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Circular design strategies

We need to incorporate circularity into all aspects of design if we want to make a product fully circular. Circular design involves the function of a product, the origin of raw materials and energy used to manufacture it, how a user uses, repairs, and discards it, and the business model within which all of this happens. However, for physical products, it all starts with the strategy we use to design the product.

6 circular design strategies

Below, we present six strategies to achieve circular design. These strategies are derived from the book “Products that Last” by Bakker et al. (2014). Read the complete book for a deeper understanding of circular design:

1. Design to bond

This strategy is considered a holy grail for many designers. They explore how users develop a certain bond with the object they use. The complexity of attachment and bonding poses a significant challenge.

2. Design for longevity

This strategy is based on defining optimal product reliability. It is a well-defined technical area. Ideally, the product’s lifespan should align with its economic and stylistic lifespan.

3. Design for compatibility

This strategy is continually evolving. Digital technology, for example, often relies on compatibility with other systems. There is an interesting tension between standardization and personalized customization.

4. Design for ease of maintenance and repair

Maintenance and repair are currently divided among the original manufacturer, repair service providers, and users. Users are often treated in a somewhat patronizing manner by producers and distributors. Repair is often not allowed under the threat of warranty loss.

5. Design to update

This strategy involves providing opportunities to change a product. Adaptation to different functions through partial replacement is common, but the product is less frequently upgraded. Especially in digital technology, where advancements occur rapidly, the possibility of upgrading is limited. Value propositions must change accordingly.

6. Design for disassembly and reassembly

This strategy is partly new. Simple disassembly is a classic requirement for sustainability. The ability to reassemble is similar to the previous three strategies but may also involve assembling with parts from other products to become something else.

Getting started with circular design?

Value can be created in many ways around the life of a product, benefiting businesses, users, and the environment. Those who focus on use rather than consumption and on preserving and adding value rather than selling recognize new challenges and business opportunities. CIRCO supports entrepreneurs and creative professionals in (re)designing products, services, and business models.