Wuppertal Institute Design Guide

Background Information & Tools

  • Publications 06.06.2013

Our perception of design is changing, for design today is no longer concerned only with aesthetics. Now the key factors are interdisciplinary competence and approaches to problem solving. Both politicians as well as businesses recognise design's hybridity and increasingly implement it as a driver of sustainable development (see Chap. 2: Design as a Key Management Factor for Sustainability).

But what exactly does "sustainability" mean? What does it mean in this specific context? People must make use of natural resources to meet their basic needs. In this process, resources are transferred into commercial circulation and usually transformed into products with a particular function. Yet the environment is limited and humanity uses more resources than the Earth can sustainably provide. It is time to rethink and generate the same usage while consuming fewer resources (see Chap. 3: Environmental Space - Challenging Transitions).

Most countries have incorporated sustainability strategies into their political agendas in order to counteract the threats of climate change caused by the overuse of natural resources, high CO2 emissions, and other factors. The indicators for these strategies vary greatly from country to country (see Chap. 4: Sustainability - Challenges, Politics, Indicators).

These indicators need to be taken into account if we are to successfully implement a product or service within a specific context. A concept can only be successful when country-specific indicators are taken into account and the societal context is incorporated into the plan right from the start. The goal is to develop services that support national sustainability targets in production and consumption systems (see Chap. 5: Managing Sustainable Development).

When it comes to companies, these changes can simply be introduced in the form of services or products. In the end, it is the users who decide on the success or failure of innovative solutions by either integrating them into their daily lives or ignoring them. Solutions will only be integrated into users’ lives when their role within the social framework remains unchallenged by behavioural transformations caused by use of the solution. In order for users to be able to adopt innovations, sustainable development must take place simultaneously on many different levels. These multi-levelled transitions allow for the transformation of society as a whole. Designers can act as agents of change by providing the needed innovations (see Chap. 6: Transition Requires Change Agents for Sustainability).

If we are to develop suitable solutions and new approaches, the real needs have to be analysed at the beginning of the development process. New physical products, which frequently result in auxiliary products, are often developed without taking into account the overall context, whereas the development of service-orientated solutions is ignored. A physical product is not absolutely necessary. A service (which is naturally dependent on physical products) can usually fulfil the need just as well - or perhaps even better and at a lower cost – while using fewer or no resources (see Chap. 7: Needs & Services - An Approach). There are a variety of possible approaches to integrate sustainability into the design process (see Chap. 8: Design Process).

Precisely which solution is "most or more sustainable" (this is dependent on the defined targets and the indicators used) is often not immediately obvious, and we must turn to a set of methods for a transparent and tangible assessment (see Chap. 9: Sustainability Assessment in Design - Overview and Integration of Methods).



Christa Liedtke, Najine Ameli, Johannes Buhl, Philip Oettershagen, Tristam Pears, Pablo Abbis:

Wuppertal Institute Designguide - Background Information & Tools

Wuppertal 2013, ISBN 978-3-929944-90-7

(Wuppertal Spezial no. 46)

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