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Whole Systems Thinking for Circular Economy Design Practice

Hall, NA and Li-Chou Han, S and Apeagyei,, P and Tyler, D (2017) Whole Systems Thinking for Circular Economy Design Practice. In: Circular Transitions Conference, 23 November 2016 - 24 November 2016, Chelsea College of Arts & Tate Britain, London. (In Press)

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Abstract

To develop the role of designers in the context of the circular economy, this paper investigated the concept of whole systems thinking in design practice. Designers’ practices were examined not just from the product orientated perspective, but by taking a more holistic systems thinking approach. This addressed a combination of the market, consumers and communication, plus design and production processes, supply chain and end-of-life considerations. The paper presents individual case studies of environmentally motivated fashion design that displayed differing levels of positive impact based on their breadth of design activity, and whether a wider systems-based design approach was successfully incorporated. The methodology employed a review of literature relating to circular systems and design approaches, and combined this with primary data from semi-structured interviews. Interview data from ethical fashion brands and designers identified barriers to the wider adoption of circular economy fashion strategies. Core competencies required to handle the complex technical issues related to whole system design were analysed in terms of the options available to support designers. Current techniques employed to bring products to market and effectively communicate their wider features and benefits to consumers were interrogated and modelled to establish where knowledge gaps lay. The paper concludes that the designers taking a systems based approach are more congruent with the circular economy model and the wider skills and attributes that enable such approaches, such as research skills and entrepreneurial methods. Findings on the effectiveness of current circular design systems offer key industry insights on the changing role of designers and the necessary mindset for systemic change. Academic implications of the research include the establishment of whole systems thinking in the training and development of a new generation of designers, to improve and enable positive design decisions. Originality lies in developing circular fashion approaches that draw from and improve upon existing strategies to create sustainable innovation.

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