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Designing a circular business: 5 areas you need to work on

by Ben Reason and QSA Partners (Gerrard Fisher & Kristina Bull)

How can design contribute to a more sustainable future? More specifically, how can service design enable the circular economy that many people think is a vital element of that future?

Bill Sharpe’s Horizon Framework from a sustainable futures perspective.

Mini Story

An example from the car industry

When designing for car clubs we initially focussed on the financial savings customers could achieve compared to car ownership. However, through early engagement of customers, we realised that early adopters were also attracted to the sense of being on the cutting edge of technology and urban living so we built a more compelling narrative around this benefit. As car clubs reach the majority of consumers and become commonplace, they will need to shift more towards financial and utility benefits.

Mini Story

An example from about oral care products

When designing oral care products and services for a large electronics firm who wanted to build more of a relationship with their customers, our qualitative research helped us understand how private oral care is. Providing oral care tips needed to respect people’s privacy and required a very careful design of the experience of the product service system. Ideas around circularity aim to build stronger relationships with customers. But they must also navigate the specific nuances of human behaviour and emotion to be able to engage people in new habits.

Mini Story

An example from the hospitality industry

The Student Hotel offers hotel and short stay accommodation throughout Europe and is rapidly expanding. Guests are offered additional services, like free bicycle sharing. As with many sharing economy models, the service suffers from less than optimal care for the bicycles. This causes impaired experience for users, annoyances in the streets and increased costs for the service provider. Livework is participating in a research project, led by universities of Eindhoven and Utrecht, to define ways to incorporate a sense of responsibility into the use of the bikes to mitigate against the “It’s not mine so I don’t care.” attitude.

Mini Story

Collaboration opportunities in the building industry

A government body in the Netherlands invited many different stakeholders to come together to openly discuss circular opportunities in the building industry. The network event led to interesting insights:

  • Manufacturers need governments to come with policies that help them finance reverse logistics without raising market prices too much.
  • Customers and end users need to be informed by market parties about the recycling and refurbishing options and how that affects their cost of ownership.
  • Installers need to expand their skill set to disassembly, and need expertise from manufacturers, refurbishers, and recyclers to do so.
  • Refurbishers can be seen as competition to manufacturers, but they need to intensively exchange information for both to be successful in circularity.
  • Banks need to think of financial risk in a new way, seeing market parties not as clients for loans but as partners in a venture.


Clearly partnership and shared purpose are key for the building industry to become more successful in circularity.


Mini Story

Return and repairs in luxury brands

For a leading luxury brand Livework designed the returns and repairs experience with the goal of making it as luxurious as shopping at one of their stores. Returning an item used to be an experience in a back room with suspicious minds wondering if your item was fake. The new experience was one of delight, respect and literal renewal as a repaired item would be presented as if it was a brand new purchase.

Breaking down the challenge of circularity into five areas.
Ben Reason Founding Partner

I am a founding partner of Livework having set-up the company in 2001. My focus on keeping Livework at the forefront of service design practice and ensuring we continue to create value for our clients.

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