Using circular design: let's start going round in circles

Taking an interest in the environment when you work in digital technology may seem like an amusing idea, but a quiet revolution is taking place with the concept of circular design.

More than ever before, we need to see environmental responsibility as more than just a trend and overcome indifference and marginalisation. Protecting the environment should be an integral part of our society and we must all get involved for the situation to improve.

The genesis of circular design

As early as 2010, supported by her foundation, former British sailor Ellen MacArthur spoke of the circular economy as a response to the obsolescence of our economic system. Remember that we overshot the Earth’s "annual natural resource budget" with five months still to go in 2018. Ellen MacArthur has continued to sound the alarm about the very linear "Produce-Consume-Dispose" model of production and consumption, stating that the solution is not to slow down the machine and rein in our lifestyles, but to rethink the model as a whole. She presented the idea of rebuilding our economic system and business models at each stage of production, with the following illustration:   "Do we buy a car, or do we buy road miles? Should the first line on a manufacturer’s design brief be 'we need to design this car for disassembly; we need to be able to recover all the materials, so we can make the next car out of it'? Do you buy a washing machine or do you buy 3000 washes? If you buy 3000 washes, you'll have a machine which is more reliable, better built, can be repaired and you have a relationship with the manufacturer. It works for everyone; it's a different way of looking at things. Then the business model changes, you end up with millions of different options for innovation, for young people, through economics, through design, through materials science: it changes the whole paradigm."   The company IDEO used this manifesto as a basis to establish a Circular Design Guide. Its originality lies in the taking into account of the entire design and production process: materials used, business models and the future of the product or service, designed with a renewable and responsible approach. Circular Design shows us that another way of thinking is possible, based on a design method that incorporates five main principles of the circular economy:

  1. Regenerative thinking: this term describes a process that restores, renews or revitalises its own material and energy sources by creating sustainable systems in harmony with nature.
  2. Service flip: our ability to adapt and redirect our thinking from products to services, by looking at underlying needs. Have you ever asked yourself why vacant offices couldn't be used by freelance workers, through immediate rental of temporary office spaces? Or why clothing and furniture shops didn't adopt rental, adjustment, repair or recovery services?
  3. Insides out: can materials and components be retrieved or reused? Is it economically viable to dismantle a product? What could be improved?
  4. Inspiration: this is where we draw from Agile methods – iteration, sprint, feedback, evolution, etc. – in order to apply them to the development of circular products or services.
  5. Learn from nature: ask yourself how nature would meet a design challenge. Drawing inspiration from biological systems to create new circular and holistic solutions is known as biomimicry. Taking a look outside of our usual fields of activity is an excellent way to inspire the development of new ideas, so why not "hack" nature? As Idriss Aberkane, French teacher, conference speaker and essay writer, said, "nature is the best model of economic prosperity on Earth".

This method asks us to forget all stereotypes and prejudices, as well as everything we learnt at school or university, where binary and linear approaches were favoured.  


Awareness has come late but is here nonetheless

Over the past decade or so, there has been an evolution in the way we consume. The Uberisation of society is encouraging people to abandon the idea of ownership and instead rent products and services. People feel less guilty about renting an object or service in the knowledge that it is occasional or temporary. According to The Economist, millennials are more likely to be willing to invest in renewable energy funds (even if they underperform). This reflects a will to perpetuate these energies, even if they do not yield as much as fossil fuel investment funds for example. It shows the emergence of a new vision of the future, which is no longer based on individual interests, but the common interest.

Individuals have a role to play too

Mobile apps have been designed to raise awareness about environmental impacts. By combining digital and mobility, these companies help users meet the challenge of environmental responsibility through small actions:

  • Astuces Ecolo: promotes ecological ideas and a multitude of economical and ecological tips to save the planet while helping to save or even make money
  • Eat4Good: raises awareness and helps users eat in a more ecological and fair way
  • Breathe Up: this app is connected to a digital ecosystem and shows pollutants contained in the air we breathe in real-time
  • 90 days: this ecological transition personal assistant suggests a series of 20 challenges to change habits at your own pace


  So, how can we meet the challenge of circular design? Come back soon to find out!