4 Sustainable Design Principles

Nowadays sustainability is an integral part of most development projects, a filter all new designs should go through. Sustainability is part of what we call “good design” and everyone is responsible – it’s a cross-functional mission. Here are 4 design principles that can help us in these efforts.

Several aspects influence the sustainability of a product or service and it’s not easy to define which development activities to focus on, to create the best possible impact on our planet. What is clear though, is that design based on human needs, is the best starting point for sustainable design. John Thackara, author and one of the most influential voices within sustainability, states that we are filling our world with stuff, but we forget to ask ourselves “What are these things for” “What value do they add to our lives” Sometimes we focus blindly on new technology, while we probably should look into which problems to solve first. A designer’s most important role is to define these needs and make the new offering relevant and intuitive to the user.


We live in a world where we are constantly occupied; stores, web-sites, homes are filled with options – people are over-whelmed! A crucial task is therefore to simplify. Simplifying a product or service may sound easy, but achieving it in a meaningful way, is complex. “Less-ness” can as well be to create products with better quality, which creates less hustle for consumers as well as for the environment! Let’s ask ourselves how we can simplify the right way through the entire value chain. How can we use less material, or rather how can we minimise the amount of material that needs to be wasted?

Example: A team of MIT Media Lab researchers has developed inflated origami. A network of air channels in geometric patterns on sheets of paper, plastic, or textile.


People do not think of a product, brand or communication separately – People buy an experience. Which means we must design for the holistic experiences. If we focus on the needs that should be solved, instead of how products look today, it results in a better user experience and increases the potential of more sustainable products. Perhaps parts of the need can be solved digitally with less footprint? When we focus on the holistic experience we have the opportunity to integrate more and eliminate useless fuzz that might just be there as a heritage from the past.

Example: IKEA’s iconic bags are famous for being reused for the most fantastic purposes, in people’s everyday lives. Now re-designed by Hay and even more desired.


Material choice is often a big question in development activities. Again, there are no simple answers regarding sustainability and material choice. But there are some basic guidelines to follow. How can we minimize the amount of different materials? How can we increase the proportion of materials made from renewable sources? How can we think circularly, think along the whole value chain, consider recycling, change the view of waste? A circular economy aims to maintain products, components and materials to its highest benefit and value all the time. Last but not least, how can we help consumers to understand what material it is, which increases the chances that it’s handled and recycled correctly.

Example: Lego’s botanical elements such as leaves, bushes and trees will be made from plant-based plastic sourced from sugarcane in the future and will appear in LEGO boxes already in 2018


It’s getting more and more accepted for consumers to have access to things instead of owning them, especially for the younger generation. The big difference companies make when creating a product as part of the sharing economy, is that instead of asking “what should we create” the question is “how can we deliver on this need”. The sharing economy is about being in a broader context than just “my company”. My products should not only cater to my own needs, but they will contribute / be part of a much larger system.

Example: Care by Volvo is a new alternative to owning or leasing a Volvo car. Volvo calls it the future of the car experience, where a simple monthly subscription is all you need and you can easily share the car through a digital key.