Design is a powerful conduit for change. As the messages, artifacts and experiences we create pass through the hands, minds, and hearts of people, we have an opportunity to weave sustainability into the broader fabric of culture and to shift consumption and lifestyle aspirations to a more sustainable basis for living.
The questions below act as a roadmap for purposeful action in creative practices and projects. They are meant to help designers and their clients take a holistic view and optimistic approach to sustainable solutions.
Design can invent new systems, products, and services that use less and deliver more. It can translate complex concepts into the relevant messages that help people adopt behavioral change.
Design can visualize acute needs, raise awareness, prompt public response, and affect policy. It can promote messages of inclusion, equality and empathy, helping to establish harmonious and healthy conditions in which all members of society can flourish.
Design thinking’s approach to investigation, analysis, and visualization can create value and opportunities for companies and people across all streams of sustainability.
Design can cross cultural barriers to promote universal understanding. It can deliver a compelling view of sustainability that ensures its assimilation by a broad array of people. And at its best, it can shift consumption and lifestyle aspirations, literally changing the definition of prosperity.
As you consider your project from creation to end user, what materials are you using, and what potential intended or unintended ecological consequences can you foresee, including air quality and water?
What is the expected life span of the artifact? Can it be extended? What other use could this artifact have? Can the artifact be easily repaired and reused? Can it be upgraded?
How easy is it to disassemble your product once discarded? Are the materials clearly labeled, the parts easy to take apart? Are they made of only one material or several?
Can your product be wholly or partially constructed in the location where it will be used? To what extent do your suppliers work sustainably and use clean technologies?
How can waste be eliminated? When your product’s life span is complete, how can you ‘close the loop,’ i.e. facilitate the use of materials in continuous cycles?
Is your product (or any of its components) created by or affiliated with organizations that support issues your audience or client may find objectionable?
Is this product actually desired by your customers or stakeholders?
Need / Use
What societal needs does this artifact, message, service or experience fulfill? Is it useful?
How can this project enhance the lives of its makers and users?
What are the financial requirements of this project? Who gains economic value from purchasing or using this product or service? Can it provide value above and beyond its intended use?
How is the inherent value of the project measured? Is value assessed only in terms of financial profit?
What are the short- and long-term economic benefits of incorporating sustainable solutions?
Transparency and Truth
Can you communicate transparently about every aspect of the project? Are you promoting your work, your organization, or your client beyond the actual value that it provides?
Can your raw materials come from someone else’s waste? Can your waste become someone else’s raw material?
From Product to Service
Is there an opportunity to create a rental, leasing, or service model for this product?
In what ways can this project compel people to make more sustainable lifestyle choices?
Meanings and Reactions
What meanings do your project communicate, and how are your customers and stakeholders acting upon them? What emotional reactions could they have? Is there any way they could react negatively?
A Systemic View
What attitudes and values does your project promote, both in its intention and its execution? How does this project take into consideration the unique needs of various cultures?
How can this project promote cultural diversity?