Free Online Circular Design Toolkits

As part of my Masters I reviewed 6 free circular economy / design toolkits. Some of the toolkits were focused on behaviour change and others on redesign of products, services and business model. Here is my analysis of each toolkit.

I’ve divided up the tool kits under various headings based on what I consider them best suited to. Hope you find it useful.

Design for Behaviour Change Toolkits

Design with Intent ToolkitThis design toolkit does aim to specifically address issues around sustainable behaviour choices. It comes as a series of cards, each showing a design intervention aimed to force or encourage sustainable behaviour choices with a brief explanation on the psychological basis for each intervention. There is also a downloadable A3 workbook that outlines the methodology behind the toolkit and how to use the toolkit.

My experience of using this toolkit – This toolkit is more focused on physical artefacts and spaces than some other tool kits, which make it more useful to 3D designers. Sometimes the link between the design intervention and sustainability was unclear and so the toolkit felt more like a collection of visual-design-prompts than an edited, focused directional tool for users to work through. You can download the toolkit here

Bridgeable Design for Behaviour Change ToolkitThis design toolkit isn’t pitched specifically at environmentally sustainable concepts, it aims to help with all forms of behaviour under the banner of Design for Behaviour Change. It comes as a set of ‘cheat’ cards, some that walk you through a process and others that explain behavioural economics (BE) principles, which you’re intended to use to spark ideas. The ‘cheat’ cards come with a 50 page document that explains the methodology behind the cards and how best to use them.

My experience of using this toolkit – This toolkit seemed quite symptom focused and might be best suited to tweaking an existing product or service rather than designing one from scratch. Users might also struggle to apply the behavioural economic insights to their concept. That said the toolkit was very well written, only needing a brief explanation on each card to express each insight. You can download the toolkit here

Circular Economy Business Model Toolkits

Shift ToolkitThis toolkit takes the format of a 34 page text-based workbook, derived from a research project that culminated in a 80 report titled ‘A Review and Framework for Encouraging Ecologically Sustainable Consumer Behaviour‘. It is specially geared towards sustainable behaviour change but not necessary from a design perspective. It does consider psychological drivers to behaviour, particularly with reference to habit formation, which the authors consider to be the root of consumption choices.

My experience of using this toolkit – Sometimes this workbook felt more like a listing exercise than an evaluation process and I think it may be because of the absence of ‘why’ questions. Surprisingly, the workbook doesn’t appear to tally with the report on which it is based, meaning you have nowhere to go for further clarification. The exception to this is section 4, which is all about barriers to ecologically sustainable behaviour choices. I found that to use this section properly I had to have read the original 80-page report, which might be an unattractive option for time-poor designers. Also, it’s text based nature can make it heavy going at times. You can download the toolkit here

Use2 Use Toolkit
This design toolkit is specifically about circular economy business models and does not look at the psychological drivers behind consumption choices. It comes as a set of themed cards and worksheets. The cards are divided up into different headings; thinking activation, circular journeys and multi-use-cycles, circular design ideation, while the worksheet looks at circular design evaluation. Their toolkit doesn’t explicitly state the order you’re meant to use the toolkit in but going by the order things are listed in on the website it is likely to be as follows; the activation toolkit, then circular journey cards, the multi-use cycle cards, then circular design ideation cards and then circular design evaluation sheets. The toolkit is predominately text with some images used in the circular design ideation cards

My experience of using this toolkit – The information in this toolkit is massive and might be overwhelming to someone with little experience of the circular economy. Because of the breath of the information it’s easy to get lost in all of the factors to be considered, especially at the initial concept stage. I also think the order in which you use the toolkit matters hugely. I agree with using the thinking activation pack first, but think it’s better to use the circular design ideation cards next, followed by the circular journey, the multi-use-cycle cards, and finally by the circular design evaluation worksheet.

Also, the questions in this toolkit seemed to be best suited to an existing business seeking to review its offerings than a designer starting out with a blank slate. The toolkit also required group discussion for some of the activities, perhaps making it less attractive to an individual designer. You can download the toolkit here

Ellen MacArthur Foundation – Circular Design Guide
As the main hub for information on the circular economy in Europe the information provided by the foundation is vast. The resources are made available through a dedicated website, Circular Design Guide. Despite it being called a design toolkit, it felt better suited to change makers, students and business people than designers. Also, this toolkit is intended to be used by someone facilitating circular design workshops and so is structured to suit that.

My experience of using this toolkit – Although this toolkit isn’t aimed at practising designers it doesn’t mean it isn’t of value to them. The problem is that the structure of the website and vastness of the information is so overwhelming you might give up before you start.

If someone is new to circular design I would suggest that the best place to start is the Methods page. If you’re more experienced then going Worksheets page probably makes the most sense.

The website says that these resources can be used standalone but most of them are written in the format of collaborative workshops and so I’m not sure they work that well outside of that context.

Overall I felt that this toolkit had no middle ground between expansive resources designed to be delivered in workshop settings and standalone worksheets with limited instruction. Also, there was very little reference to the psychological drivers of consumption, which I fear would result in incomplete solutions. You can download the toolkit here

Arup developed a Circular Building Toolkit with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. I’ve taken a quick look at it but haven’t assessed it in depth. It’s a web based tool that seems to work similar to a decision tree, in that your answer to posed questions directs you to different circular design strategies. It’s a very easy-to-use and comprehensive tool, which I think is ideal for practitioners and practices looking to develop their understanding and use of circular design principles on project. 

You can access the toolkit here

Other Toolkits not Tested

This are toolkits that I haven’t taken an in depth look at



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