News|Connections|09 Feb 2019|Frans Joziasse

Purpose Economy and Design

‘Due to my long term occupation in the design industry it was time to think more holistic and look at the bigger picture. Why am I doing this? What is the purpose of it all?’ Questions that Frans has been chewing on recently…

During last Christmas I had some time to reflect and get some long wished for reading done, all in the area of PURPOSE ECONOMY. Starting to read some literature and articles I found that there is a clear development from EXPERIENCE ECONONOMY towards PURPOSE ECONOMY. A trend already foreseen a longer time ago by e.g. Gilmore in 1999 in his book ‘the Experience Economy’. He proclaimed the next level of competition is for companies that ‘guide transformation’.

I want to share three books with you that will definitely feed (and already did) the discussion in our industry on the purpose economy and the future role of design in it.

1. The Purpose Economy by Aaron Hurst

At the moment the standard on purpose economy on the US CEO book shelf. The book is very text heavy but very well documented/sourced. It is very American, so you get still the impression of the triple bottom line where ‘profit & business’ becomes before ‘people’ and ‘planet’. Look at the overview of definitions first to see where Hurst thinks the notion of Purpose Economy comes from. A lot of spaces that Design is already trying to occupy!

The book is looking more at a macro-level at what the Purpose Economy in the USA is and how it will evolve over the next years. Interesting numbers that always make an impression in such a big market as the US are 12BLN turn-over in the Purpose Economy in 2020. So what are examples of that? And which

companies could Design target?

Here is a list of companies/institutions (that we know similar in EU) where Design can and already does make a difference. Opportunistic America is always at the front of these movements but they are maybe not all that sharply positioned as Patagonia (see book 3) and Ecovert but the tendency is there and it is a huge opportunity for Design.

2. Handboek Betekenisvol Ondernemen by Kees Klomp (in Dutch)

An easy to read book (not only because I am Dutch), but light and therefore unfortunately also a little bit superficial. The author does take many examples from practice, which are nice to read but not so well sourced and in some case only half the story (e.g. our client Unilever’s USLP). My main critique is that the book is a big collection of other books and models from other authors put together in a somewhat chaotic way. Very positively written though.

It portrays an interesting model (see below), that in my opinion not only works for start-ups. Interesting is that the model in contrast to the new business model canvas of Osterwalder starts with a purpose and vision and ends with a value proposition (not the other way around). The other part that I liked the most is that he clearly states that you as a human being have to start to ask yourself what kind of person you want to be for the company/society/environment. That can give you a strong motivation/drive for e.g. choosing your clients/projects etc. Something Designers/Design Managers should do more (and did when they left Design Schools)!

The Happy Startup Canvas model

3. Let my people go surfing by Yvon Chouinard

My favorite book of the three as it tells the real/authentic story of the founder of Patagonia, the high performance outdoor company. This man is really living in the purpose economy and the triple bottom line value with his company, his employees, his suppliers and design.

A deliberate choice by the founder that not a lot of companies would dear to live, but rewarding as the company is very successful (at least after 25 years of rocky roads!). Most inspirational for me are these two pages of the book, which are their Values (written in 1991!). Also the company with the best scores of employer, child care etc. I would love to work for them, it would be super cool to be in design there, I think. I would feel being a purposeful human being.

Last but not least I wanted to give you something extra. I found also a very interesting chapter on Patagonia’s Design Philosophy and Design Quality with clear guiding principles about product design with great examples in their product portfolio (they could try to do a little bit more beyond product, but I will keep that for the next publication):

  • Functional
  • Multi-functional (don’t buy two jackets if one jacket can fulfil multi-purposes)
  • Durable (they make advertisements, “don’t buy this shirt”!)
  • Fit to customer
  • As simple as possible (good design is as little design as possible)
  • Innovative (they were the first to have cloths of recycled PET bottles)
  • Global design
  • Easy to care for and clean
  • Does the product have any added value?
  • Authentic
  • Do not just chase fashion
  • Don’t cause any unnecessary harm

So obvious! But how many Design departments have defined design guidelines in the context of (their) purpose? It is so timeless! Of course there are next to this still the ‘old’ 10 principles of Good Design at Braun, which are still relevant. Rams introduced the idea of sustainable development and of obsolescence being a crime in design in the 1970s.

All books have recently been published, so it will be easy to get them fast. I think purpose economy is definitely an area of great opportunity for Design. One where we have to get our act together as designers. From an internal motivational point, I am getting there! From a business perspective I expect CEO’s of traditional companies starting to push it rather sooner that late so we should be prepared. More than 35 CEOs and civil society leaders founded in 2016 at the Davos Conference the Business & Sustainable Development Commission (the Commission) today reveal that sustainable business models could open economic opportunities worth up to US$12 trillion and increase employment by up to 380 million jobs by 2030.

At the heart of the Commission’s argument are the Sustainable Development Goals (or Global Goals)— 17 objectives to eliminate poverty, improve education and health outcomes, create better jobs and tackle our key environmental challenges by 2030.

Sustainable Development Goals

Finally: is this new? No!

In the 70ties we saw the “Limits of Growth” Report of the Club of Rome. In the 80ties at least in the Dutch Design Scene the movement of Eco-Design was founded with help of the Government, leading into the renowned study ‘Sustainable Design Engineering’ within the Faculty of Industrial Engineering at Delft University In the 90ties Circular Economy and for Design ‘Cradle to Cradle’ started to enter organisations and governments.

Today the urgency for it has changed as companies, politics and also design have not really, truly reacted to the early warning systems of nature, the facts about how wealth is distributed around the world and the changes in how the new generations are shifting their beliefs (e.g. about ownership vs. sharing).

Designers let’s get started, use your imagination, your tools and leadership!

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