The project explores opportunities around a more sustainable and efficient way of consumption in central London. Research has been investigated by following a human centred design methodology, in the area around urban consumption, the circular economy model, fast moving consumer goods and co-living.
The design process is oriented at the Double Diamond model and was divided into five major phases. Each phase was build on insights from previous activities, which created an interlinked design process. For each stage, participatory design activities with users were included to uncover hidden insights about drivers, barriers, needs and values.
The project focuses on the first and second design model from the Action and Research Centre at the RSA (2013) , which concern the relationship between consumer and retailer (brand/companies) in terms of new business models, lifecycle of products, end-of-life strategy, consumer behaviour and attitudes (RSA, 2013).
Research was conducted around the sector of Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs), which is “responsible for the vast majority (75%) of municipal solid waste” in the US (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2013). During the present project, FMCGs were defined as products with characteristics of quick sales, low-prices and short life cycles. The intention was, to divide products not into categories but instead into the characteristics of their consumption.
The research of the project takes place in London, where the user groups of Millennials and Low-Income were identified as frequent consumers of fast moving consumer goods. The characteristics of these two user groups have overlaps in sectors of a low budget and their uncertainty about the future, which have influence on the way of consumption.
The interface between consumer and retailer (brand/company) will be important for the shift to a circular economy. The project will question how products will be sold, used and re-used for a more efficient way of using resources and also how the user behaviour towards a more conscious consumption can be improved in the future.
The field research started with methods and tools from ethnographic practices. Observations in four different fields were conducted to explore and discover new perspectives. Insights of users everyday experiences were gained in different fields around urban consumption, material recycling, adoption of new technologies and future trends.
The co-discovery tool ‘A Book of My Things’ is a consumption diary to gain insights about people’s overall consumption behaviour and how they use products on a daily basis. The aim was to gain insights about consumption patterns, drivers and barriers, their lifestyles and values to define the motivation of consumers.
To understand the consumption behaviour and motivation of the user group of low-income and Millennials, insights of their daily life behaviours were needed. Three different types of interviews were conducted to generate a range of different views and also use the various settings to validate my previous findings.
To gain insights of every day practices, contextual interviews were conducted in front of the discount stores Argos, Flying Tiger, Poundland and other pound shops in central, east and north London. In this natural environment it was able to gain insights about people’s immediate purchases.
Expert interviews with early adopters of new technologies and business models were conducted to gain insights of daily practices and learn from past experiences. Interviews with one of the co-directors of the ‘Library of Things’, a member of the ‘Machines Room’ and an architect from MINIWIZ (Trashpresso) were held.
The findings from the discovery stage have allowed to map out user journeys. In this process, it was not only important to map out the whole journey with user goals and actions but especially also the emotions and shifting value of products over time, to identify users relationships and motivations.
The fist part of the research question addresses the issue around the shift to a circular economy and sustainability. Oriented on the principles around reduce, reuse and recycle, a system is needed that is oriented on cycles and networks to keep the products at the highest value at all time.
Rooted in the insight that sustainability alone can not lead to a behaviour change, the second part of the research question deals with the problems of shifting needs and values of people ‘liquid lives’. The temporary living conditions of Millennials causes new demands of a more flexible way of consumption which challenges the idea of individual ownership.
After the problem space has been defined, customer segmentation maps helped to cluster insights and the creation of four different personas. All personas are based on insights of people which were met during the research, but divided and clustered by their specific needs and values.
The develop stage started with defining the design space and setting up a design brief. Design criteria and values as well as drivers and barriers were generated through a short affinity mapping and clustering of the problem space. To avoid the narrowing of the project outcome in this stage, the criteria were held very open to left space for inspiration and creativity.
To spark inspiration for the creation of future scenarios during the co-design workshop, the following method cards were created. The cards represent crucial findings from past research. With the help of a ‘What if…’ story template, the cards can be combined by participants in different ways to create diverse stories and scenarios.
The created ideas were abstracted and clustered into their core directions. The areas can be divided into co-living, access over ownership, local production and sharing. The aspect around co-living and the way how people live, seems to be a main driving force behind their consumption behaviour. This direction leads to further desk research and a mapping of interlinked issues.
Concepts which were developed in the co-design workshop were mapped, to find out which would best fit the users needs. A general finding was, that the most valuable output of the co-design workshop was not the developed ideas themselves, but more the directions in that people have thought.
The findings from the co-design workshop and mapping of concepts lead to new insights, which had influences on the first research question and therefore the further design process of the project. With this new input it was able to define a second, more precised and tailored research question.
Flatbox is a sharing platform that can be implemented into all kind of rented properties. Especially made for flat sharing, flatbox is a service that provides products permanently or temporary to tenants. Flat share agencies and landlords lease products directly from manufacturers. With an app and digital management platform, products can be ordered by tenants and maintenance requested. Products circulate within storage boxes between tenants, suppliers and manufacturers to provide a ‘closed loop’ service.
The storage boxes will be available in each flat. Tenants can place the box in front of their door to receive orders, exchange products for maintenance or return borrowed items. If it is not possible to leave the box outside the door, tenants can bring the box to a near by collection point (e.g. a kiosk or local business).
To reach the aim of a regenerative economy where old products become the material input for new ones, for the proposed service concept products have to be designed with sharing in mind, to create an efficient reverse cycle. Design for disassembly, maintenance, remanufacturing, reuse and recycling were identified as important parameters for products.
The digital desktop management platform allows service providers to manage the service efficiently. It gives an overview about requests, orders, stock and flats. Connected with the app, the system allows a seamless communication between user, service provider, supplier and manufacturer.
With the app, the delivery of products will be made easy for suppliers. It is connected with the management platform and provides information about current orders and activities. The supplier gets information about receiver and address, type of request (order, exchange or return), ordering number and product.
Related to the insight that sustainability alone can not lead to a needed behaviour change, the proposed service concept addresses user needs around an increase in flexibility and convenience of urban living, whereas sustainability can be seen as a driver for involved service providers and manufacturers.
The shift to a circular economy can be overwhelming. Conducted research around consumption, questions how might the relationship between consumer, product and retailer might change within a circular economy. To carry out a needed behaviour change of consumers, it was necessary to reveal the roots of consumption. Traced back to changing needs and values of Millennials and their temporary living conditions, traditional linear consumption patterns with the mindset of ownership are inefficient and wasteful. The research reveals, that co-living and flat sharing can be seen as systems, where products are part of. With principles of a circular economy, these existing and functioning systems can be used for integrating products to not only ‘close the loop’ but also lead to a better co-living experience.
Seeing products as a part of a system (‘products-as-a-service’) and focusing on systems solutions will be the most profitable and resource efficient way for a circular economy business model. (Stahel, 2012) It was also identified, that the value of sustainability alone will not lead to a behaviour change of the consumer. It was therefore crucial, that the proposed service concept focuses also on values like flexibility and convenience to meet the needs of the users.
The service solution should be seen as a small part of a bigger picture, following the paradigm of “Think globally, act locally.” (Geddes, 1915) It pictures, how a circular economy might work for the end user on a daily basis. During the research it was also identified, that the proposed sharing concept alone will not enable the shift to a regenerative economy. The products have to be designed with its shared use in mind, which requires, that they are made for reuse, remanufacturing and recycling. This will be one of the major challenges for manufacturers, beside other issues around policies and profitability (European Commission, 2015; see also World Economic Forum, 2016; Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2013) to a more sustainable way of doing business.
To overcome global challenges (World Economic Forum, 2016) it will be inevitable to rethink the way our economy functions today. Systems have to be designed around people – not products. Therefore, the shift to a circular economy might only happen if we redesign the system by following a human centric approach.