Going round and round

When Thomas Rau, an architect from Amsterdam, decided to change the lighting at his agency, he was very clear that he did not want to buy lamps, luminaire , LED’s, cables , controls etc. He instead went to Philips and told them “ Listen, I need so many hours of light in my premises every year. You figure out how to do it. If you think you need a lamp, or electricity, or whatever — that’s fine. But I want nothing to do with it. I’m not interested in the product, just the performance. I want to buy light, and nothing else.”

This was a very peculiar challenge for Philips; nobody has ever wanted to buy light directly from them. This is when it struck them, “ What if we could provide light as a service, rather than a product?” This meant taking care of everything from manufacturing, installation and maintenance to the post usage scenarios that include disposal and recycling. Today, this is what Philips calls the “Pay- per- lux” solution where the consumer pays for the light he requires and the rest is taken care of by Philips.

This concept has been termed “Circular Design”. Designers are traditionally part of a linear system, where their role is only in the beginning — creating products from raw materials which eventually find themselves in landfills. Circular design asks the designer to consider the entire system from the raw material to how the finished product will get recycled.

This shift may not be easy as designers are right now accustomed to a particular design process, which is why Ideo has come up with a ‘Circular Design Guide’, which will help companies slowly transition to a circular economy. The guide has 24 models on how to design for the circular economy; from rethinking the purpose of design to inspiration from nature. This also means the designer should start zooming out slowly to look at how his product fits into the entire system and the various stakeholders apart from the user.

There are other benefits of circular design thinking. First, the evolution of products is much faster as there may be no dependency on user-adoption. Second, companies may be prompted to build longer-lasting products if their revenue streams no longer depend on selling more new products but instead on the usage of their products. We could quite possibly see the ‘Light Bulb Conspiracy’ going in reverse. And the third benefit is a better environment as a result of reduced usage of raw materials.

Taking a cue from the Circular Design guide, we at Redd have built a rooftop urban farming system (rūf) where we have taken into consideration the obvious benefits of using kitchen waste to grow vegetables in these farms which are then supplied to the same people that provided us the kitchen waste in the first place. It’s an efficient and wonderful cyclical system that benefits everyone! Learn more about Rūf here.

— Akshitha Praveen, Experience Designer, Redd Experience Design