Screen at design event, showing the statement 'The future is made up of our actions today'

How to put learnings from the recent Design for Planet Festival into practice

In November, the Snook team took part in the Design for Planet Festival, the Design Council’s initiative to “mobilise” the UK’s 1.69 million-strong design community to address the climate crisis. 

120 of us gathered at the V&A design museum in Dundee, and around 5,000 people joined online to hear from 50 sustainability and design leaders who shared their ideas and expertise. We shared some of the words that stuck with us and the initial thoughts they prompted directly after the event - and here we take a look at eight ways to put everything we’ve learned into practice.

1. Share learnings and collaborate

This challenge is complex, so we need to learn together and motivate each other.

Join or build a community of practice, with people in similar roles or sectors who are willing to learn together. Talk about how you can share experience and resources and take action in your work.

Catalyst’s Service Recipes is a great example of ways to share knowledge which others in similar context could apply in their work or organisation.

In a similar vein, we’re working with the Design Council in the open on developing their Principles for Systemic design further. These were originally published in the Beyond Net Zero report . We made them the focus of debate in one of the rooms at the Unconference and will be sharing outputs from those discussions on the Design for Planet site soon.  

Likewise, the notes we took in the 12 other sessions at the Unconference were shared online, live, as we speed typed them. This was so that remote attendees could be part of the discussions as they happened.  All of us can continue to access and respond to the many ideas, provocations and plans for action that came out of the day. 

2. Make commitments and define your standards

The health sector is a great place to get inspiration around conforming to standards to avoid causing harm. The NHS, for example, has a list of “Never” events which are serious incidents that are entirely preventable because guidance or safety recommendations are available and implemented. As people working on services that affect thousands or millions of people, we need a similar compass.

What if we each committed to our Hippocratic oath for designers? Rather than just principles to guide us, should we, like doctors, make a commitment? What would “do no harm” mean? 

3. Define what good design looks like through accessible guides

Network Rail shared their work on Principles of Good Design, done in partnership with the Design Council. These are accompanied by design guidance and standards which organisations they work with have to stick to. The guides are designed to be understood and used by a multitude of different stakeholders involved in redesigning railway stations. They tangibly showcase what sustainable and inclusive design 

What would Principles of Good Design look like for your service?

4. Include future generations in your work and conversations

with future generations in mind we are designing more sustainable solutions by default. The Well-being of future generations act was cited as the best practice example of how to underpin decisions (and in this case even regulations) which ensures that people and the planet thrive together in balance. 

How might we start thinking about the impact of our work or service on future generations? 

We could include future generations in our stakeholder maps as a provocation.

5. Reduce, reuse, recycle

In our work, this could apply to knowledge, resources, and data. When starting a project, how might we build on existing research, instead of starting from scratch ? At the end of a project or journey, how might we avoid digital waste? We could be more considerate around discarding data that we won’t need, and only keep the insights that others could build on or benefit from.

6. Learn from ancient wisdom

Navigating the deep and systemic change and solutions needed takes time. But there’s so much wisdom in the world which has been developed over decades and centuries - around how to protect nature, how to farm sustainably, how to create resilient communities. How can we learn and get inspiration from these? Can we appreciate and learn from elders’ wisdom more? How can we focus on “low-tech” solutions that have always existed rather than seeing new technologies as the answer to everything?

7. Start with (your) neighbourhood

The climate crisis can feel so big and overwhelming, that it can feel paralysing. Starting from trying ideas and solutions where we live, at a neighbourhood level,  will make learnings more tangible and give us the confidence to do bigger things. What if we started creating a circular economy by exchanging resources with our neighbours, or regenerating nature by planting in our neighbourhoods?

8. Build a toolkit to Design for Life

We need to adopt a growth mindset and constantly seek to learn (even if it’s hard nowadays to find time!), document our learnings, and share in the open so that others can build on them. 

I’ve been building my own toolkit on a Trello board over the years, with resources and examples I found useful to help me design with people and planet in mind. 

Building on this, I’m launching the Design for Life Toolkit, an open-source library with tools, resources and practical examples to help people to effect change at their level, so that people and the planet thrive together.

The different themes of the event helped illustrate the evolving role of designers across industries whether they’re in communications design, architecture and the built environment, fashion design, product or service design. It helped illustrate the key principles and mindsets that designers need to adopt to work on major complex challenges that involve people across different disciplines and sectors and places people and our planet at the heart of design, outlined in Design Council’s Systemic Framework.

But we think that designers should also learn from and bring in experts across sectors who have been solving the complex issues of social justice or sustainability for a long time. 

There is so much amazing work done by charities like Hubbub who partner with large retailers, Friends of the Earth connecting people with local climate groups and campaigns, and Possible who inspire people to take tangible climate actions, and many more including the small grassroot ones taking action at a very local level.

We at Snook are actively working on considering the planet as a stakeholder across all of our work and projects, and supporting other designers and teams in doing so. We developed planet-centred design training last year to share our learnings and help build best practice in all kinds of design teams. 

We also strive to just make the sustainable thing the best thing - supporting organisations who have amazing sustainable products, services, or approaches to expand the adoption of these. 

If you’d like to collaborate with us or exchange ideas, get in touch. 

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