Design for Sustainable Behaviour

Products and services can be designed to enable and support people to carry out their everyday activities in a way that reduces negative environmental and social impacts. To design for Sustainable Behaviour is about finding more sustainable solutions to people’s everyday problems rather than regarding people as sustainability problems.

Design for Sustainable Behaviour is a user- and use-centered design approach that can be applied to design products and services that create preconditions for a sustainable everyday life. The approach empowers design practitioners to address the impacts of their designs during the use stage of products’ lifecycles. There are many opportunities for designers to enable and support people to act in a more sustainable way. For instance, inventive system design and technology can be used to facilitate interaction and support people in fulfilling needs without avoidable environmental and social impacts. In order to design products and services that successfully support a sustainable everyday life, designers must gain a thorough understanding of the intended users, explore design opportunities in a holistic way, and use suitable design strategies.

Gain a thorough understanding of the users

When designing for sustainable behaviour it is fundamental to gain a thorough understanding of the users, their habits and interaction behaviours, as well as how these contribute to people’s everyday activities. Equally important is to understand the contextual factors that influence the users actual and perceived opportunities to behave in a more sustainable way. It is thus crucial that investigations to inform design work include in-depth user studies. It is not enough to understand what people do and think, one must also understand what people know, feel, and dream about.

Explore design opportunities in a holistic way

Preconditions for sustainable behaviour can be created in different ways and in relation to different layers of design. As shown in figure 1, designers can address what activity their design enables and what type of artefact it is, but also what operative, interactive, and communicative functions it has. To increase the potential to support sustainability in everyday life, it is important to explore design opportunities in relation to all the layers of design. When all layers are considered the resulting product or service supports sustainable behaviour in a holistic way. For instance, if artefacts do not have good communicative and interactive qualities, or if they do not provide suitable functions that enable people to use them effectively for a particular purpose, they risk being rejected or used in a less sustainable manner.


Layers of design

Figure 1, Different layers of design that can be addressed to create preconditions for sustainability in everyday life.

Use suitable design strategies

A variety of design strategies can be used to design for sustainable behaviour on each of the five layers of design. As shown in figure 2, the design strategies can be divided into five main groups based on how they influence people’s behaviours and activities: Enlighten, Spur, Steer, Force, and Match.

Enlighten comprises strategies that can be used to motivate people by increasing their knowledge and giving them information about the effects of their behaviours, such as feedback and information.

Spur strategies deal with how people can be encouraged to reduce resource consumption by highlighting additional positive effects besides environmental gains, for example by rewards, challenges, and competitions.

Steer strategies are about designing products and services so that the least resource-intensive behaviour becomes the obvious choice, while Force strategies aim to make it impossible for other behaviours than the least resource-intensive.

Finally, Match strategies address how products and services can be adapted to existing user behaviour and designed to reduce the environmental and social consequences of that behaviour.

Design for sustainable behaviour info graphic

Figure 2, Different design strategies that can be used to design for sustainable behaviour.

The choice of strategy, or strategies, should be based on the understanding of the intended users as well as on the strategies’ potential for successfully supporting sustainable behaviour. If sustainable behaviour is only encouraged, but is not enabled and mediated, it will be difficult for people to act sustainably.

Further reading about Design for Sustainable Behaviour

Copyrights © Anneli Selvefors, Sara Renström 2018