How we’re prioritising responsible design

Last week, the product and design team attended Design Council’s 2-day event Design for Planet which coincided with the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, and our Co-op26 campaign. The purpose of the event was to galvanise the UK’s design community to address the climate emergency and sustainability issues.  

Coming together with a wider Design community (albeit virtually) felt important after 18 months of remote working and being relatively inward-facing within Co-op. The collaboration and idea sharing was inspiring and the discussions that were sparked were important ones.  

Over the past decade, digital delivery teams have adopted the mindset of ‘moving fast and breaking things’ and we’ve reached a point where a lot has broken. We need to be more responsible when we design products and services, and the team learnt how we (as designers and product people) can help tackle the biggest challenge of our time. 

Design, after all, can be a powerful agent for positive change. 

Designing in the ‘right’ way 

We’ve spoken a lot over the years about designing the right thing in the right way, but we need to keep adapting and changing what ‘the right way’ means in the context of the challenges we face in our communities and globally. 

Last week’s event prompted us to think harder about what we can do to make our working practices and processes better so that ultimately, we can design more responsibly, more mindfully, more sustainably and keep ethical considerations at the forefront (of course, we already have Co-op values to guide our work). If we get this right, we can make things better now, but also in the future. 

Diverse expertise. One shared mission 

‘Design for Planet’ is an all-encompassing name for an event which gave platforms to specialists from many different areas of expertise. For example: 

  • Economist Kate Raworth and architect Indy Johar spoke about the need for systemic change, using Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics’ model that highlights how unsustainable unchecked growth is. 
  • Designer Finn Harries spoke about the importance of storytelling in reframing the climate crisis and our relationship to nature.  
  • Andy Hyde, user researcher Anna Horton and service designer Aurelie Lionet talked about the need for ensuring a ‘just transition’ when designing low carbon journeys to ensure we don’t exclude or disadvantage people in the process.  

Despite speaking on vastly different topics, they all share a very similar mission: to make the planet better for everyone and everything that lives on it now, and in the future. 

We’re aiming for that too and we kept this mission in mind when we were thinking about where we can improve.

What we’re going to do

We have a Slack channel brimming with ideas about how to address some of the issues that already exist and how to safeguard sustainable design. We’ve already agreed on several actions as well as some things we’ll be looking into more:

  1. Introduce sustainability champions (hi Siobhan Harris, who is our first). Champions will raise awareness and nudge people into thinking about sustainability more consistently and at each point a significant decision must be made. The aim is to keep it at the forefront of all our minds.  
     
  2. Revisit our design principles and add a sustainability-related one. It will likely focus on longevity and designing products, services and experiences that work well and last, as well as creating less content. 
  1. Continue to encourage people from the wider business to use our Experience Library so we do less, but we do it better and to a certain, ‘good’ standard.   
     
  2. Investigate how we can change our ways of working to collect less and delete more data, as soon as its not needed. There is too much tech data waste and we need to be more mindful. Particularly since working remotely, many teams record and store sessions for people to watch back, but we should look at how often they are actually watched and how long we store them for. 
  1. Encourage colleagues to minimise using video bandwidth by doing things like talk and walk phone calls, instead of video meetings. This could cut carbon emissions of the call by 96%
     
  2. Look at how we can design for ‘endings’ – for example, when a service is no longer needed, used or supported. Leaving it live is irresponsible because it takes up space on the internet and often contributes to ‘link rot’ (meaning it’s likely to link to old, out of date pages). 
     
  3. Prioritise and continue our discussions on climate change. The service design and visual design communities of practice had a structured debate about some of the topics that came up at the Design for Planet event.
Here’s our Miro board from our debate.

Plus, lots of us have also signed up for UnGifted Secret Santa for “climate-friendly, socially-distanced colleagues who want to gift unforgettable surprises instead of unwanted stuff.” 

It’s a good start and we’re still learning. It’s good to be pushing these considerations and questions forward at Co-op – a place that has values that already very much support a ‘better’ way. We know that we can’t just do things better, we need to be doing better things too. As a team we’ll be pushing the wider Co-op business to use design thinking and digital ways of working to make big shifts in the products and services we offer. 

Lucy Tallon, Head of Design

Alistair Ruff, Lead service designer

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