Why is the role of designers pivotal in applying circular design?

Deko Eko

November 12, 2019

Implementing circular design could both guarantee the well-being of our planet and your business.

When you think about it, most of the products we manufacture is meant to eventually flood a landfill or - in the worst case scenario - harm the environment as non-biodegradable waste. A t-shirt that wears off, an empty glass of milk or a piece of furniture that no longer functions. Basic items of everyday use that we conveniently throw away.

Over the course of many years, businesses and customers got used to disposing instead of giving a second life.

This practice is based on the principles of a linear design, which does not take into account the circulation of materials within a given production system. When products are no longer usable, we throw them away. 

However, this way of thinking has brought us to the point where marine waste poisons water and food, while the amount of trash becomes extremely difficult to recycle.

A change of this current situation can be guaranteed by the application of a circular economy on a global scale. Circular economy offers a new way of thinking about the production and utility of products. In this article, you’ll read about:

  • The meaning of circular economy and circular design
  • What’s the role of designers in the circular economy
  • Examples of circular design
  • How circular economy will ensure that your business prevails

What is a circular economy? 

As found on Wikipedia,

>>A circular economy (often referred to simply as "circularity”) is an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources. Circular systems employ reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and  recycling to create a closed system, minimising the use of resource input and the creation of waste, pollution and emissions.<<

This definition points to two key features of circular economy.

  • Minimizing the amount of waste generated
  • Transforming the process of product design

These two factors are tightly related to each other.

To put it simply, by introducing circular economy in a process of production, less amount of waste is generated. Finding more sustainable materials or operating with more efficient equipment, helps create the same product with a better quality. 

Hence, instead of quickly turning into trash, it can be reused many times and become a part of a production loop as a material. This circular practice teaches consumers to favour quality over quantity too. Products with longer span of utility can cost more, but they mean savings in the long-run.

What’s more, circular economy is not only a necessary means to reduce the immense problem of pollution and marine waste. A key benefit of circular economy is to guarantee a bright future for businesses that implement its principles.

As Dharan Kirupanantham, eco-innovation programme leader at Adidas, commented,

“Embracing the circular economy and closed-loop design is the only way for brands to achieve business success while safeguarding the planet.”

Switching from linear design to circular design will pay off in the foreseeable future. According to a Dutch designer Richard Hutton

"If companies don't put sustainability on the agenda, they will disappear. Consumers will refuse their products, and governments will make regulations to make sure they make sustainable products."

These comments indicate that now is the time to speed up the process of spreading sustainability across the world. Global economy can’t be fueled by single-use products anymore, and this change is inevitable. 

So how can businesses adapt then? What’s needed to turn a brand into an advocate of circular economy?

The answer is circular design and designers aware of its importance.

Circular design and the role of a designer in the process

The concept of circular design was forged by the CEO of Ideo, Tim Brown, who explains his concept in this video below.


You could say that circular design is where you start drawing the round shape of the circular economy. A product is created from sustainable materials, and its final form can be upcycled by the end consumer or easily recycled. 

If that’s so easy, why are many companies still behind?

Many brands strive for sustainability but only at the later stages of their product life cycle. They optimize shipping methods to be more eco-friendly, or support charities that deal with illegal landfills.

While these actions are important, a real change should take place at the moment of designing a product. Because only then you can plan the shape of the entire product life cycle.

Implementing this approach is the responsibility of creative designers.

In a circular economy, designers are challenged to be open-minded and think more broadly than in linear models. Instead of considering only the “use phase” of the product life cycle, modern designers are expected to think of all the other phases too - choosing the right functionalities and materials which guarantee higher quality, or how to keep the product in a life cycle loop.

Why is it important to think of more than just the end use?

Because every production process influences more parties than just its producers and customers. Circular design means a holistic approach and a better understanding of how a certain product influences other “systems” - social, industrial and ecological. 

Therefore, a designer is the first part of the optimization chain. Designers are needed to fuel the need of circular approach in companies worldwide. Their duty is to think about possible use cases of the product they design, other than the primary one. This means looking at products from a broad perspective, because that’s where ideas like upcycling are born. 

The importance of designers is stressed out by the founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a well-established organization that promotes circular economy principles - 

“I would encourage designers to think about how the creative process can build something much broader than their product, and how their product can fit in that much broader restorative system.”

Deko Eko - a platform for circular designers

Where can designers spread the wings in the field of circular design? 

One of such places is a platform called Deko Eko.

In order to safeguard the environment, Deko Eko creates the possibility for companies to donate waste materials that can then be turned into unique products.

Then, the designers take over. 

Given the donated materials, they start the creative process of turning this waste into a usable product. From home decor to bags and backpacks or other daily-use items, designers collaborating with Deko Eko master their skills as creative thinkers.

And here are some of the examples.

A Polish brand Fanny & Franz uses metal scraps, crystal, watch parts and other used materials to create wonderful pieces of jewellery. Each ring, bracelet or pendant carries its own soul and guarantees a 100% of uniqueness. 




Source: dekoeko.com


A different kind of material - cardboard waste - can also be given a second life. That’s proven by Studio Lokomotywa, which reinvents pieces of hard cardboard as wine shelves and stylish home decor.


At the same time, the platform connects such uniquely gifted people with the right audience - brands that are ready to become circular. 

Deko Eko realised sustainability projects for Orange, IKEA, T-Mobile and many more brands. 

Thanks to this kind of collaboration, each brand was able to connect to designers who understand the value of circular economy. 

As a result:


Circular design means staying in the market for longer

These case studies show that global players take great care of making a positive change. IKEA has planned to become fully circular by 2030, and promised to improve the production processes by using more renewable resources. Reebok designed its first shoe box made from 100% recycled plastic, and McDonald’s promised to use only sustainable packaging in their restaurants.

The innovative leaders are aware that circular design is the only way to build products that guarantee a bright future for our planet.

But not only companies are answering the call. The EU has taken its own course to push the responsible design approach by announcing the ban of single-use plastics in circulation

With the right regulations and support for the development of circular design, a positive change is happening as you read. 

Over to you

You now know the full scope of circular design and the role designers in this system. Hence, to quickly recap everything you’ve read:

  • While the transformation into a fully circular one does sound scary at the beginning, this journey pays off from a business point of view. As many experts indicate, only sustainable companies will prevail in the market.

  • More customers lean towards sustainable products, expecting companies to be more eco-conscious.

  • Designers are the key elements of the circular economy. Their role is to encourage more conscious product development and take into consideration every stakeholder.

  • Thanks to a platform called Deko Eko, creative designers are given a chance to practice their skills and sell upcycled items online. 


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