Design Jam for the Circular Economy

As designers we love getting our hands dirty, from the small pixel to the grand overall service experience. We also like to think about our role in the big wide world, because as designers we have the perfect skill set to make a difference. That’s why on Saturday, January 25, the ustwo studio in New York hosted the Design Jam for the Circular Economy. We welcomed over 25 young creatives - from Parsons, the School of Visual Arts and Columbia University to name a few - into the studio to spend a full day engaging with real world use cases, jamming, learning, collaborating and creating design solutions for a better world.


The Circular Economy

What is this Circular Economy all about? In our current economy we take, make, use and throw away. We are using up a limited supply of materials and energy, and are creating piles of waste. In fact, every year all of us waste $2 trillion dollars worth of materials! The Circular Economy is inspired by nature’s circular model, which is a waste free model of abundance and circular processes.


Great examples of design for the Circular Economy are all about repair, reuse and recycling. Like Patagonia’s Clothes the Loop, which features a repair service and a partnership with iFixit, and a collaboration with eBay to buy and sell used clothing. Or IKEA’s online flea market, a multi channel campaign in which IKEA provided a platform for customers to sell used furniture. ‘Product as a service’ solutions like ZipCar or Philips Pay per Lux include a lot of goodness, since the company remains the owner of valuable resources, and includes maintenance, repair and sometimes running costs in the plan. It makes sense for the company, is convenient for the customer, and better for our world! So how did we use our design minds to reduce the waste in the world?

Ecovative’s challenges

Ecovative is a material science company growing replacements for styrofoam and other plastics using mushroom technology. Materials are literally grown, harnessing the incredible efficiency of nature. Pretty amazing. Ecovative is working on a Grow It Yourself program. An open source environment for makers that wants to experiment with Ecovative mushroom material. They asked us to look at the design of the Grow Kit, the connection between the physical kit with the digital experience, and the digital platform that can support the Ecovative maker community. Two teams worked on these challenges thinking up modular molds, partnerships between farmers and designers, as well as much more.

KeepCup's challenges

KeepCup's mission is to encourage the use of reusable cups. They do this by delivering sustainably made barista sized KeepCups, and spreading awareness about the problem of waste around disposable cups. In case you didn’t know, every minute over one million disposable cups are discarded to landfill. Most disposable cups are lined with polythylene which makes them non recyclable. Sad but true. For KeepCup the challenge was to increase awareness of the brand but also increase usage of the cup, in coffee shops as well as office and home use. This is all about design for behaviour change.

Last but not least - the challenge for Seamless, the delivery service which delivers food to over 2 million users. Seamless offers an eco option, allowing customers to receive orders from various restaurants without the cutlery and napkins. What could Seamless do to reduce waste from disposable plastic containers? Could disposable containers be replaced with reusable ones for food orders in a corporate environment?

The Saturday was filled with generating design solutions for these challenges, gathering ideas and looking for similarities and trends. We assessed the feasibility of solutions to focus on the best ones. Created personas and customer journeys to map out the desired services. Final outcomes were presented at the end of the day and shared with the companies.

We can look back on a successful day with an abundance of ideas, great team work and new design solutions for the circular economy. Keep your eyes open for our next events, as we’re planning to do more of them in the future!

Want to jam?

Make sure you get involved the next Global Service Jam on the weekend of 7th of March - more info here. Or there's the 8 hours overtime for a good cause international initiative on Friday 28th March (NY still needs organisers).

Want to learn?

For more information check out the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Circular Economy Toolkit.