What is a sustainable product design? It is a design that builds an entire ecosystem around the product, enabling it to go beyond its tangible form and becoming an experience. Such products can survive outside a typical life cycle outlined from introduction to decline. Sustainable product designs can chart out a new life cycle that works in multiple loops:
- The circle: this loop circles back to introduction every time it declines. This is a short but repetitive route on the life-cycle. Every time the loop restarts it has something new to it. This loop envisions life cycles in terms of new features or versions of a product.
- The jump: this loop is not time bound; its route is ever-forward bouncing back before it moves towards withdrawal from market. While the circle was a transition, this is simply an extension.
- The speedboat: this loop is a continuous line that goes towards a renewal route even before it steps into decline.
Sustainable products adopt one or more loops in their life design.
Design is no longer only the aesthetic property of a product. The scope of designing has been extended to fulfilling multiple purposes from user, development and business end. The better a product can meet these ends the more sustainable it becomes.
From the user end we see design purposes like user experience, emotional connection and impression management. This evolution of design scope is due to the changing way users look at products. People now want products to be an extension of their self. We now seek products that have a clear purpose of their own which then relate with our own need for such products rather than products that simply fulfill our needs. For example, we buy an iPhone not only because it serves our need for a good smartphone but also because the iPhone has a higher purpose of redefining the level at which users can interact with their phones.
We can understand this dynamic with a simple diagram.
Within the purpose of a product design are two components: a clear purpose and its communication. Both things need to be present for the relationship to work. The clearer a product’s purpose and the better it is delivered, the more sustainable it will be in terms of sticking to the customer’s mind and buying options. Such a product design will enable companies to persuade customers towards the target behaviors they want to achieve.
The development and business end is as demanding as the user end, with the former assigning purposes like adaptability, effectiveness and time and budget optimization.
The product design will define how the product will work. A design that has ability to evolve and adapt to multiple platforms will deliver products that are development friendly. The design needs to go beyond efficiency and experience to be effective at fulfilling its functional requirements; no one wants to pet honey bees even if they produce the sweetest honey. While these are necessary features, there is one per-requisite for all sustainable designs: feasibility. The design should be SMART because at the end of the day we want a product that can penetrate the market and be profitable.
While there are many more characteristics that can help define a sustainable product design, these are the core things that give the product a longer and more sustainable life.