Food For Thought: Planet-Centric Design

2 years ago by

Designers often focus on the end-user. But what does it mean to care for people and place in equal measure? How do we conscientiously and empathetically design with the planet in mind? 

At our Auckland spring conversation evening conveyor Eddy Royal prompted the panel to define what it means to design in a planet-centric manner before guiding our experts (and audience) through an energetic and informative discussion on the topic. We wrapped up some key points and resources for you:

There is no waste in nature

Our panellists spoke passionately about lifecycle for everything we design. Rather than talking about sustainable substrates we need to instead shift to thinking about how our design fits into a more sustainable system. We need to consider the planet’s needs together with the user needs. 

Beyond the end user (& the empathy shortcut)

Ben Reid encouraged us to redefine the balance between people and planet. Focusing on the needs of an end-user ignores the environmental impacts we make. If you design with the planet in mind, you will ultimatelybring more value to the user.He believes waste is a flaw in the design process. He urged the audience to find new models for working and help our clients define new metrics for success, where design projects beyond the end-user experience. 

Take, Make, Use and Dispose (a one way street)

Dr Florian Graichen rejects the viability of linear growth utilising finite resources, describing it as a “one-way street”. There is no point debating the length of the street when you know it is coming to an end, rather Florian encouraged us to seek opportunities to innovate and rethink our current systems and processes. “everything we make can be unmade.” 

The circular economy

Louise Nash (who called our Auckland audience a coalition of the willing) explained the core principles of a circular economy — to design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems. An opportunity and a new narrative for design and innovation. “We should be working with nature, not against it”

People don’t buy packaging they buy products

Packaging exists due to demand and can reduce waste through protecting products and prolonging their life. Sharon Humphreys (packaging New Zealand) wants us to create a blueprint for the future, where designers understand they are complicit in creating end of life problems. 

Designers are educators (& learners)

Designers should expand their own understanding of waste, recycling and circularity concepts. With any packaging design, it is essential to educate the consumer on Recyclable/reusable/compostable options and make an explicit declaration about responsible next steps once the primary use is complete.

The Aotearoa context

Janine Bickerton spoke about Government legislation around recyclable packaging and said to learn as much as you can and teach others around you. There is government support in Aotearoa via the waste minimisation fund. 

While this plastic pollution problem is not specific to NZ we are in a unique situation due to us being geographically isolated with a disparate population. We don’t have the scale or access; some other countries have in looking for solutions. Janine encouraged us to look to overseas to learn and be inspired then design for local.


The experts believed the government should regulate end of life solutions, Sharon Humphreys thought the removal of plastic bags from stores was a missed opportunity to engage with and educate people. 

Business models are changing due to consumer pressure

Brands are moving away from single-use plastics. The plastic bag legislation has companies recognising they must make changes. “There is a new breed of conscious consumer and an urgent global situation that demands a new kind of action from designers”

Innovation doesn’t happen in a silo

Designers alone can’t fix the problem, co-design, work interdisciplinary on solutions, collaborate with others. Don’t be depressed or get bogged down in the guilt of the current situation. Florian hardwig spoke of the human potential and how we are more educated and energised than ever before. “We have a deep understanding of materials and processes – work with us to see what we can achieve in New Zealand.”

The key points our panel want you to take away were:

  • Educate yourself and others. Act as a multiplier, show the world what is possible – take others on your journey.
  • Tell stories, start conversations but recognise when to stop talking and take action.
  • Challenge the status-quo. Think not about growth or success in traditional metrics.
  • Respond to briefs differently (don’t take the same linear path to solving problems).
  • Nature doesn’t do waste, learn from nature.
  • Be in service, design better and design beyond the end-user.
  • The linear economy is not gravity – it is not a force of nature it can be disrupted and redesigned to be circular.
  • “it’s all about the action, go out tomorrow and see what we can do better. Make what the client asks of you and then think bigger, make a system, co-design, get funding, get it made.“

Eddy Royal co-founder and Director at Curative NZ and advocate for social change convened the conversation with; Ben Reid, Janine Bickerton, Sharon HumphreysDr Florian Graichen and Louise Nash

To let the learning continue our Auckland panellists shared the following resources;

Keen to learn more?

DA Workshop Auckland: Circular by Design with Louise Nash

Friday 1st November, 2019

Eventbriten Account Management with Sarah Richie

Who is this workshop for?

This workshop is for designers, business owners and strategists who are seeking a framework for designing products, systems, services and businesses that overcome the wasteful reality of our world.

How can we radically redesign our world to work with nature not against it?

During this workshop you will fall in love with the problem and learn about the nature of the circular economy.

Through the workshop you will discover a new plastics economy is being built using circular thinking where everything that can be made, can be unmade. And new form of design that is rising up to create future brands.

You will learn:

  • About the systemic issues we face as designers in Aotearoa, what pathways are underway to solve these challenges? What does the future look like?
  • Understand more about what is the circular economy and how can this provide a framework for design.
  • Put into practice a circular by design approach to help us create products that are better for people and planet


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