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Designing for the Good of our Planet in 2020

Designers use a broad range of tools that require curiosity, creativity and cross-functional ability to conceptualize innovations that drive profit and shareholder returns across industries. Our responsibilities go beyond the creative brief: we also aim to solve meaningful social, economic and cultural issues. At least in an ideal world, every designer should be aware of the implications and effects of the tools we use, and the products, services, campaigns and brands we research, plan and enable across societies.

In reality, the tools that designers commonly use and the products we design have inherent negative consequences that exacerbate the world’s most pressing issues, including environmental sustainability. As we continue to craft distinctive aesthetics and products to power the global economy in 2020 and beyond, it is important to understand how our tools and products negatively affect society, and act to reduce our impact. Here are two design trends that I think we will see through 2020, which will help to reduce waste and promote a more sustainable economy.

Our Data Habit (Addiction)

As designers, we are responsible for innovating across the consumer product space, electronics, streaming services, apps and other sectors that require use of immense amount of data. According to the World Economic Forum, the digital universe will reach 44 zettabytes by 2020.

In the long run, this collect-it-now-use-it-later approach to data will certainly compound energy cost and climate change effects. To put it in perspective, close to 2 percent of the total U.S. electricity consumption goes into cloud and computing infrastructure powering our data hoarding habit.

However, does the massive amount of information we collect today have a purpose? Is it really necessary to collect so much information? 2020 will see a shift in how designers approach data use. By optimizing what data gets collected, stored and processed, designers can lend a hand in reducing wasteful energy consumption.

Sustainable Consumption and Economy

In 2020, consumers will continue to be the main driver behind the push for sustainable consumption and products–including everything from plant-based foods and clothing made from recycled plastics, to aluminum water bottles and compostable plastics.

Brands run the risk of market share disruption as consumer preferences shift towards brands that are conscious of their environmental impact. Designers have a monumental challenge to transform consumer products that have been optimized for a wasteful consumption habits. This requires changing well-established materialism and readjusting consumer behavior to successfully promote a circular economy that is a win-win for business, society and our environment.

We should expect more innovations and reformatting of existing design systems of supply chains to include circular process of consumption, recovery and reuse. I am very excited about this trend as brands around the world replace plastic wrappers with more sustainable materials. Other examples include the use of industrial design to produce packaging foam like substance made from mushrooms. It is truly an amazing shift to see and witness; the end of excess will be a consumer trend in 2020 that all brands should be aware of.

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