrated in their daily work. This way of doing things involves a significant change in the way we produce and consume. This approach also offers an opportunity to satisfy the expectations of users/consumers through an engaged position, while promoting the transition to a circular economy. To sum up, designing for circular systems involves examining the way in which natural, industrial and social systems operate, and then finding ways to modify them to bring about circular and regenerative results. In some cases, this is extremely complicated (such as with nuclear energy), whereas in others, it is more straightforward (such as changing our collective dependency on disposable objects). However, all of the system changes we must design include the same factors: people, products/services, places and processes. They can all be rethought in order to maximise advantages and minimise negative effects. So, do we have all the conditions required to apply these principles and promote circular design within our companies ?