Planet-Centric Design: From Egoism To Ecosystems

Planet-centric design re-balances humans’ and our planet’s needs while placing the planet at the center and prioritizing its ecosystem

For decades, designers and its industry have been concerned with human needs. From ergonomic kitchens and adjustable lighting to touchscreens and voice activation, human-centered design has focused on people, their desires and needs without looking at the well-being of the planet. Yet, a design that is not good for our planet is ultimately not good for people either. The climate crisis and lately the pandemic have shown that we have been prioritizing people for too long. Humans should be part of the equation, but not at the expense of the fundamental well-being of our planet. The pandemic in particular, has also shown that governments and people can act on a global challenge, and that a behavior shift is possible. We have to rethink the so far linear relationship between humans, technology, and our planet as a complex system of interdependencies. And since we designed our way into it – can we design our way out of it? (We Create Futures; SPACE10)

An approach to re-balance the needs of human beings and the needs of our planet is planet-centric design. It places the planet at the center, prioritizes its ecosystem and does not harm the planet (We Create Futures; SPACE10). The concept distances itself from a user-centered perspective and moves towards an egalitarian, planetary view – without losing sight of the user, the human being.

The independent design company and aware_ member Goodpatch is driven by the mission to prove the power of design. The company with studios in Tokyo, Berlin and Munich creates designs with sustainable value for people, organizations, and the planet. With their flexible services, Goodpatch meets their clients’ needs – from large, multinational corporations to local startups, in industries that span from health care to mobility. Whether it is a strategy, product, or service, Goodpatch works with their clients every step of the way to make complex ideas tangible (Goodpatch). Goodpatch’s approach is based on user experience design as an iterative process of understanding, defining, designing and evaluating. The goal is to gain the most holistic understanding possible of users, their everyday lives, behavior and their challenges, and to build solutions based on real customer desires (Handelsblatt). But what does desirability really mean? Creating awareness of what desirable futures are and whom they affect has become an essential aspect of Goodpatch’s design work. Which is why they have acknowledged the planet and its limits following a planet-centric design approach. By putting the individual human needs on the same level as planetary needs, the company has developed four movements to move from egoism to ecosystems, and to expand the design practice in their work:

Human To Planet

From a planetary perspective, it is important to move from human stakeholders to planetary stakeholders. This can be an ocean or the aforementioned pandemic.

Quantity to Quality

Planet-centric design appreciates growth in quality such as durability, intensity, trust, freedom, and relationships.

Short- To Long-Term

Planet-centric design includes the consideration of externalities that unfold over time, it emphasizes vision-driven design, keeping the long-term view in focus. Great ways to achieve this are vision cones, speculative design, and future back thinking.

Market-Fit To Planet-Fit

Sustainability is not only good for the planet, but it is also good for long-term business. Great ideas need to sustain themselves to have an impact, therefore it is inevitable to achieve planet fit before considering market fit (Goodpatch)

Planetary systems are complex, which is why design processes and tools are necessary to help navigate complexity and create better solutions for society that fit within the planet’s boundaries. Therefore, it is not enough to focus on desirability, viability and feasibility when designing new services. The outputs of design must also be responsible, systemic and transparent. Meaning, making thoughtful decisions that can have an effect on the future, accelerating behavior change for sustainability and making an environmental impact. It is the role of designers to clarify a vision and propose solutions — for a future in which the needs of human beings and the needs of our planet are in balance (Planet Centric Design, SPACE10)

aware_ sat down Samuel Huber, Strategy Director at Goodpatch and an expert for planet-centric design.

aware_: How can design contribute to a more sustainable world?

Samuel: Almost everything around us is shaped by design. However, design is much more than the materials we use and how things look. It has a crucial effect on how we behave and act in the world. 80 % of a product’s future emissions are designated during the design phase. Therefore, we must design in a way that leads us towards a more sustainable behavior throughout the whole lifecycle.

aware_: How can planet-centric design be inserted into existing design processes without changing it completely or de-centering the human too far?

Samuel: When we design for the planet, we automatically design for the humans who call it their home. By recalibrating the design toolset we use to develop products and services and assess viability, we manage to de-center the human and give voice to planetary stakeholders as well. This broader view allows us to see potential that goes beyond a single human.

aware_: What are the challenges or limitations to planet-centric design?

Samuel: Planet-centric design is not a solution. It is a method that empowers people and organizations to create awareness and generate answers to solve today’s small and grand challenges. These can be sustainability projects but also “normal” organizational initiatives. Therefore, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but involves a lot of work from a wide range of stakeholders.

aware_: Does Goodpatch follow a human-centered or planet-centric design? 

Samuel: We started out with a human-centered approach as companies were completely estranged from their customers and the people they tried to create value for. However, we realized over time that we had to extend this approach with a broader perspective, as designing only for one element in a system leads to failure as well. Therefore, we follow a planet-centric design approach, which still includes the human, but no longer exclusively.

aware_: Can you give an example for a planet-centric design best practice at Goodpatch?

Samuel: Let us look at one of the most powerful design tools: the user journey. When designing user journeys, we no longer only focus on the happiness of the customer or the business impact, but actively investigate how we can create a positive planetary impact at each stage. We also extended the scope of our journeys, so that they now include supply, production, organization, use, and reuse of products and services.

aware_: When do you think the economy will switch from human-centered to planet-centric?

Samuel: In the past twenty years, many companies were challenged by digital transformation which required them to substantially change the way they operate. We believe that in the next twenty years, sustainability and regulatory pressure will play a similarly disruptive role. Organizations that do not design for the planet and do not integrate sustainability in their process and practices will face a very tough market environment. We can already see this fundamental shift in the fashion industry; and just like media and music being the first to be challenged by digitalization, fashion might be an indicator of where we are headed and how fast it can go once the movement picks up speed.


by Marie Klimczak 



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