Our Planet Centric Design team held the North Star workshop at the Interaction 20 conference in Milan back in February, before COVID-19 became problematic in Europe. The workshop’s aim was to give designers concrete tools on how to navigate from global challenges to concrete actions. Here are the key takeaways.
We hear about the environmental crisis every day, be it on the news or social media feeds. The news usually arrives as a wave of scary information, leaving many of us feeling worried, overwhelmed and powerless. Even though it can be hard to understand what we, as individuals, can do to address climate change and create a meaningful impact, our current societal challenges demand focusing our efforts and skills in developing work that creates a positive impact for the planet.
The North Star workshop we held at Interaction 20 conference aimed to help people navigate from global challenges to concrete actions. Ultimately, our goal was to help overcome the feeling of overwhelm and powerlessness by guiding people in defining practical actions that each of us can take to make our work and our organisations more sustainable.
Elements of North Star Workshop
To design the workshop and facilitate the discussions, we used our Planet Centric Design Toolkit. The PCD toolkit contains a series of design-led canvases that help embed planet centricity in projects, be it in designing new products and services or your organisation’s role in the transition to sustainability.
To go from global problems to concrete actions, we did a series of activities that help us fill in the North Star Canvas, the primary tool of our workshop. The Canvas includes the current situation with today’s environmental problems to be addressed, the goals to solve these problems and our personal actions taking us from problems to goals.
Identifying the biggest issues facing humanity
To understand the current situation, we started by creating an overview of the Biggest Issues Facing Humanity, with a keynote by Stephany Mazon, from the University of Helsinki and by mapping and connecting the biggest issues participants think humanity is facing. It sounds like a scary task. However, it is important to create a common understanding of these problems, before we are able to relate them with our lives.
Defining environmental problems in one's organization
After thinking about the big picture, the focus was narrowed down and we took into consideration the Environmental Problems Faced in the Organisations we work in. At Interaction 20, everyone came from different organisations, bringing a diversity of perspectives to the table. We used categories and examples to help people think beyond the obvious, as this is a challenging task. It is easier to pinpoint environmental issues of organisations that produce physical products – such as electronics and clothes – than it is to do it in the organisations where we work as digital designers, professors or consultants.
Some examples of problems identified on a strategic level were “a lack of transparency on a company’s environmental decisions”; on an operations level were “creating food waste” and “commuting constantly by plane instead of having video conference meetings”. In regards to an organisation’s output, there were examples such as “not offering sustainable options to end-users” and “applying our skills to planet negative projects”.
After creating a compelling map of environmental problems, we prioritised a few to work on, by voting on the most important ones to tackle.
Learning to be more responsible, systemic and transparent
To understand how to be more responsible, systemic and transparent we used a tool called Wider Lens. It is included in our Planet Centric Design toolkit and it is used to ideate how to solve the identified problems and to define goals to be achieved. The Wider Lens is a core part of Planet Centric Design, as it opens up the angle that we use at our work.
Why a wider lens? The current principles used in human-centered design – viability, feasibility and desirability – leave out the whole spectrum of environmental and social impacts of the products we put into the world. To be truly planet centric, we also need to take into consideration how to be responsible, systemic and transparent.
Committing to concrete actions
Having defined the Problems and Goals in the North Star Canvas, we are ready to think of concrete Actions we are going to take. At this stage, each person chose goals they found exciting and impactful, and defined the steps they can take to make them happen.
At Interaction 20, there was a large scope of actions, considering people had varied job titles, from professors to lead and junior designers, and each picked different goals to work towards.
An example of improving lifestyles/work routines goal was “Introduce a reward system for commuting less”, with the action “Audit the time and distance that the Design School staff travels”.
In turn, an example of working on a strategic level goal was “Conduct a sustainability vision”, with the action “Gather the key stakeholders to work on a vision and declare it”.
By the end of this workshop, we had:
- identified environmental problems in the organisations where we work
- defined achievable goals to solve these problems
- committed to actions that each individual chooses to contribute to these goals
We go from the biggest issues facing humanity, to the next step that we will take to contribute to the sustainability transition that society has to go through. We overcome that initial scary wave and emerge with a better sense of what our individual contribution could be.
However, the outcome of the workshop is not just the actions that we commit to. We take home the discussions, challenges, ideas, tools, and above all, the opportunity to reflect on what our own role is in building a planet positive society.
Do you want to learn more about Planet Centric Design?
For more information on upcoming events and our free design toolkit, please visit the Planet Centric Design website. Our next event is already on June 5, and registration is open here.
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