Incorporating ecological considerations into industrial design practice

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Industrial designers play a pivotal role in the development of consumer products. Consumer products contribute significantly to society’s ecological impact, which needs to be lowered. This thesis examines the role of industrial design practice in developing consumer products with low(er) ecological impacts by (i) expanding the concept of ecodesign and (ii) collecting evidence on its contemporary application in Australia. Ecodesign refers to both the integration of ecological considerations into commercial product development processes and their conversion into product designs. When practicing ecodesign, industrial designers must consider the entire life cycle of products—an approach termed Life Cycle Thinking (LCT). This research proposes that industrial design practice allows two expansions to the traditional notion of ecodesign. Firstly, it can uncover new opportunities for creating value through eco-designed products by applying solution-focused thinking. Solution-focused thinking uses representations of tentative suggestions for product designs to explore responses of the context being designed for. Traditionally, ecodesign only applies problem-focused thinking—deductively analysing the status quo to establish requirements for how value can be created. This can result in a lock-in to incremental product-improvement. Secondly, industrial design practice can widen the range of interventions that convert ecological considerations into product designs towards manipulating how products are perceived and understood by consumers, namely, the meanings attached to products. Traditionally, ecodesign focuses too narrowly on technical aspects of product design and has failed to sufficiently represent influencing product meanings. For this research project multiple-case study research was conducted, investigating the ecodesign practice of Australian industrial design consultancies (IDCs) and their clients. The theoretically developed notion of ecodesign was used to guide and structure the enquiry. Data was collected through content analysis of IDC-websites and sixteen interviews with ecodesign experts, representatives of IDCs and their clients. The empirical insights show that the proposed expansions to ecodesign are appropriate. They can support converting ecological considerations into product designs. In tandem, they can also help with exploring and potentially stimulating opportunities for products that offer new eco-friendly meanings to consumers, which they perceive as valuable. If industrial design practice can identify such opportunities, it can justify ecodesign—guided by LCT—as a value-adding element in the product development process. In conclusion, industrial designers can contribute to reducing the negative ecological impact of society by embracing the expanded notion of ecodesign. Several factors need to align to enable this; most importantly, they need to practice ecodesign in collaboration with their clients.
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