The past decade has seen us finally understand human-centric design. We got so good at optimizing everything for convenience, distraction, and addiction that people changed their long-lived behaviors. The products and services were just too desirable. We keep scrolling, buying products that perfectly complement all the stuff we already have, and watching without thinking twice what streaming platforms serve us. However, it’s time to move on. It’s the last call for a move towards planet-centric design.
Planet-centric design is a dramatic shift in perspective. We need to move from egoism to ecosystems. Its underlying principle acknowledges that we are not alone on our planet and that this planet has limits. Humans have pushed these boundaries for centuries. The ability to think beyond and shape our environments is what makes us human. But our impact has a cost. Our ability to see ahead is once again needed to protect the planet and its communities. Planet-centric design allows us to bring the planet we live on back into the design process
At Goodpatch, we too strive to design products and services that people love. However, we realized that we need to ask ourselves again what we really mean by desirability? Creating awareness of what desirable futures are and whom they affect has become an essential aspect of our design work. We are still making mistakes and learning from them. Along the way, we want to share this process with as many fellow designers, organizations, and communities as possible.
We have identified four moves that allow us to expand design practice and include the planetary perspective in our work. Planet-centric design is not anti-human. However, it puts individual human needs on the same level as planetary needs. It complements “team human” with “team non-human” and goes to great lengths to give voice to all the things that can’t talk.
Many design methodologies are specifically geared towards humans. Think of personas, user journeys, and stakeholder maps. We need to move from human stakeholders to planetary stakeholders. Next time, why not have the “North Atlantic” as a stakeholder? Or maybe include the Coronavirus, which arguably has been a leading stakeholder in the 2020/21 pandemic.
When we think of growth, we often only look at the quantitative perspective. It’s easy to measure, has been done this way for decades and seems more objective and scientific. However, planet-centric design also appreciates growth in quality. Durability, intensity, trust, freedom, and relationships are all dimensions that are hard to measure, but they matter no less. Think for example of restaurants like Dings Dums Dumplings that find a new quality in “expired” products by turning them into tasty snacks.
In a constantly accelerating world, it becomes increasingly challenging to aim for the long run. Why invest in the uncertain future when you could have quick results? Planet-centric design includes the consideration of externalities that unfold over time. While it still works in iterations, 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.
Sustainability is not only good for the planet, but it is also good for long-term business. If organizations don’t care for the very environment that their business calls home, they are setting themselves up for failure. Maybe not in the next quarter, but definitely in the long run. Of course, great ideas also need to sustain themselves to have an impact. Therefore, make sure to achieve planet fit before you consider market fit. First things come first.
Planet-centric design matters. Its ambitions are high. It is a shift that does not happen overnight. Planet-centric design is a movement that involves people that deliberately adopt this perspective in their daily work to achieve tangible results — iteration for iteration. Despite the urgency of this challenge, starting small is okay. It’s better than not starting at all. We encourage everyone to join in and help us answer some of these questions to get more powerful in applying planet-centric design in everything we do.
Join the conversation! We are more than happy to hear your thoughts, ideas, and critical challenges.
Thanks to Lena, Marco, and Peter for the inspiring discussion and to Giulia Nina Gasser for the illustrations
Samuel Huber has a passion for music and Japan and works as Strategy Director at Goodpatch, where we use design to empower people and organizations to change life for the better. Want to get in touch? Check out our Goodpatch Product Hour to talk about the projects that inspire you.