Design for Sustainable Behaviour

WorldChanging posted an item about, "Designing Products for Sustainable Use." While noting the usual suspects in the area of green design, it spoke about design going beyond the usual thems of recyclability, organic, etc. Dan Lockton, a Ph. D. student at Brunel University in London, is working on a theory of "Design with Intent," an approach that builds in a strategy into artifactual design that will produce an intentional behavior by the user. It very encouraging to find that this design approach central to attaining sustainability in my book is showing up in schools of engineering and design. He introduces this concept as follows:

For many consumer products, the use phase is the most significant in terms of environmental impact, primarily energy use. Technological responses to mitigate this impact form a substantial proportion of work in ecodesign and engineering fields: increased efficiency of operation and reduction of waste generated are important goals.

But it may also be equally - and independently - worthwhile to reduce or otherwise alter the manner or period of products’ use, or shift the emphasis to a service approach, which imply changing users’ behaviour. Political responses, in the form of economic, legal and educational measures, often aim to address this issue, but techniques developed in a number of areas of interaction design, engineering, computer science and architecture also have potential to assist in persuading or guiding users to engage with systems in a more sustainable manner. It is an aim of this project to explore, characterise and test some of these techniques.

As I note in my book, this approach puts a lot of moral responsibility in the hands of the designers and the product development departments of firms. For the time being, I would rather see this responsibility placed in this part of the organization than the marketing department and in the executive suite. It is not that people in these corporate areas are any lesser moral creatures They have been deeply socialized and educated under a set of values that are, per se, part of the root causes of unsustainability. This is the basic reason for my skepticism about business's own view of their role as discussed in the previous post. Design schools generally come from a very different history.

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