News|Connections|30 Jan 2020|Jay Peters

The Age of Responsible Design

In today’s transparent, interconnected global marketplace, competing with price, product performance and brand legacy is no longer enough to stay relevant, let alone ahead of competition in an increasingly commoditized world. At the forefront of the next wave of consumerism are those businesses that are becoming Purpose driven, balancing their bottom line (profits) amongst social and environmental aspects, better known as the Triple Bottom Line (People, Planet, Profit).

As design has continually and rapidly grown in both scope and discipline over the past decade, I believe that now is the coming age of Responsible Design, that design takes a leadership role to be help further Purpose driven organizations, and be more responsible to the business, to the environment, and to society alike.

To play on the popular Innovation model of IDEO, whereas innovation lies in the “sweet spot” between; Desirable, Viable and Feasible to deliver “market winning solutions” I believe Responsible compliments this model most fittingly. At PARK, we add a 4th lens, that of Responsible, to create a more complete overview and present for our clients this model to consider if their efforts are in fact serving responsible outcomes.

IDEO Graph

This all-encompassing lens, effectively ensures that all development efforts are responsible to the environment and society, while further specifically consider to be responsible to the business (viable), responsible to the people (desirable), and responsible technology (feasible).

I would like to note that I personally prefer the word Responsible over Sustainable, as sustainable is most often implied to environmental issues. While indeed business needs to be sustainable, the term sustainable is sometimes sensed disbelievingly as many companies use “green washing” tactics to (mis)perceive consumers that they are not doing harm to the environment. If the past influence of IDEO in the world of business and design is any indication of the future, the term Circular Design, now being driven by IDEO, meaning the intention to create products that stay in closed loops and business models that discourage waste, may be a more commonly accepted term and business methodology in the years to come.

Like sustainability and greenwashing, I also believe the term Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) will soon be a thing of the past, as many consumers are not convinced, and often in disbelief, that CSR efforts are truly serving social and community needs. Too often companies partake in minimal or even mislead CSR activities only to utilize them as Public Relations opportunities creating media impressions.

Unfortunately, not all organizations and industries are yet adapting a triple bottom line mentality, and therefore do not factor Responsibility in some or any of their efforts. We often push our clients and industry leaders to at the very least consider this lens when considering their future position. But not all buy in, yet. It will be interesting to see when, not if, but when they will consider additional aspects other than the bottom line revenue.

Fortunately, there are several that are leading the way to show that Responsible and Triple bottom line values are in fact good for business, employees and customers alike. In a previous PARK news article founder Frans Joziasse identified a few companies and thought leaders at the forefront of being Purpose driven. And where business is heading, design is, or should be, right alongside to help discover and deliver opportunities to drive business forward. I would like to identify and further explore two well-known global leading Consumer Packaged Goods producers and how they are evolving with purpose:

Our long-term client Unilever, has publicly disclosed their Sustainable Living Plan, which sets specific goals and timelines to help deliver positive value to people as well as the planet. Through the Sustainable Living Plan Unilever sets to decouple its growth from overall environmental footprint and increase its positive social impact. While it is rather taken for granted that Unilever, a global publicly traded company, remains focused on their bottom line profits, they have taken a clear stand and promise to help deliver value across the triple bottom line. Those ambitions include:

1) Improving the health and wellbeing of over 1 billion people by 2020

2) Enhancing the lives of millions by 2020

3) Half the environmental impact by 2030

It should be noted that while these are quite benevolent and considerable goals, particularly halving their environmental impact is quite a lofty goal considering Unilever products are consumed more than 1 billion times per day! And this is where design can play a major influence, by understanding systems, materials, manufacturing methodologies, customer journeys and consumer values to name a few. With the help of PARK’s support, Unilever has been on a multiyear journey to move from package design to experience design, thus influencing the business to being further responsible to their customers & consumers, partners & suppliers at each product and brand interaction. While design can no way single handily deliver any of the set goals, as design becomes more responsible, it will no doubt be a major contributor to fulfilling the Sustainable living plan.

Unilever Sustainbale living plan: progress in 2019
Read more: Unilever Sustainable Living Plan: Progress in 2019

If there is any indication of proof that being Responsible is good for business: Unilever’s ‘Sustainable Living’ brands are becoming increasingly important to the company’s business, with these brands growing more than 50% faster than the rest of the business and accounting for 60% of growth in 2016.

Another company alongside Unilever, is one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies PepsiCo, who has also taken a bold stance in leading the way and setting the bar in becoming a purpose driven company. PepsiCo, has adopted the Triple bottom line approach to develop their Performance with Purpose model, focused on delivering sustainable long-term growth while leaving a positive imprint on society and the environment. This approach considers the People who make, purchase and consume their products, along with the Products that deliver value to the business and delight their consumers (i.e. generate revenue and profits) as well as factoring in the Planet, to ensure their value chain has as little negative environmental impact as possible.

PepsiCo performance with purpose

Those in the know of design and business are likely aware that Pepsi has appointed a Chief Design Officer back in 2012. Their first ever Chief Design Officer has made great progress with establishing design internally as well as implementing some bold design initiatives in the marketplace amongst their portfolio of household name brands. As design has an executive leadership role, and has senior leadership roles across all business units, it is no doubt that design plays a critical function to help drive forward their Performance with Purpose mission.

While the above examples hopefully make a compelling case for Purpose driven companies with tangible consumer goods, and how responsible design can support them, the same case can be made for companies that produce intangible products, such as software. Here digital design and user experience designers can help ensure that design is more responsible to their users. In my view, being responsible simply means to ensure that digital experiences enhance and improve our lives. In today’s world of social media influencers such Instagram andSnap Chat, business success is often tied to more time glued to and engaged with our devices, which in my opinion does not improve the quality of life. As studies are showing, these social media time sucks often diminish the quality of life and negatively influence our perception of ourselves and the world around us. A personal favorite of mine to help explain this cause and effect can be better explained in the short video below: The Panda is Dancing.

This video cleverly shows that while design is often developed to keep us engaged longer, it should not. And this is where design can step up to be more responsible, ensuring that user experiences are optimal and value adding to the point to only improve the quality of life in the real world.

In closing, I believe that the age of Responsible Design is here to stay. While the name may not stick, I will continue to advocate for the triple bottom line to ensure that design leadership helps identify opportunities to help to pave the way for companies that choose to become Purpose driven, by design.

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