VALID: Value in Design

Designing systemic innovation for sustainability

Carlo Vezzoli
Politecnico di Milano, INDACO dept.
DIS Research Unit
Design and Innovation for the environmental Sustainability
v. Durando 38/A, 20158 Milano, Italy


It is firstly assumed that the Life Cycle Design (LCD) is a fairly consolidated, yet not diffused discipline. The “life cycle” and the “functional” thinking are the key leading concept to introduce the environmental requirements within a product design process. In fact, competencies, methods and tools has been produced on a workable level for the design practice and education. The problem is they are applied and taught in a fragmentary and scarce way world wide.

The second assumption is that LCD of a (single material) product is not enough to tackle coherently the transition towards sustainability, because this transition requires innovations characterised by “radicality”. Given the above assumption the design approach to sustainability need to shift from product to “system design”. Various authors agree that the Product-Service Systems (PSS) innovation strategies have the potential to leads towards system eco-efficiency, because of the stakeholders' convergence of interests towards system optimisation (in resource use and emissions). Within this framework, the designer competencies should move towards those of the “strategic design”: the capability to create new stakeholder configurations and develop an integrated system of products and services that is coherent with the medium-long term perspective of sustainability.

Considering the design competencies, it is finally propose to consider the PSS concept as a promising approach even for the “equity improvement” dimension of sustainability. More precisely, the PSS applicability to developing and newly industrialised (emerging) contexts: the PSS innovation strategies as opportunities to facilitate the process of socio-economical development - by jumping over or by passing the stage characterised by individual consumption/ownership of mass produced goods - towards a more advanced “satisfaction-based” and dematerialised service-economy.