The Evolution Of Design Thinking - Designing For Innovative Sustainable Products & Services

Today, consumers expect brands to deliver innovative products and services that are based on positive brand values including commitments to social and environmental responsibility. Customers trust good brands and build an emotional connection with brands whose core values align with their own values. Lego is one of the latest brands that is focusing on creating innovative sustainable products with their latest sustainable bricks made from sugarcane. Lego plans to change its manufacturing processes using plant-based materials and recycled sources.

Design Thinking has been used for many years to create innovative products and services.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking from Stanford’s Institute of Design is a methodology based on human-centred design process. Designers use design thinking to solve problems to create products or services that meet people’s needs.

Design thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.
— Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO

The Design Thinking process is an iterative process and according to Don Norman, the author of The Design of Everyday Things,  “we need more design doing”.  

The Design Thinking process can be summarised as follows:

  1. Discovery & Empathise - Research to find out people’s needs, likes and dislikes as well as to observe people to understand their behaviour.

  2. Define - Define the design question / problem based on people’ needs.

  3. Ideate - Brainstorm for ideas to find a solution...there are lots of possible solutions.

  4. Prototype - Design to solve a problem using sketching & prototyping.

  5. Test - testing the prototype

  6. Implement

The Design Council report on the design economy highlighted some examples of design influence in the 21st century including:

  • Health: The number of designers working in health and well-being has increased with the realisation of the social impact of design.

  • Business: Design is transforming businesses, building design studios and appointing Chief Design Officers to join their board of directors…becoming design-led businesses.

  • Cities: In large populated cities, design is being used to solve problems in e.g. housing and infrastructure.

  • Government: In the UK, Europe and the US, design is being used to improve public services and policies.

For example, an innovative app is currently being used for tackling pollution in the Italian city of Bologna. This app has been designed to persuade people to change their behaviour to a more environmentally friendly way by rewarding users for not driving into the city. The app uses GPS tracking to record journeys and users can earn points with each walk or trip by bike or bus. The points can then be exchanged for goods and services at local businesses that are participating in this scheme.

According to IDEO, The evolution of Design Thinking - the future is Circular Design. IDEO’s circular design is aimed at changing the mindset from designing for a linear economy (where products are designed, made, used and disposed) to designing for a circular economy, to design long-lasting products where waste is minimised and the focus is on reuse and recycling.

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, explains the circular economy and why designers need to get involved. To learn how to start designing differently, visit the Circular Design Guide