Shifting Design Thinking to a Circular Design Perspective: Reframing the Process of Circular Innovation


Design Thinking (DT) is a design innovation approach whose essential characteristics, such as framing challenges iteratively with a human-centered perspective, might still be helpful when sustainability issues arise. But, they are no longer sufficient because the diffusion of the Circular Economy (CE) paradigm requires a profound revision of DT principles. Circular Innovation depends on systemic design thinking: DT vision is now confronted with emerging approaches such as Systems Design, Transition Design, and Distributed Design (Barbero et al., 2015; Sevaldson et al., 2015; Irwin, 2014; Diez et al., 2017) that address sustainable innovation going beyond the so-called eco-design of products and services. In recent years, toolkits like The Circular Design Guide and The Systemic Design Toolkit have been developed to interpret DT in a Circular Economy framework. They constitute interesting examples for stimulating systemic and circular innovation but still lack a critical assessment of their application, such as evaluating their effectiveness/impact. The paper includes a literature review of DT and CE to identify the relevant relationships between the two approaches that will allow us to shift the DT framework within the Circular Innovation paradigm. It is the basis for analyzing exemplary cases of tools/toolkits/processes (and a selection of connected use cases) for circular design innovation. The matching of these knowledge layers allow us to address the relationship between DT and CE and help to produce a critical renewal of the theoretical and operational framework of DT needed to incorporate the systemic approach for Circular Innovation.


Carla Sedini
Researcher, Design, Politecnico di Milano, Italy

Cabirio Cautela
Professor, Politecnico di Milano

Stefano Maffei
Associate Professor, School of Design, Politecnico di Milano

Massimo Bianchini
Associate Professor, Department of Design, Politecnico di Milano, Italy


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


2023 Special Focus—New Agendas for Design: Principles of Scale, Practices of Inclusion


Design Thinking, Circular Design, Systemic Design, Circular Innovation

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