In Design, we often focus on the process of the design and the final product. But what about the impact of design work? What does the design achieve? What impact will it have on society or even the world? Is this something that is important to designers today or will it be something they consider more in the future?
“I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve had exceedingly few conversations with designers in which we try to understand our impact on the world.” writes Josh Taylor in his article about how to understand your impact in the brave new world of product design. Josh shares his story on his introduction to six-layer framework for how a healthy society functions, by futurist Stewart Brand. It enabled him to understand the context of the work he was doing in product design and how the powerful impact of it.
In 2022 Companies are working hard to be more sustainable are more conscious than ever about their impact on the environment. Sustainable practices are constantly emerging in all global markets.
What does this mean for product design? A product’s impact influences everything from how a product is drafted, tested to even how is packaged and received by its customers. Inevitably design will be heavily effected by what its outcome and “impact” will be. But is this driven by the designers themselves or the businesses?
We wanted to speak to the designers themselves who are living and breathing product design today and asked them what sustainable design product impact means to them.
Carine Nguza N’Landu – a User Experience & Product Design Lead with 15+ years of experience in providing creative solutions for international clients. She is an end-to-end practitioner who champions research-driven design that is elegant and a delight to interact with. She enjoys contributing to an environment where talented, cross-functional teams bring innovative products to life. In her own time, she deepens her knowledge about sustainability, climate tech, agro-tech, and carbon units.
Kota Kobayashi – a Experience Design Lead with 14 years experience. Kota works at the intersection of brand, product, and technology, driven by the tangible impact to both users and businesses. He seeks the purpose and positive impact of human-centred design and enjoys collaborating to lead, create, learn, and grow within diverse teams. Kota is energised by tackling real world-challenges, and founded the charity beer brand Ippon Matsu, to spread a message of hope, support, and rehabilitation for a city hit by the tsunami.
Harsha Vardhan – Harsha is an interaction and experience designer who brings together humanity and technology to design and develop impactful user-centric and sustainable designs. He has over 11 years of experience working across mobile technology for next-generation commercial autonomous vehicles, focussing on charging infrastructure, prototyping design interactions, and considering human feedback through technological development. Harsha is the co-author of a successful book titled ‘Humanising Autonomy’ which explores the critical role of human experience in designing self-driving cars.
Do you consider sustainability or the impact of the product on society when designing?
Carine “It could be the amount of ink used on a substrate, or the type of paper a design is going to be printed on, or the amount of data a header image will consume in order to digitally load onto a device – I tend to consider sustainability when designing.”
Kota: “Yes, I do consider the impact of the product on society. In fact, it’s been the most important element to consider when looking for new opportunities. I pay special attention to the mission of the company and ask myself, “is it the type of impact that I want to offer to the world?”. I founded a charity beer brand that supports those people who were affected by the tsunami in 2011. It is the most rewarding project that I’ve worked on. It is important that we become financially independent to support ourselves and our families. But beyond basic needs, I believe we all have innate aspirations to make this world better.”
Harsha: “Definitely. I feel it’s important and thinking about sustainability and social impact is a part of my design process. This can range from the impact of digital products on attention, distraction etc to the materials used / long term usability of physical products. It is a hard thing to consider though when deadlines, cost
implications come into play. But setting some strong initial design principles can help set a north star.”
Would it affect your choice in a role/ company if the product/design didn’t align with your morals?
Carine “Yes, I’m not as interested in opportunities where the company, product and/or design don’t align with my morals.”
Kota: “Yes absolutely.”
Harsha: “Yes, it would. Though in most instances, products start with a seemingly benevolent purpose – only experience can tell you about negatives.”
Do you consider the environmental, social, and economic impact of a product & is anyone more important to you than the other?
Carine “Most companies have ESG policies and Social Responsibility Initiatives these days. I sometimes check whether their actions match their words. Product-wise, I pay attention to whether it has been designed with the human in mind (inclusive design, accessibility, mature user experience approach) and how well it manages to balance being commercially viable while also being fair to the user.”
Kota: “Personally, I focus on the environmental and social impact over the economic. Capitalism creates the foundation for innovations. They continue to make our lives more comfortable in many ways. However, there have been too many negative cases of companies choosing short-term financial success over customers, environmental health, etc. In times like this, I feel obliged to produce as much good and positivity for the world. ”
Harsha: “I think it depends on the project and service area we are operating in, rather than one issue being more important than the other. Ideally, our work should cater to minimising all adverse effects situations.”
Have you had your morals challenged in a design role – and how did you overcome it?
Carine: “I’ve flat out been asked to copy another person or company’s designs. In the past, I’ve also been asked to design for a product which had been scientifically proven to be detrimental to people’s health. I overcame it by gracefully showing the value of alternative options. I wouldn’t take things personally, though. At the end of the day, my job is to present the best options so that the end client or stakeholder can make the most informed decision possible.”
Kota: “Fortunately I have not yet.”
Harsha: “Not so far.”
If you design products, you have a huge amount of power and influence. You are required to think about consider the bigger picture even from the earliest conceptual design phase. It was inspiring to speak to designers like Carine, Harsha and Kota who are clearly dedicated to creating products that leave a positive impact on the world.
Are you a product designer looking for a new opportunity that aligns with your morals and passions? Connect with the design team today.