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“There is nothing permanent except change” said Heraclitus. However, some changes are more profound than others, such as those brought about by circular design. The implementation of this type of approach can sometimes generate resistance from project participants and spark tensions within teams. For designer Anne Ripaud, these obstacles should not be underestimated and the designer can even anticipate some of them.
In the experience design projects that I have carried out, I have often found that, despite the team’s genuine motivation to adopt new approaches, a certain amount of resistance and a number of obstacles on the part of the team could emerge over time. However, there seemed to be a collective understanding that these methods would bring about positive change for all. These obstacles prevented or slowed down the design and development of the services and products we were working on.
It was therefore natural that I sought to understand the reasons for these trends: Why do some people find it so difficult to accept changing their ways of doing things? What buttons can be pressed to remove certain obstacles? Can such problems be anticipated?
It was through my interest in the practice of facilitation and coaching that I found answers to my questions. By getting closer to the Orange Innovation coaching community, I understood that a better knowledge of oneself and of one’s own limits and obstacles is the foundation before one can hope to support other people effectively. Then I acknowledged the importance of the phase for identifying the needs of a project and a team, and the importance of understanding the project ecosystem before starting the actual design work.
A better understanding and analysis of the human context of the project is for me the key to sustainable change!
Let’s be honest: for many people it is still sometimes difficult to understand the scope of design and the extent of what a designer can bring to a project. Design is like a huge iceberg, much of which is invisible to most people.
So, while an understanding of the designer’s skills in user experience and interface design or product design can be taken for granted, those related to the wider field of design thinking (notably user research) are still being assimilated. As for circular design, it is therefore easy to see why a practicing designer of it might be only just beginning to understand the scope.
The profound changes brought about by circular design are what give the approach its power but also generate the strongest resistance.
For me, ‘doing circular design’ means working on a project as a system and exploring all its facets to minimise its environmental, social and societal impact in the short, medium and long term. When I say ‘system’, I mean a complex set of interactions, often between subsystems, all within a larger system. It means working with a much wider set of stakeholders than is usually the case. It also implies integrating wider audiences into the spectrum of user research, such as non-users impacted by the product or service in a direct or indirect way, etc.
The systemic vision that underlies circular design brings about profound changes in the way we see a project, the way we think about it and therefore the way we work. This is a paradigm shift that partly explains the strong resistance it faces.
Where design thinking addresses the technical and economic viability, uses and desirability of a service or product, circular design also addresses the ecological viability.
The ultimate goal of circular design is to minimise the impact of a service or product on its ecosystem to ensure the survival of our planet.
This is a sensitive subject on which many opinions, sometimes very different, often clash within a project team.
For me, the rise of circular design should also eventually contribute to the creation of new economic and societal models that will strongly challenge many of our beliefs, values and practices. These are major breaks with our current societal model that must be supported to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible.
The reasons for resistance often have the same roots from one project to another: there is a feeling of incompetence (“I don’t know how to do it…”), a lack of understanding of the meaning of the change (“I didn’t understand why”), the absence of prior consultation (“I wasn’t asked for my opinion”) or of a reward (“What’s in it for me?”), or saturation in terms of an imposed change (“Another change?!?”). To try to defuse this resistance, there are various tools, such as the Team CanvasR, which enables everyone to identify the reasons they would like to participate in the project, what they could gain from it, etc., the expectations matrix, which is useful for clarifying everyone’s role and expectations in the project, and the thinking hats, which are used to short-circuit the self-censorship of unusual ideas.
Based on the diagnostic work on the project context mentioned above and based on the lessons learned, we may be led to propose, for example, a Team CanvasR workshop to facilitate the emergence of a collective.
A collective rarely comes to life spontaneously, especially when its members have not chosen each other. A collective is generally constructed!
Through this workshop, it is possible to explore the various reasons that bring people together around the project, allowing everyone to express themselves on topics that are rarely discussed at a ‘Kick off’ meeting. What are everyone’s individual objectives and expectations? What are everyone’s agendas? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the collective? etc.
The aim is to articulate the unspoken in order to defuse any tensions that may emerge later.
In my opinion, the obstacles and resistance that the designer may encounter when implementing circular design should not be underestimated or the objectives will not be achieved.
As a designer, it is possible to address these issues and defuse some of these resistance effects through the use of methods and tools from the facilitation and coaching professions.
The implementation of a circular design approach should therefore always be accompanied by work on the collective involved in the project (alignment around common values and objectives, clarification of everyone’s expectations, etc.).
This work needs to be adapted specifically to the project and, depending on the needs, may require the support of a team coach.
Updated Aug. 2022
Updated Oct. 2021
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