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.

Touching Realities

Touch is one of the most important sensory modality in driving consumer behavior. The increasing lack of texture in people’s lives makes experiences become one-dimensional.

Studio Ilse Touch Consumer Design 3

We have five senses for a reason, together they help us understand and fully experience our surroundings. In the last few decades, the visual experiences have been explored in all possible directions (e.g. VR, AR). At the same time, cognitive neuroscience has made big progresses in the study of the human mind and of the principles that concur to determine our behavior. Touch is one of the most important sensory modality in driving consumer behavior. The increasing lack of texture in people’s lives makes experiences become one-dimensional. So now, smart brands have be focusing more on how their products feel! By elevating the details and integrating elements of tactility, companies will consequently need to have a clear strategy on the tactile components of their brand.


-What are the tactile elements of your product/brand?

-How can you create brand recognition across senses?

-How can you further elevate the details?


Ilse Crawford has collaborated with Bosnian craftspeople to create furniture using a UNESCO-nominated traditional carving technique. The Zanat Touch collection features stippled surfaces created by hand-carving small scoops out of the wood using custom-made metal tools. With its hand-carved surfaces The Touch Collection engages our instinctive impulse to feel something. The collection adds value and contributes both to the sustainable socio-economic development and the preservation of Bosnian cultural heritage in an area devastated by war.


By Kristina de Verdier on 9 January, 2018 In , , , ,

The Circle of Every Little Thing

Consumers begin to see responsible products not only as a good move for the future, but as a paradigm shift that needs to happen now. The circular economy suggests that our products will no longer just support our own needs, they will participate in a much bigger system.

We live in a world full of alarms; conflicts, terror and environmental disasters. It makes consumers increasingly worried and aware. As a reaction to this, consumers begin to see responsible products not only as a good move for the future, but as a paradigm shift that needs to happen now. The circular economy suggests that our products will no longer just support our own needs, they will participate in a much bigger system. We will need to continue pushing the boundaries of the circular economy and rethink products in terms of the entire value chain. In this movement, we need to see many more companies and organizations working together, across silos, towards better consumer behavior, encouraging responsible consumption. Consumers realize that their current consumption patterns need to be changed. To make this happen they are turning to the companies who respond and make action of their promises.


-Think circularity, think across value chain, rethink waste

-How can you start with small actions (instead of the big words)?

-How can your products/services be participants in a bigger system?

-How can you work more across silos, companies and organisations?


Parley for the Oceans addresses major threats towards the oceans, the most important ecosystem of our planet. Parley believes the power for change lies in the hands of the consumer – given he has a choice – and the power to shape this new consumer mindset lies in the hands of the creative industries. Artists, musicians, actors, filmmakers, fashion designers, journalists, architects, product inventors, and scientists have the tools to mold the reality we live in and to develop alternative business models and ecologically sensible products to give us earthlings an alternative choice, an everyday option to change something.

Stella McCartney has woven sustainability into her company. She is open about the challenge/paradox of being both sustainable and fashionable at the same time. McCartney says that building environmentally sustainable practices into her own business has been a long-term commitment. Stella has made the brand highly visible in sustainable discussions globally, making her an opinion leader within the area. “We believe that the future of fashion is circular – it will be restorative and regenerative by design and the clothes we love never end up as waste.”

Forest Bath

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.

Forest bathing Japan consumer trends 2018

We live in an age of interruption. People keep their phone near them almost all the time during day and night. Even though the connected world is offering both convenience and social interactions, consumers increasingly seek meaningful and simpler experiences offline. People are looking for personal enrichment beyond the worlds of work, social media, and city life – some are escaping to the nature, some are going to yoga, others leave their phone at home when going to the restaurant with their friends.

Researchers primarily in Japan and South Korea have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest. Now their research is helping to establish shinrin-yoku and forest therapy throughout the world. The aim of forest bathing, is to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment. The idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved. The practice originated in Japan where it is called shinrin-yoku (森林浴).

By Kristina de Verdier on 14 September, 2017

Make Smart Matter

Consumers are embracing the smartness which is seamlessly integrated in their reality. It is the marriage of technology and simplicity that will help brands connect with consumers in exceptional ways.

Amazon Go

Consumers can shop anytime, anywhere and are becoming increasingly demanding in terms of convenience. New technology integrated in consumers’ product experiences is only going to grow, advances in materials science, components are getting smaller. As this sector is quickly evolving in many areas, one thing is clear though; consumers and brand owners now want usable products, that adds real value to their lives, rather than short-term marketing gimmicks. How can smart components help prevent food waste, ensure product safety, generate and store meaningful data for medical purpose, or make the weekly shopping easier? Consumers are embracing the smartness which is seamlessly integrated in their reality. It is the marriage of technology and simplicity that will help brands connect with consumers in exceptional ways.


-What real consumer problems needs to be solved?

-How can I create a seamless experience, integrated in consumers’ lifestyle?

-How can the solution be intuitive?


Amazon Go is a new kind of store with no checkout required. Amazon created the world’s most advanced shopping technology so you never have to wait in line. Use the Amazon Go app to enter the store, take the products you want, and go! Amazon uses sensors, video-technology and AI-algoritms to enable this convenient shopping experience.

By Kristina de Verdier on 24 March, 2017 In , , ,

Words of Welcome

How can design help Syrian refugees instantly speaking German? The design system ‘Words of Welcome’ makes it possible! Created by DDB Group Germany, based in Berlin.


Germany has welcomed over one million refugees displaced by the conflict in Syria. Asylum seekers face new challenges in Germany: the majority of Syrian refugees cannot understand the German or English and are unable to read the Roman alphabet. This language barrier makes communication between asylum seekers and caregivers extremely difficult. The German government states that integration and basic communication are essential in providing meaningful support.


Words of Welcome is a design system that turns every aid donation into a German language lesson for refugees. Together with language experts, we developed a phonetic system that combines German language and the Arabic script. We created phonetic transcriptions for the names of the most essential items and created a new label for these products. By reading these labels aloud in Arabic, refugees can instantly pronounce the word in perfect German. With every relabelled product refugees add a new German word to their vocabulary.


In collaboration with multiple refugee shelters, we selected the most essential products that serve the basic needs of the refugees. Next, we developed a phonetic system together with language experts to create phonetic transcriptions for the names of these items. To support as many people as possible, we created these transcriptions in three languages: Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. By printing the transcriptions on a simple roll of box tape we made it easy for volunteers and refugees to repackage the donations on site. The tape uses 7 different colours representing different product categories – helping to differentiate food, sanitary, medical and baby products. The platform caters for the first 28 words every refugee needs to learn so they can communicate their basic needs. Even more words on their way to be produced. An online platform enables people to help spread the word to other citizens, brands and corporations to attract new sponsors.

By Kristina de Verdier on 3 January, 2017

To See Clearly: Technology Excess and Selection, by Jonas Lundin

The unceasing stream of promising innovations may offer tempting visions of a rewarding future—but no matter how attractive any technological break-through may appear to be it remains extremely important, indeed essential, to closely examine and interpret the inherent limitations and possibilities of each alternative.


About the never-ending stream of new technology innovations, and the relevance of them. By thinker & doer Jonas Lundin, based in Stockholm.

Today we live in a time of great promise; hardly a day passes without some new technological innovation being unveiled..  According to some observers, we shall almost certainly see in the next few years more scientific and technical advances than in the entire 20th century—whether these will truly be of a groundbreaking nature or merely incremental in character is a subject of lively debate for now and for the future.   

The unceasing stream of promising innovations may offer tempting visions of a rewarding future—but no matter how attractive any technological break-through may appear to be it remains extremely important, indeed essential, to closely examine and interpret the inherent limitations and possibilities of each alternative. In itself technology is nothing more than a means to some desired end, as yet incapable on its own of producing useful content or generating ideas, creating brands, strategies or products.

A problem can be faced time and again is that in creative sessions, and at decision time, the perceived limits of a particular technological concept all too soon are allowed to inhibit imaginative thinking—instead of the other way round. Complacency such as this (for that’s what it is) can result in persisting with unrewarding reiterative processes, following the same path to little avail over and over again—something that can go on for months and lead only to inadequate, half-baked solutions or, in some cases, relying upon, hoping for, some inspiration from somewhere else to rescue the situation.

Today there are a great number of fine examples of how to successfully harness technology to productive ends. Once mastered (assuming the possession of a sound business model, strategy and organizational form) it all boils down to the exercise of creativity, a grasp of content, and execution—and when our NPD teams successfully identify and exploit the most fruitful path to follow, the subsequent smooth flow of productive, creative energy, though scarcely noticed in operation, will achieve results.

Yes, easier said than done in today’s fiercely competitive world, where the necessity of being able to quickly adapt and put to use appropriate technology that can keep ahead of competitors and increase market share—is considered a mark of success.

I had a rant on this subject at a talk recently, and afterwards a gentleman came up to me and thanked me for giving him a few points to make in an upcoming board meeting. His CEO had been pursuing the strategy “buy something, then see what we can do with it”.  – Perhaps this would have been the right thing to do some decades ago, but today we are confronted with a smorgasbord of technological possibilities for almost all industrial and other activities, much of it of doubtful relevance, a fact that should stress how important it is for companies to be guided by creative insight and the ability to establish an image of themselves as agile, resourceful competitors in their field of activity. This just might be an appealing alternative mode of operation for Kodak-esque management to seek new possibilities and replace the efficiency chart with imaginative vision.

Finally, a litmus-test for reviewing NPD projects:

1. IDEA—is it powerful enough for your goals and purposes? Can your organization bring it off ? Can you carry it through easily?

2. CONTENT—do you find it as captivating as an enjoyable film, television show, or book?

3. RELEVANCE—Does it make sense? Is it of use? Is there a clear connection to field of activity? Will it make a difference, will it contribute to a better world?

4. ARCHITECTURE—is it scalable? Can you duplicate the process? Can you implement it cross-culturally? Intermedially?

5. TECHNOLOGY—old or new, does it serve your purpose?

Jonas Lundin, Stockholm

By Kristina de Verdier on 3 November, 2016

Circular Economy of Packaging

Sofia Erixson has been digging into the circular economy thinking, and deals with what it means to the world of packaging.

We need to rethink the concept of waste! In the future we are all facing a growing population and increasing pressure on natural resources due to the ever-increasing demand for consumer goods. Therefore we need a more sustainable growth. This creates demands on businesses to use materials more efficiently and it requires major changes, new resource-efficient business models and an economy based on a sustainable society.

The answer is Circular Economy; the end goal of what used to be called closed loop recycling – genuinely enabling the renewal of existing resources, rather than continuing the need for new ones.

Packaging plays a positive role in a Circular Economy by optimising resource use, minimising product waste and protecting products through the value chains.

What will the future bring?

1. Sustainable online shopping
Online shopping increases every year. I think we need to create a more sustainable return policy of packaging material. A good example: RePack; Your returnable and reusable packaging. ”Simply return me and I will reward you.” Not only sustainable but also a smart way that also creates deeper customer relationships.

2. Food waste
Each year 1.3 billion tonnes of food, about a third of everything that is produced, is wasted. That means that 30% of the world’s agricultural land area is used to produce food that will be wasted. To reduce waste a Swedish company called Allwin take care of the leftovers from the food stores in Sweden and give it to people in need.

3. Sharing economy & Collaborative consumption
Sharing economy have become increasingly popular in the past couple of The power of the internet, together with social media exchange platforms are rapidly transforming industries by collaborative consumption. It has made it possible for people to rent and sell assets and transportation services through Uber and Airbnb, that were previously virtually unmarketable. Now you can also Airdine; make your home a restaurant, or book a transportation through Farwell; that match your request and at the same time decrease the empty space in the containers.

4. Recycling 2.0
Innovation in recycling technology is rapidly evolving and enabling production of high-quality products with great sustainability performance. For example, Starbucks is aiming to turn its waste coffee grounds and food into everyday products by using bacteria which can then be used in for an example bio-plastics and medicines.

To make Circular Economy a reality we need to work together. Policymakers and consumers play a central role. Most important to remember is that it is possible to rethink how we make and use things for sustainable business, we make this a reality together!

By Sofia Erixson on 28 February, 2016 In , ,