Circular design

18 min read

Roberto Inderbitzin is a Swiss Mexican designer and founder of the design strategy agency in Zurich, Switzerland. An agency specialized in innovation in product and brand strategy. Main jury member of the Swiss Technology Awards 2017 and former lecturer at the University Tecnológico de Monterrey and IBERO.

The purpose of the call is to talk about circular design and why as designers we have an obligation to develop better-designed, more sustainable, higher quality products so that we all can build a better future for the next generations.

As promised, you can download the circular design radar chart.

Jeanette: Our guest today is Roberto Inderbitzin. Roberto is a Swiss Mexican designer and founder of the design strategy agency Reframed in Zurich, Switzerland. An agency specializes in innovation and product and brand strategy. He is main jury member of the Swiss Technology Awards 2017 and former lecturer at the University Tecnológico de Monterrey and Ibero.

He describes himself as curious and emphatic, is also a dad and designer.

So, the purpose of the call today is to talk about circular design, and why, as designers will have
an obligation to develop better designed, more sustainable and higher quality products, so that
we can all build a better future for the next generations.

So, thank you so much, Roberto for joining, Luis and I today, it's a pleasure having you here

Roberto: Thank you. the pleasure is all mine.

Jeanette: So, we started talking about the purpose. Today’s call is to talk about circular design. Could you perhaps talk to us about circular design and what it means?

Roberto: Well, I would say first, let's start with the design. Design is not just the outcome, the beautiful outcome, or what it is, but it is a process. So, by knowing that design is a process, I would say that the circular economy is also a process, and we all can imagine like a line. So, we have like the beginning and the end and that is the economy we live now, or like most of it, and usually design, and the especially industrial design is still in the line. So, we have in the beginning we have like, we dig out raw materials resources, then in the middle there is where values created, and at the end it's destroyed. It is, in best cases recycled and reused. But if we have this line and may make it circular, and everybody can imagine a circle where the beginning it's all in the end, then I would say that's something that's considered circular design.

So that say a product is designed to be used, refurbished, or recycled, and then when goes into the into the whole system again without actually like just destroying the whole product and wasting the resources which sometimes are still very, very valuable. So that's something that I would, I would consider to be circular design and why it actually works.

Luis: So how this circular design is applied to product design strategies?

Roberto: Well, for strategies I would say, we need first to see who is the client. What's the pain point of the of the end user. What do they want to achieve? and also the client. Client being the one actually giving out the project. What do they want to achieve? Who are they, what is their purpose and knowing what their purpose is, then we can start to apply a different kind of parameters considered something to be circular.

So, by knowing exactly the strategy, then we can start to figuring out what is there they actually needs that they do, and what's something that we can actually implement. Let's say by knowing that the different industry is using that their industry could be very beneficial of it.

Jeanette: That is very interesting, Roberto, and also, we've seen that reframe of design uses a reader chart to map out how circular design is actually working in terms of a product, and in the process, as you' mentioned of designing this product.

Perhaps you could give us some more information of how you came up with the parameters of this chart, what it is and how is used, and why the these particular parameters were chosen.

Roberto: So, let's say, I would say when we design a product or a solution, there are a lot of parameters we need to know. Like what's the price point going to be? who is the client going to be? what materials we are going to use? where is it going to be sold? Is it going to be sold B2B or B2C, and all that kind of stuff. So that's some, that's one case, and then we have the case of the product itself, and by knowing what's in it in that a product to design what we, what do we need from the product.

Let's say, functionality. It needs to be a longevity, meaning it needs with long lasting as well. We need to consider the materials and those are the parameters we actually use in the in the chart in the radar. So, by knowing that we can select different kind of references that we actually need, we want a benchmark to different products to the competition and that we can start building up a chart where we can actually share with our stakeholders with the team with different clients to tell them, listen, that is the direction we are going to use. So, by having that chart we can actually communicate better without actually going way too many circles. I hope that makes sense.

Luis: Oh yes. Definitely they do but we're intrigued by these parameters you've been talking about. Before we have this conversation today, we were talking about gamification. What is this gamification parameters means to you and why do you think is important for the process.

Roberto: As child, I always like to consider, like, ourself child. We're still very curious. As humans, we are amazingly curious. So, and as kids they are way more curious than we are as adults so, the play factor is still in us and by knowing that we can actually use that to nudge people to the direction we want them to go.

We can start playing games. Let's say we can make games that are um, bringing materials back to the outcome where they brought back. Let's say in an example a coffee cup. There are millions of coffee cups thrown away every year, so by knowing how we can manage the game to bring back the coffee cup, let's say do bring back a useful coffee cup. We can actually save materials? But how are we going to do that? We can use the factor of gaming, meaning you bring it back, you get a point, you bring it back maybe there a light goes on, on the hub where you bring it back. So, all those little different games you can actually play with the user, nudge them to the direction you want to go.

So that's something that we can use me in the part of games. But also, let's say if you have a machine, you can help people to navigate by having this factor of interaction of gaming of being curious. And then it gets into a loop where it's you still curious, but to get into the habit of how to use it, and that's why I think it's very important to have that in mind, this curiosity to play with the objects and how we test with objects, and so on.

Jeanette: Yes, you brought to mind something that Picasso is said to have said that every child is an artist and the problem is how to remain an artist when you're an adult.

Roberto: Absolutely!

Jeanette: So, this is a part of keeping the curiosity and the wish to be fun and you know, do things in the right way. But yes, coaxing people into doing the right thing by doing the game and this is really interesting. I think the way of looking at how the design process is working, because correct me if I am wrong, you then use the chart. The chart to guide where the product will be going.

Roberto: Right!

Jeanette: But my question now would be you design this prototype, which I guess that is what you do in the first instance and then try to test it out. Even maybe with people. How important is this interface of how people react to the product then in your design process?

Roberto: So, it's super, super crucial. I mean you cannot, well, you can design something that's nobody going to use and it's been done before, but usually it's uh, we try to design something that's useful so we don't waste resources time and energy. So, we'd go and test it.

We test it with clients, for example, with potential clients. Sometimes it's fun to test something with kids because they are without filters. They're very straightforward. To say, okay, that's something that I don't get. They tell you what it is or what they consider to be. So, I would say testing is something that it's done early or needs to be done early, and the tools we already have to test Its, we have them. I mean, it can be carboard, it can be opposed, it can be a quick website we can build. you can build something out of Legos, and by building this prototype or this MVP it's so much quicker to come up with the right solution.

So, I would say, it is super crucial, and knowing what with what we design, we can actually, um, what it is call? We can fix the hurdles when we can fix the pain point of the consumer quite fast, and on all part of that it's to be very emphatic. So, I would say one of the most important things is in that part of the testing part is super empathic with the client with the end user. What are the feeling? What's their surroundings, where the going to be sitting on or place or interacted with. To know exactly how can we help them.

Jeanette: So, as you are saying, it's not just a person who is commissioning the work, but it is also the people who are ultimately going to be using the product. So, essentially your client's client. So to speak.

Roberto: So to speak, yes, and it's a very delicate act to tell sometimes the client that it's good what they want to do, but we need to figure out what's the end user going to do with the product or the design of the solution. So, the focus is always on the end user, and that's when design begins and how design starts. And I would say that's the most important thing and it's not about technology but it's all, it's seriously like, who is the end user?

The communication design being interaction and being industrial design since it's a process, it's always important to know to who we design. Why do we design for that person?

Luis: You also mentioned that testing is important, but the issue that I found that entrepreneurs and company struggle with is how much do I need to test this product or this thing, whatever you creating before putting them on shelves?

Roberto: Right!

Luis: I mean, I hear words about perfection, like when it is perfect? What they mean about that or how many times. When it ends.

Roberto: Well, you can die testing stuff. I mean, let's be honest. I mean nobody is perfect and nothing is perfect. When you're designing, we're finishing the product we still can fix some stuff. We can still make a different angle on it. We can still make an interaction on it, so I think it's important to know, okay, we stop now and it's okay. It's good enough and then you can give like one more.

But the testing part I think it's considered to be super crucial, and let's say at the beginning first when we design an MVP like the minimal valuable product, it's super crucial to know who do we design it for? How does it work? How is the interaction with it? Then we can test it. Let's say with a different prototype which's closer to the final product and then you can still test it again when it's done with the final material.

In the case of industrial design is good if you have the final material, you can test it again. How does it feel? How does it interact? and then you can test it with people as well, so I will consider it not too much testing, but definitely testing. So, people that are there are saying we shouldn't test it and we know how it looks. We know how it is. That's very difficult because you can really like mess it up. Sometimes you get lucky, and it works, but I would say test it as much as you can and as less as you need.

Jeanette: Yes, that's a very good range within you which to work and you mention two very interesting things that I'd like to maybe pick your brains a little bit more on.

You mention empathy, and if we mentioned testing, we've mentioned that we are doing this for the end user, and we have to understand how they operate how they think and how they think that they can use the product. So how do you manage to and extract this information from the clients? Is there a session that they actually used the product? Is it sort of bringing them round at table, and have a chat with them? How would it be the process to get this information from the end user?

Roberto: So, depending on the product, it's easy to have like on the table and discuss them with them. And sometimes it is great to build like a one-to-one prototype and watch them interact with it. It's like playing as a kid. You just have like little buttons or their cardboard, and then you just push the buttons and see what's happening. That's like the very rudimentary way to test.

Also being part of the of the group like they feel comfortable that you can actually ask them questions that they can tell you without feeling judged. That's something that's super crucial, I think. The part of empathy to feel with them how they are interacting with this, with the situation because they are, it is a situation where they are tested so by knowing that people tend to take, go to the direction to say okay, I don't want to look like a fool and that's something very interesting, so they don't want to look like fools. So, they push, or they interact with a product in a way they feel safe, but it's not the right way, so a good way would be to nudge them to that other direction or ask him a question that's say about A but the observation we do is on B, so they don't judge their handling and all that stuff on B, and just on A. So B is so much genuine, and then we can figure out the little details and how we can help those people.

That's something that I think is super important to consider, and also to interview people how they interact, how they feel? What's the pain point? and research shows, and our experience shows that five people are enough. You don’t need to go interview twenty people of fifty or hundred people but five people are enough to have the essence of the pain point you want to solve. So that's something that's has also been super helpful to know.

Luis: I just would like to push this a bit further. Um, we use research basically to avoid risk. How do you manage this risk?

Roberto: I think that as designers, we are riskers, so we can handle risks because we design for the future. We are different than engineers that engineers design for the now. They know what's the structure is going to be mostly like, they can calculate those kinds of things, but designers in a different way tend to design for the future, so it is always a risk. We never know what's going to happen. Mean, look at last year, so we need to adapt to those kinds of changes.

But knowing our skills and how we interact with people and how we can actually talk and listen and observe people, we can reduce those kinds of risks. Also knowing the technology that is available and all that stuff. So, I would say it's too to give the client a confidence that they're not going to screw up too much. I mean they can happen. Hopefully not, but if they win, they win big, and if they lose, they don't lose that much. There are, of course, there are occasions where the designer designs stuff that it's completely wrong and it's not working and it's completely stupid idea, can happen but most of the times I would say they design to a direction they think is right.

That is let's say ok with environment. It's good for them for the wallet. It's good for the end user and they can still look themselves in the mirror. So, that's one of my emphases to say ok my goal is to design products that in the future where my daughter's asking me, so what did you design and I would not tell her listen, I did, I designed some crap, so I don't want to be there. The one telling her listen, I designed wasteless products. So, I want to be there and say, ok, I help to shape our world to be a better place by designing products that are reusable, better and are actually enjoyable.

Jeanette: With your discussion about products that may fail, and it something came to mind that there is I think that it's in the state in China. They have a museum of failure, which is all of the products and services from around the world that have not made it, and they have an actual museum Is rather interesting and there are many lessons to be learn by visiting this museum, but I guess one of the ways of mitigating this risk is to strategize the way forward before you start designing. This research that're talking about can come in different ways, and you talk about that you within your company, you actually undertake this brand stategy, and maybe I could link it also to how would you ensure that you know, or how would you say that a product is successful or not? Can you pre-empt this true strategy or how would you go about that aspect?

Roberto: That's a great. That's a great point because that's something that it's very, very crucial for design like the strategy word and a good example would be let's say we want to climb a mountain. So by knowing that we want no climb amount, we need to know what mountain do we want to climb? How are our skills actually are this good enough for that mountain, What is the gear we want to use? and knowing that stuff, then we can start to build some, Um, some tactics and plans. How are we going to take and tackle that mountain? Let's say we want to tackle the, The Mount Everest, and as a brand, you, mostly most of the time you want to be like the Mount Everest and as a brand you want to be like the big one there, not the big one, but let's say the most important one or you want to be recognized and you can say what everybody knows what Mount Everest is. So, then we figure out by the strategy, it's okay. We want to go there and then we need to figure out how we do to solved that and the same as we design. We need to know how we solve that problem. And that's when the risk actually gets smaller and smaller. Because we take little steps towards that that peak that they will not take the amount Everest but first we need to take some smaller mountains to learn to get some skills to get some, what’s it called them? Yet to know ourselves to get better reputation, to be able to learn stuff that we didn't learn. In that way, we can actually go towards that mountain.

And the same goes with strategy. We need to know the vision. What's their insight? What is their why? why do one climb that mountain? What's the? What's their biggest purpose? Is it just to make money, or is it to make a great impact? or is it to help people in the company to have a job? to help families? So, all that stuff is super crucial to actually design an outcome that's feasible that works and everybody is happy, so I hope that that makes sense.

Jeanette: Yes, no, it really makes make sense. Maybe if I may, by way of sort of rounding up today's session Roberto. If you were to give a few takeaways for the public, for designers, and maybe for entrepreneurs, what would your most salient points be? What are the points to look out for?

Roberto: One of my biggest points that something that I really enjoy is to be super curious. Always ask questions, look around, see how people are dealing with the situation. How can you improve with it? So, to have the growth mindset meaning to, to learn about the growth mindset, to have a mindset of improving of collaboration, and to leave the ego behind because I think that's something that's yet. It's um. It's holding us back as humans as well as designers to build stuff and products and solutions that are important for us.

Jeanette: Wise words Roberto!

Luis: So, Roberto? what can't you tell to young entrepreneurs that they would like to start prototyping and create new products?

Roberto: Um, I would say, don't wait till it's going to be perfect because it's never going to be. Just do it and your' first ideas gonna. Really suck. And if they don't believe that while Youtube is not Youtube, because it's Youtube. I mean it started as as a dating platform so and it's okay and it works for you pretty well and everybody knows it. So you first idea, socks, just take the step toward that that climb and towards that mountain and don't be afraid of, fail, and listen to people that actually have climbed that mountain and helped them guide you, So leave the eago behind, Just take the first step and be curious.

Jeanette: Thank you so much, Roberto. for for thisisedeed I, as young designers, we always want to change the world and we always want to be. You know the people who are going to make it, who are going to be cutro and are to be doing things that I have never done before until we actually do it and then realze how difficult it is. So never give up and we need to proceed with curiosity and this willingness to to do things right.

Roberto: I think. Yes!

Jeanette: Thank you so much for being with us today.

Roberto: Thank you very much. A pleasure. Thank you for having me. And may I add something very quick.

Jeanette: Sure!

Roberto: So, if you listeners want to download that chart that that radar the Circular Circar Design radar, they can download it at reframe Doch, slash the human agenda, and there can have it for free.

Luis: Oh, thank you!

Jeanette: Thank you so much for your gift, Roberto, that is very kind.

Roberto: You are welcome.

Jeanette: This was Roberto Inderbitzin and you are listening to The Human Agenda. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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