In conversation with Designlines, the writer and podcaster ruminates on the innovative potential of circular design
Throughout her idyllic Cornish childhood, which was spent exploring pastoral sprawls and maritime haunts, Katie Treggiden developed an appreciation for nature. As an adult, this manifested as environmental advocacy, by way of championing circular design practices. Having written six books and countless editorial think pieces, founding a membership community and starting a podcast, Circular with Katie Treggiden, this multi-hyphenate eco-warrior is helping illuminate innovative solutions to complicated scenarios. We caught up with Treggiden to get the lowdown on exciting advancements in circular design, why failure is an important tenet of progress, and what to expect from season two of her podcast.
What elements of modern circular design are you currently excited about?
I’m seeing real innovation in material design. As designers, makers and craftspeople start to embrace waste streams and forgotten natural materials in place of virgin manmade materials, it’s really exciting to see them expand their remit into material design as well as product design.
You’ve spoken about rethinking capitalism. What are some ways designers can help lessen the impact of “infinite growth on a finite planet”?
Infinite growth on a finite planet is just not possible in the long term, so it’s up to designers to do more than lessen the impact – we need a fundamental rethink. The dominant model right now is a linear ‘take-make-waste’ economy and we need to move to a circular economy in which we design out waste, keep materials and objects in use, and regenerate natural systems. We need to stop thinking in terms of doing less harm and start thinking in terms of actively doing good.
Season two of your podcast focuses on the repair movement. What can you tell us about this noble crusade in a design sense?
It comes back to the second tenet of the circular economy – how do we keep materials and objects in use? For designers, this means thinking about how their products might fail and pre-empting that, either with reinforcements or simplifications, repair kits to enable home restoration, or a free takeback scheme. Then they need to think beyond that to the end of the product’s life – when it is no longer fit for purpose and is beyond repair, can it be disassembled for reuse or recycling? And, of course, we need legislative change that makes manufacturers take responsibility for all this stuff.
Do you think it’s important to encourage “imperfect progress” for designers who are truly invested in sustainable initiatives, as opposed to greenwashing efforts?
One of the biggest barriers to environmental action is fear of getting it wrong, and of getting called out on the internet as a result! In design, we prize experimentation, failure, and trial and error, yet when it comes to sustainability efforts, we expect designers to get it right the first time. That’s just not realistic or conducive to good ideas. Fear is not the soil in which creativity thrives. It’s important that designers are absolutely transparent about their progress and avoid greenwashing at all costs. It’s also important that, where there is genuine intent, we all cut them some slack and give them space to learn, prioritizing progress over perfection. KATIETREGGIDEN.COM.
Three Katie Treggiden-approved books where you can learn more about circular design.
It’s Not That Radical, Mikaela Loach. Dorling Kindersley Ltd.
The Future We Choose, Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac. Vintage Press.
Regenerative Leadership, Giles Hutchins and Laura Storm. Wordzworth Publishing.