Beyond the single persona – Life-centred innovation

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Taking cues from biomimicry, circular design, system thinking and more, life-centred design might just be the future of innovation. 

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For years, innovation has been driven by focussing on the needs of a single user. The more clearly companies could define that persona, the better they could meet their needs. 

However this has left a blinkered legacy. The very focus that has driven VC funding, digital disruption and societal change has left us myopic. We’ve missed the wider systems our design decisions are part of; the impacts on people and planet that products and services have. 

This, and more, is what life-centred design seeks to address. 

But what is life-centred design?

Sometimes called planet-centred design, humanity-centred design or circular design, Life-centred design (LCD) uses systems thinking techniques to reframe the economy as sitting within our planet’s environment, not the other way around. 

LCD is in its infancy, and tools, techniques and processes are still being created and tested, but they often build from the successes of human-centred design and address that field’s shortcomings

It seeks to redress imbalances of power and privilege by giving us new lenses to improve the innovation process. Life-Centred Design also pulls in thinking from sustainability and Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics to help designers and their clients zoom out. 

It can add complexity to projects, but often this type of bigger picture thinking was what was missing from ‘move fast and break things’, especially when we’ve already broken the very planet we rely on for life itself. 

Why should we care?

While I’m a known treehugger, the World Economic Forum – hardly a bastion of hippies – states at least 6 of the top ten biggest risks in the next decade relate to sustainability. After all, there’s no shareholder profit on a dead planet. 

Plus your customers are already there. Gen Z and Millenials (ie. those aged about 15-40) are buying from companies with purpose at their heart. So unless your organisation is thinking about more than just short term profit, measuring and improving how you impact society and the environment, you’ll be left behind. 

Start by starting

Although we’re a small consultancy, we’re part of what Solitaire Townsend  calls the ‘X Industry’ – those with some influence over much larger companies than our own, especially related to the climate. We therefore have a responsibility to help our clients begin experimenting with LCD. 

And so we’re starting. Small steps, some guiding principles, collecting and experimenting with tools. Our first action was to run a client workshop with Mother Earth as one of the stakeholders, and it was met with excitement that we have begun. We asked questions like: 

  • What are the needs and frustrations of Mother Earth?
  • What are the planet positive impacts of the product?
  • How can we measure success in this space?
  • What are the planet-negative risks/impacts of the product?
  • How can it be improved?
  • Where do we need additional advice? (And who might have the answers?)

What’s next?

We’re raising these questions in our workshops and collaborative sessions. And we’re looking for opportunities to – in the spirit of being more pirate – sneak LCD into all our projects, both in innovation and transformation. 

Backed by customer-led desire, a need for optimism amidst the climate crisis and companies shift towards purpose, Life-Centred Design feels like the future of innovation.

Want to explore more life-centred design?

Want to get started with life-centred design? Let’s talk

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