Who designs for the planet?
22 Apr 2022 /

Who designs for the planet?

Design to make life easier, designing for people, designing for mankind, but then…who designs for the planet?

In just 50 years, we have lost more than half of the world’s wildlife. As described by the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), this reality is a cry for help. To continue on this road will mean irreversible damage to the conditions that sustain life on this planet. We designers should take our role in this disaster seriously.

A good year 2022 has stayed for us so that we can realize that all this time the focus was all wrong and we haven’t noticed it. No blame on us, it is always entertaining to think about ourselves.

Us designers have learned to work based on a single premise: to make people’s lives easier by contributing to their well-being. We therefore considered that any design that sought this objective could be labeled as a “good design.” I suppose that looking back, it was very bold to adjectivize as “good” anything that would satisfy us at any price.

Even so, the problem may not so much be to cover our genuine human needs but all other requests that we have gradually accepted within them. Even confusing needs with desires, without having too much to do one thing with the other: what is necessary is to inhale clean air to ensure a respiratory disease free existence, and the desire is to buy four new t-shirts every month.

It’s not that we’ve been designing with people in mind, but we’ve been designing with consumers in mind. If we had focused on people, we would have been a little more concerned about the environmental impact and collateral damage of an unsustainable industry.

It is true that assessing the situation retrospectively is always easier, but precisely because we now know the effects of designing (with a short-term view) to solve (our) problems, we can now say, was not such a good idea. 

Where is the focus at?

Putting ourselves in first place does not work, we have overstrained our planet’s resources. We should start by paying attention to this situation, recognize it, not turn our backs on it, and change the starting point. Once were here, our job must be to ask ourselves the right questions: How can my design make people’s lives easier without compromising the environment?

"Resources are not endless", is the economic rule of thumb. From that premise, a "good design" should be considered not only a circular one, but a design whose production generates new opportunities, i.e. regenerative design.

To work with a Design – Planet – People approach, because, although our planet is only one and people are many, has already shown us that the rule of the game is that the our planet always has the last word.

During all this time that we have treated people as consumers, we have looked at disciplines such as economics, anthropology or psychology to understand their behavior and consumption habits. But, if what we want are new methods of moving from a “ consumer – centered – design” to a “human – planet – centered – design”, (SPACE10 phrase), should we not take a look at biology? 


This is about redesigning objects, redesigning spaces, redesigning systems and – why not,- redesigning processes. Moreover, above all it’s about the latter, we will never know a better designer than nature itself. To copy its processes: when you die you are another living being’s meal, it is a circular and regenerative system, such as pollination, water and air filtration and carbon sequestration that contribute to biodiversity, health and ecosystem resilience. And this is how our products’ life should also be. 

The fine line between comfortable and necessary. What then, is a good design?”

Are coffee capsules a good design? Have they ever been? Based on what we have been taught, these capsules are a brilliant idea: we don’t get dirty, they are quick to use and anyone who has ever seen them would understand their color code system. But what does the planet think of this? There should be no justification for any design (besides health care) intended for single use; anything that cannot be reused should be considered a failure. And yes, I say “failure” because from the consumers’ point of view, this “bad design” should be condemned. Since 2010 we have carried on with this, and yet, people are so happy with their Nespresso machines.

At what point have we allowed such a high carbon footprint design to enter the market just for the convenience of not waiting five minutes for the regular espresso machine? It should be forbidden, but since approaching legislators is a bit more complicated, I decide to call on the designer’s professional ethics.

 We have not yet understood that one thing does not work without the other and in any case, it is the planet that could perfectly function. Not mankind. The market is the most democratic system in the world because every time we buy something, we are voting. We must be consistent with our decisions.

We need to rethink our relationships

It would be unrealistic to propose an alternative that does not consider economic interests. We currently have a complex interdependencies system and are facing the greatest design challenges, to redefine our productive model, because none of our struggles will make sense if we do not address this one first. 

Beyond designing products that last, means designing solutions that are more circular and inclusive, available and accessible to as many people as possible. There is no point in designing a fantastic sustainable product if no one can afford or have access to it.

Johanna Fabrin, strategic director at SPACE10 says:

If we can design inclusively, and not only consumer products, but also supply chains, manufacturing and distribution systems, etc., we can empower many more people, both individually and as part of a system, to meet our generation’s greatest challenge.

Why designing with focus on “Planet – People” is an inclusive and feminist approach?

As American historian Joan Scott said, “gender is everywhere.” There are alternatives we can study that can help us change our productive model such as in feminist economics, whose concern is life sustainability whereas the economical focus of our capitalist system is that markets operate. To contemplate a change of approach would lead to a rupture with the current model in which a confluence process between the transforming economies that propose a paradigm shift, becomes necessary.

It is important to talk about this because United Nations it predicts that climate change, already a consequence of our disproportionate levels of production, will greatly affect poor people, mainly in developing countries. And consequently they will be the ones in most need of adaptation strategies in the face of the environmental variability. Of course, this misalignment will affect both women and men. However, the impact on gender will not be the same (it never is). Seventy percent of 1.3 billion poverty stricken people, are women. In urban areas, 40 percent of the poorest households are led by women. Women predominate in world food production (50 to 80 percent), but own less than 10 percent of the land.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), women in many developing countries suffer gender injustices in respect to human rights, political and economic status, land ownership, housing conditions, violence exposure, education and health. Climate change will be an additional stress factor that will aggravate women’s vulnerability. As reported in a study by the  IUCN, it is widely known that during times of conflict, women face increased domestic violence, sexual intimidation, human trafficking and rape.

In this talk at the Paradís Festival, Núria Vila taught viewers how ecological and sustainable design is always possible. “The key is to study materials and possibilities for the designs that each client commissions.” “The future will be sustainable or it won’t be.”

Pepe Gimeno, National Design Award 2020, spoke about how design is made up of inputs from different disciplines such as marketing, communication and advertising, but how -on the other hand- it is also made up of the plastic arts or other artistic disciplines.

For years, part of his sculptural work has made use of debris collected from the beaches or from the street itself; a way to give a new life to them, as well as to raise awareness about the use and recycling of raw materials.

Where are we headed to?

It seems, that there is not much to choose from and I would say that the future will be either shared or not. As we have said before, resources are scarce, in other words, there are not enough resources for all the people who inhabit this planet. It is a collaborative road, we arrived to the point where designers are evolving towards the development of new shared models that go beyond sharing as a commodity, that is, sharing as an inclusive culture where diversity reigns.

-Sara Antolín