the future depends on what we do today
The last 100 years have been the most powerful years in the mankind history, as there has been a shift in innovation and invention, which affected dramatically every aspect of our lifes. Our history, culture and mindset have been directed by the human’s incredible ability to invent and innovate, which had a big impact on the way we live today.
Starting with the industrial revolution a life-changing progress followed including “achievements” like carbon based economy, plastic industry and the industrialization of food production. Though, the word life-changing doesn’t always mean, something changes to its best. There are always two sides of the coin. Producing something at a low cost and fast pace has often the consequence that we have to sacrifice other valuable resources – the resources of our planet. Yet within only a century, uncontrolled CO2 emissions are now responsible for the rapid climate change that is threatening all life on earth. Today plastics litter every ocean on our planet, waiting 1000 years before decomposing. It’s also shocking to see that of all the worlds agricultural land, nearly 80% is used to graze livestock or to grow food for livestock. While meat provides only 18% of our calories.
The way we invented in the last decades was dominated by the capitalist economic system and an anthropocene mindset – making humans the dominant species on earth, without thinking much about the consequences for our health and environment.
Rethinking customer centricity
Over a long period of time the design concept of human-centeredness played the guiding role, when it came to designing new services. Here the customer is placed at the centre of a design project, being accompanied by desirability (human needs), viability (technological needs) and feasibility (economical needs).
Today we are facing far more challenges, which are concerning not only our human needs – but the needs of whole ecosystems, the environment and therefore the future of all living beings on our planet. These challenges require all of us to take responsibility for our work’s direct impact on the planet. It is not enough to follow human-centered principles in order to change our attitude, mindset and the way we consume. We have to open up for a new way of designing products and services, enabling different thinking that can navigate complexity.
Asking questions and conceptualize solutions that focus not only on a capitalistic approach, but including also the perspective on social and environmental sustainability. Exactly here the planet-centric design starts.
Human-Centered vs. Planet-Centric Design
What is planet-centric design?
The approach of planet-centric design is based on the conviction to not harm the planet when designing new services and products. This aspect was rarely treated in the human-centered design approach before. There is also the widespread belief, that the human-centered approach and the planet-centric approach stand in contrast to each other. In my opinion the planet-centric approach is a great extension of human-centered design. Like seeing the world in its full colors, after having lived with a black and white perception. The human becomes just another actor in the system, and is no longer in the centre of it. In order to scale up the impact you have to include more relevant perspectives. It means exploring the future from not only multiple perspectives, but multi-species perspectives.
How can we get there?
In being planet-centric, designers will also have to recalibrate the expectations of customers. Human-centered design has capitalized on creating “seamless” and “frictionless” experiences, whilst minimizing inconvenience. In being planet-centric, people will have to accept more inconvenience in their daily lives. Reducing travel and consumption, minimizing energy and data use and focusing on local will all require smarter approaches to traditional design problems. It also requires a willingness on the customer to change and accept increased emotional, intellectual and physical labour.
Part of this is laying out their stall with integrity and presenting new visions of what could be different. There is a large educational-effort to be done with clients to help them transition to new approaches and ways of thinking. New visions cannot be delivered through meeting current expectations. Through using speculative design and scenarios, we can look beyond current practices and imagine different possible futures. Here design is a mode of critique to broaden our horizons and scope of thinking.
”Instead of doing less damage to the environment, it is necessary to learn how one can participate with the environment by using the health of ecological systems as a basis for design.Bill ReedPrincipal, Regenesis Group Inc.
President, Integrative Design Collaborative
Moving to planet-centric means we should also be challenging and evolving our understanding and approach to sustainability. Terms such as zero-waste and circular economy are popular in relation to minimising environmental and social impacts in the production of goods. It is easy to see how these terms can be co-opted and used to make consumers feel better in the continuing purchase of products and services. We should not only be wary of the misappropriation of these terms, but also thinking that the continuation of creating more stuff will help us solve ecological problems in the long-term. As stated by Bill Reed, “instead of doing less damage to the environment, it is necessary to learn how one can participate with the environment by using the health of ecological systems as a basis for design.” This is the concept of regeneration that has been evolving in environmental circles for many years, and more recently begun to hit the mainstream.
To be planet-centric, designers need to be diverse and inclusive in their influences and practice. It’s all about sharing and participating. Only through true partnerships, reciprocity and protection, creating new visions and bigger ambitions, we will realise the potential of truly practicing planet-centric design.