Moving away from product focused wellbeing

Idun Aune
Idun Aune
Oct 29, 2019 · 4 min read

Design is a superpower

I was 15 when I first joined an organisation to fight for a political cause. The cause that triggered me was gender equality, learning about the effects of sexual harassment and how it limited the voices of women specifically. I became an instructor of self defence for girls, teaching them how to stand up for themselves and how their voices deserve to be heard. In the process I learned how to use my own voice and stand up for myself.

Ever since then, I have called myself an activist. I truly believe in the ability for a single person to change the world. As the years have gone by, my activism have moved from banners in the streets to more subtle arenas. I became a designer because I wanted to work in a field where I have the possibility to make a difference.

Design is a superpower by Mali Sagmoen
Design is a superpower by Mali Sagmoen

Now, at 30, working in Idean with service design as my weapon of choice, I feel better equipped than ever to do so. This article is the first in a series where I explore what it means to be a designer today and how I believe we can and should deliver change in a planet centric way.

Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions

For the last decades, design has played a major part in the democratisation of consumption and the individual freedom this brings for people. As designers, we have made effective and beautiful products accessible for the majority. But it has come with some unintended consequences: Our feeling of wellbeing has been tied to having the latest product model, or sport the latest trend. Our society is built around consumerism.

Today, 99 percent of the stuff we buy is trashed within 6 months. — World Waste Facts

This culture of “buy, use and waste” has caused us to reach the limits of what is manageable. In fact, already by July 29th this year, we had surpassed the amount of resources available to maintain a sustainable existence on earth. The phenomena is called earth overshoot day, a day that comes earlier every year.

This unintended consequence shows how our actions as designers today can and will affect tomorrow. Peter Senge explained this nicely in The Fifth Discipline; Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions.

How can we be more conscious about the possible consequences of our work?

From User Centric to Planet Centric Design

As a service designer, part of what I do is transforming businesses’ culture, mindset and ways of working from a product or technology driven approach to a user centric one.

Despite all the good things a user centric approach have given us, I believe the term is problematic. We are in danger of creating future problems when we limit people to only being users of a product or service. When we put one group of consumers’ needs in front of anything else.

You might argue that it is a designers job to see the entire stakeholder map and understand the connections and dependencies. However, the way user centricity has been marketed the last years has framed design as a tool to gain profit by cracking the customer code, and we often only see the immediate or powerful stakeholders.

Somehow, as designers have moved up the ladder of impact in companies and organisations, and people have started to see the value design brings, we have focused mostly on the value design can bring to customers.

Illustration of the process from product focus, user focus to planet focus
Illustration of the process from product focus, user focus to planet focus

We have more influence than ever before, and as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility.

How can we use our superpower in the right way?

We must place the planet and all its citizens at the heart of every discussion, instead of continuing the historical trend of focusing on what is best for a particular collection of humans. — The Value web

As our planet screams for new systems and real behavioural change, we need to take responsibility for how our designs affect the entire ecosystem. As designers, we should still enable people to live rich and meaningful lives, but in a sustainable way. With design as our superpower, we can change today’s consumerism and promote sustainable wellbeing.

In Idean we call this Planet centric design. Design for humanity and the planetary needs.

Being open about the journey

In Idean we pride ourselves in being fearlessly human. For me, that means not being afraid of using my design superpower to challenge clients on the wider impact and responsibility of putting a product or a service into the world.

It also means not being afraid of sharing that we’re on a journey. Both as an individual and as part of a design agency, I am dedicated to transforming the way we work to embody a planet centric design approach. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I am willing to share my learning as we go along. Hope you want to follow.

What is your superpower, and how do you plan to use it?

Ideas by Idean

A collaborative collection of stories and musings from us…