The role of Design in Supply Chains

Sometimes life gives us a chance and we have to take it. Design is like natural problem solving, it’s just about looking at problems or needs that people have. Then with the process in mind, you will look at things from a different perspective and look for a solution. That perspective can be beautiful but you will also notice more problems than other people do. 

Design can apply to any sector, thanks to design we can improve things that haven’t changed in years. The impact designers can have can be massive if a designer will get the chance. One of the problems that designers have to tackle are complex supply chains. Most supply chains consist of dozens of steps. If we optimize even a small part of it, we’ll quickly see a positive impact on the environment. New solutions are needed and businesses see that the way they work can be optimized. All businesses have to adapt or pivot to an environmentally positive practice, enough damage has already been done…

The problem with supply chains

Designers aren’t always taken seriously, businesses don’t believe (or don’t want to believe) that a designer can solve emission or supply-chain issues. They don’t let designers in the doors to work on such problems. The reason for those problems oftentimes is consumerism, we want more things, faster, at a cheaper price. We won’t stop people from buying things, but there is a different thing we can look at.

If we talk to the big polluters, we will learn that the length of supply chains can be an engineering problem. Supply chains are a big part of the emission issue, every single truck that has to deliver something from city A to city B contributes to it. That’s why designers have to step in, they can rethink how businesses operate in a much more fundamental way. But the magic happens when designers work with engineers, entire sectors and industries can be transformed to be more environmentally friendly.

But the biggest challenge is to get in the door to actually being let free on these kinds of issues. All of us want to live on earth but we have to care for the environment. 

Environmental statements of large companies

Big companies invest millions into strategies, technology and campaigns that will put them in a good light. They want to take care of the planet, but do they really? 

This can also be a challenge, there is a lot of green washing. It’s like making a scene where the biggest polluters shout “look how green we are!”, those businesses get recognition, they do some good things but it’s not enough. Physical products that you can buy in the supermarket are now Eco, the packages have leaves on them, but do we know how much CO2 was produced to create one plastic package? We don’t, they don’t tell us how much water was wasted to produce one t-shirt, they don’t tell us how much CO2 was created to produce a plastic cup and they don’t tell us how many trucks had to transport a bag of chips to deliver it to your favorite store. 

Almost all industries can really reinvent themselves with the right initiative but first of all Designers have to be taken seriously. The smaller and medium sized companies as well as new companies already do a lot to have a positive impact. It’s also easier to stay environmentally friendly if you are a local company or employ less than a hundred people. It means a lot that smaller players are thinking about the planet, they can do a lot, but the only way forward is to also hold the big institutions accountable. But here arises the question, how do we do that? 

We have to convince those big institutions that it’s possible to have a fully transparent supply chain of materials that will tell us how much waste and CO2 they produce. This way we will have the opportunity to create a smart supply chain. With one solution we can suddenly solve so many issues, environmentally and emission wise. 

However, not all companies want to be transparent, if they show how much waste they produce they can get hit quite hard. It’s where small companies have to pave the way, they have to show that it can be done and that it’s the only way forward. Of course, those small companies often don’t have the budget for R&D, but there can be a startup that will create a tool to manage supply chains and make them transparent. It’s important to start with the small guys and work our way up to big enterprises. But as we said before, designers and engineers have to work together to enable that. 

The role of policy makers

Policy makers force companies to be more Eco friendly but companies don’t know how they can do that. First of all we need to prove that we can track these emissions and be transparent and then the policy can enforce these things. The problem is that policies force us to quickly change the business and everyone has to figure out how to do that. It doesn’t really work like that. 

But we need authorities that will speed up the process, and force big institutions to adapt. This intersection of technology, design and policy is the way forward and together we can make a change. 

Designers know how businesses operate

Design focused schools sometimes forget to teach students about the way businesses operate and function. They share a lot of knowledge on making people love your service or product, but designers have a much bigger role in every business. Many designers become business owners, they create their own startups and learn what is needed to thrive in today’s competitive world. They use their skills to help others grow and get better. 

More businesses have to make use of the skills designers have, they know the ins and outs of different sectors. You just have to find the right designer for your business, there is a good chance they can transform the way you operate today. Designers can be great business partners, they have great communication skills that can be used to pull data from your team, they can inspire managers and other team members to change. In addition to that they have the hard skills needed to start that change.

User centricity in the supply chain

Companies often focus on User Centricity but is it the right thing to do? If we were to only follow what users desire or what they need the world would become such a good place. Obviously you don’t just follow what the user says you have to interpret it. It’s the designer’s responsibility to find the right balance between what’s good for users and the planet. 

When we focus on being user centric we can get tunnel vision, and user centricity becomes a driver of consumerism. This principle is good in it’s foundation but at a point it can be used for bad things, just to sell more and create desire. Every designer has to have the bigger perspective in mind, every design should start with the end result and its consequences in mind.

We all have to do our best to represent as many people as we can. It’s such a massive responsibility to take care not only of our needs but also the needs of others, of the planet and every living creature. 

Are you a designer that knows how to do that? Drop us a message at [email protected]


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