The shift toward a circular economy is helped forward in large part by design’s contribution. If we don’t start from scratch and rethink everything, we won’t be able to create a circular economy. This reimagining will encompass everything from products to business models, entire cities, and even ways of life. Examining the meaning of the word “design” is the first step toward gaining an understanding of how this may be accomplished.
Design is fundamentally a method for resolving issues and problems. The process of creating something with a specific goal in mind is referred to as design. The Montreal Design Declaration (Summit, 2017) defines design as “the application of intent: the process through which we create the material, spatial, visual, and experiential environments in a world made ever more malleable by advances in technology and materials, and increasingly vulnerable to the effects of unleashed global development.” In other words, design is “the process through which we create the material, spatial, visual, and experiential environments in a world made ever more malleable by advances in technology and materials, and increasingly vulnerable to the When something is designed, it is therefore essential to have an understanding that, throughout the process, a number of significant judgments are taken. These judgments might be made about the method of production, the type of usage, or the technique of disposal.
Therefore, design is an essential component in the process of adopting a circular economy in any industry. When considered in the context of the fashion and textile industries, its significance increases even further. Because of the use of mixes, hazardous compounds, and other potentially harmful substances, the recycling and remanufacturing processes have become more sophisticated. In point of fact, the majority of designs are constructed for linear systems. As a result, nearly everything needs to be rethought and redesigned so that it adheres to the guidelines of the circular economy.
The following illustration explains the steps involved in the circular design process. To begin, it is necessary to gain an understanding of both the user and the system. The next step will be to identify the obstacles and goals that need to be overcome. In the third stage, the designer comes up with ideas for the iterations, designs those ideas, and then produces a prototype of those designs. The very last step is to either release or debut the design, and it also requires the creation of a narrative.
The needs of the customer are prioritised throughout the conventional design process, which prioritises user satisfaction. On the other hand, a design strategy for a circular economy needs to take into account the entire system, not simply the individual user. Therefore, designers will need to anticipate and comprehend the effect that the design will have on each and every stakeholder throughout the value chain. In addition to this, there will be a feedback system implemented so that any unexpected repercussions can be identified and addressed.
The Ellen Macarthur Foundation has published a paper in which it outlines various design strategies that are in line with the concepts of the circular economy (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2022). The following chart illustrates these six different approaches to design.
Each of these design methods will be broken down into minute depth in the following section.
1. Creating for the Inner Loops The system diagram for the circular economy, often known as the butterfly diagram (shown in the figure below), demonstrates that the ideas of reuse or sharing are closer to the centre of the diagram than the notions of remanufacturing or refurbishing. The strategy of recycling is the one that is the furthest off. The value of an approach increases proportionately with the degree to which it is aligned with the centre.
This idea serves as the foundation for a number of highly profitable business strategies. The closed loops of the circular economy are given the utmost importance in these company concepts. Clothing manufacturers such as Patagonia create their products to be easily repaired. Since 2005, Patagonia’s Wornwear project has resulted in the repair of 4,15,174 individual pieces of the company’s goods (Patagonia Inc., 2012). Sharing is made easier with this type of business model, which also increases the product’s endurance and reveals new avenues of value for both the company and its clients.
2. Shifting Focus from Products to Services: Circular business models are predicated on the fundamental idea of offering access rather than granting ownership of the underlying asset. This tactic is predicated on the notion that customers’ need for access to items are typically limited to a finite time frame. Given that customers frequently get only a few wears out of an article of clothing before tossing it out, this idea is crucial to the fashion industry. Instead, the service provider can accept these garments back so that they can be redeployed to an other customer. This design philosophy is utilised by a number of companies, including Rent the Runway and Borrow For Your Bump, who operate using rental or subscription business models (Pevzner, 2020).
3. Product Life Extension: The third approach to product design focuses on creating products that have a longer shelf life. This includes the development of items that are resilient both physically and psychologically. These products should be able to withstand normal wear and tear without losing their charm and should be able to be used more than once. The clothing brand Reformation, which is located in the United States, uses superior fabrics that are both environmentally friendly and long-lasting. The silhouettes are streamlined and traditional, which ensures that they will continue to be fashionable for a longer period of time, hence increasing the product’s lifecycle (Reformation, 2022).
4. Selecting Materials That Are Both Safe and Circular When you are developing a product, it is quite necessary to select the materials carefully. Circularity is not possible with all different kinds of materials. When it comes to dyes and finishes, the fashion and textile business makes extensive use of a variety of chemicals that are both hazardous and dangerous. Only a few of these materials actually serve any purpose in terms of performance. In spite of this, advancements need to be made so that designers have the option of selecting materials that are both safe and round. There is an example of this in the form of the company B Label, which makes its products out of hemp as its primary raw material. The manufacturer asserts that hemp is the most long-lasting naturally occurring fibre in the universe, that it blocks 98 percent of UV rays, and that it keeps dust and bacteria at bay (Fashion Network, 2022).
5. Dematerialization: This design method focuses on minimising the amount of resources that are needed to implement the design. This involves giving a solution while utilising the least amount of material that can be used. Changing the company model such that it focuses on providing digital solutions is one way to accomplish this goal. The proliferation of online shopping has made this much simpler. The vast majority of retail firms now provide their wares through online portals, which has the effect of lowering the costs and the amount of material consumption associated with retail stores.
6. Modularity: The sixth and final design strategy focuses on creating designs that are easy to fix and can be upgraded as needed. It is a helpful method for producing goods that may be fixed, remanufactured, or upgraded in some way after they have been produced. If the product can be disassembled with relative ease, it will likely not be difficult to fix any broken components. Eddie Bauer, a retailer that specialises in outdoor apparel, provides a lifetime warranty that is both unconditional and comprehensive, covering any and all types of damage.
Therefore, it is absolutely necessary for the designer to integrate the design strategies with the concepts of a circular economy. The Circular Design Guide (IDEO, 2019) is a free compilation of tools, methods, resources, and mindsets that have been developed through a collaborative effort between the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and IDEO for the benefit of designers who are interested in applying the concepts of circular economies to their work. This guide was developed as part of a partnership between the two organisations. In light of the state of affairs in the world today, using a circular system as a basis for product design is an absolute must. These design methods will assist firms in releasing latent potential and contributing to the improvement of the planet.