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Circular by Design: Innovation, strategy and resource flows

Lead contributor: Dr. Alessio Franconi

This chapter will provide the reader with valuable knowledge that may inspire and influence the design of the circular economy. Due to the proliferation and fragmentation of design strategies, the shift is challenging to comprehend and apply in practice. What are the primary strategies for circular design? How can the designer determine which design strategies are appropriate for the product they need to create? How can design strategies be managed and integrated to achieve a consistent approach? And how can design strategies be efficiently used to accomplish multiple product lifecycles? This chapter strives to answer these questions by providing background information to facilitate an understanding of how and why product design and manufacturing play a strategic role in the transition to the circular economy. Concrete examples and case studies demonstrate how firms and designers use circular design strategies to support multiple product life cycles. The chapter is divided into four sections (1) introduction to the chapter; (2) Circular Design Strategies; (3) Customers in the Circular Product Design; and (4) Chapter takeaways. The first section of the chapter emphasizes the distinction between technological and biological resource cycles by providing examples of the two flows of resources. In addition, an outline of how to slow down, narrow, and close technological and biological cycles is provided here. The focus of the second section of the chapter will be on the main strategies that may be adopted to preserve or restore the value of the product, such as Design for Maintenance, Design for Reuse, Design for Refurbishing, Design for Remanufacturing, Design for Upcycling, Design for Recycling, Design for Cascade Use and Design for Biodegradation. Several sub-strategies are discussed and interwoven with case examples for each approach. The slowing, narrowing, and closing method is utilized in the third section to illustrate the key design solutions that may generate sustainable and circular user behaviors. This section demonstrates how product and service designers may shape and affect people’s behavior via the design of products and services. Design for Timeless Aesthetics, Design for Emotional Attachment, and Design for Sharing are just a few strategies addressed in this part of the chapter. In the fourth and last part of the chapter, the notions described above are consolidated to support the reader in the reflection and assimilation of the proposed contents. This chapter is an essential resource for enriching everyone involved in product decisionmaking. Practical and comprehensive, this chapter will be an essential reading for the following decision makers: product designers, industrial designers, process design engineers, product development managers, managers and personnel in accounting, marketing, distribution, and strategy. 

What's inside

What is circular design?

Explore how design is a critical enabler of a Circular Economy and influences the entire value chain. The objective of circular design is to design products and services capable of having multiple life cycles. As such, several strategies will be provided to support designers.

How to reach multiple product lifecycles?

Eventually, the product will become obsolete. How can an inevitable situation be turned into a business opportunity? Discover how Understanding and quantifying the number of cycles a product must complete is a critical first step toward achieving a circular economy.

How to slow resource flow?

Slowing resource flow consists of creating products that make the best use of the resources and energy used in their production and use, such as long-life goods and product life extensions. Explore different design strategies that may be used to reach these objectives.

How to close resource flow?

Closing resource flow means designing for the reuse of the resources in new loops. Discover how It is possible to create innovative and regenerative systems through an awareness of the systems in which the product is recovered and the use of various strategies.

How to use biological strategies?

While understanding how to create technological cycles is far more developed, knowledge of how to build biological cycles is still in its infancy. Explore several helpful insights that can help accelerate the shift to a design that is based on biological materials.

How to narrow resource flow?

Narrow resource flow focuses on boosting resource efficiency via the use of fewer resources per product. Discover how by implementing strategies that affect the whole supply chain, it is possible to create products that are both material and energy-efficient.

How to design sustainable and circular behaviors?

When designing for the circular economy, it is vital to understand the relationship between the consumer and the product. Learn different strategies that can be used by the designer in order to influence and accomplish certain user behaviours and outcomes.


The circular economy is heavily reliant on design. Designers are required to reimagine centuries-old products, services, and business models for a better future. Get access now and explore a range of innovative methods to implement circular economy principles.