A Toolkit for Exnovation by Design

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With noticeably mounting indications for climate change the fatal consequences of human activities become more and more apparent. The majority of our everyday life products hold their share in the pollution of the environment. By unearthing resources, processing, transporting, use and disposal. Here, industrial designers and innovators have long been a substantial contributor to the problems we face and many inadvertently still are. Now, production and consumption must change as quickly as possible to prevent the worst effects of the ecological crisis and to keep the earth habitable in the future.
In this context, designers often try to improve the current situation by inventing and innovating greener solutions. However, sustainable design efforts are not enough, as long as we merely focus on innovations which keep exploiting resources, fill “sustainable” market niches, cause rebound effects and offset environmental gains. Given the urgency, we now need to focus more on mitigating the impact of existing unsustainable products.
This goes under the umbrella of exnovation. In recent years, the term has gained traction and is increasingly perceived as an essential element of sustainability transitions. It targets the removal or reduction of existing technologies, products, structures etc.

This graduation project aimed at exploring exnovation efforts in context of design.
The initial research phase focused on how designers can facilitate the exnovation of products in the most harmless way possible. Literature review showed that not only the environment itself should be taken into account, but designers must also persuade the users of products in order to achieve a lasting effect. Only when considering the consumer behavior and the product’s related practices, uses, and other interconnected aspects an exnovation can be successful. The research resulted in a compilation of several independent approaches, methods and leverage points for design action.

The second phase was an investigation of a real exnovation case. The removal of the charging adapter from the Apple iPhone box served as subject of an analysis. The study showed that users were not willing to give up the adapter for sustainability concerns for several reasons. Based on the findings and the previous research, several design interventions were developed that aimed at increasing the acceptance for exnovation. These interventions were tested with participants to inform the final design.

The final outcome is an online toolkit for designers. It walks the user through various factors to consider when exnovating a product. After the user answers a set of questions, the most suitable exnovation strategies are presented. These strategies emphasize design possibilities, considerations and give tips. In this way it does not only sensitize designers about the topic in general, but also inspire further steps for the particular product exnovation.