Round and Round: Infusing Sustainability in Method

August 19, 2020

Coauthor: Berri Berto, 2020 Summer Service Design Intern

“Once you understand the destruction taking place, unless you do something to change it, even if you never intended to cause such destruction, you become involved in a strategy of tragedy. You can continue to be engaged in that strategy of tragedy, or you can design and implement a strategy of change.”

Michael Braungart and Willian McDonough, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

Harmonic Design has always been sustainably-minded, and as we mature our practice and methods, we look to iterate and adapt our tools and techniques by incorporating methods that address sustainability. Our previous blog post addressed how service design and servitization of products is in and of itself an act of sustainability. We also introduced how the circular economy’s framework produces outcomes that leverage a model of continuation and evolution of materials. To illustrate what we mean by servitization through circular design, we looked at the circular system behind Mud Jeans. In this service model, the jean wearer doesn’t own the jeans but rents them. When they’re torn or when the user is tired of them, they’re able to return the material where it is reworked into the ecosystem.

“Service design was initially proposed as a central form of sustainable design; turn goods into services and thus reduce the lifecycle impacts of objects by circulating those objects as products of service.”

Scott Boylston, Design for Sustainability Professor at Savannah College of Art and Design

Pushing on this notion that service design is inherently sustainable, we asked ourselves how might we infuse circular design with our methods and tools? We set out to create and adapt for opportunities to address circular design in meaningful, immersive, and endemic explorations. In other words, we did not want circular design tacked on and referenced in ineffectual tools. As with all experimentation, we experienced a few missteps along the way. However, after a few iterations, we feel we have a better grasp on how to better address circular design in our practice.

First Tool Attempt: Experience Mesh

Initially, we set out to test infusing circular design into our practice by selecting a method we’re currently developing called experience tapestry.

Experience Mesh is a cross-collaborative methodology that visually translates how multiple actors interact in a service experience. It identifies opportunity areas to improve complex service experiences for the collective benefit of all actors in the service ecosystem. At first glance, it seemed to reflect the holistic approach we were looking for as a circular design tool because it was inclusive of all actors and could visually translate areas for optimization and uncover possible service innovation solutions.

Experience Tapestry
Experience Tapestry Example

To test our assumption, we selected an experience that has been on our mind lately: the service journey of the grocery pickup. During the tapestry exercise, we mapped out multiple actors and the key moments in their journey. In doing that, patterns emerged about how the delivery system works, its cadence, and for some actors during this experience, how they conducted their activities in a very repetitive routine. We realized that some of this repetition could be optimized by leveraging digital channel interaction, providing a healthier routine for employees and a seamless experience for customers.

We struggled to explain why the grocery pickup experience couldn’t become a closed circle to eliminate loose ends and waste. We concluded that some decisions that need to be made, depend on actors and policies that go beyond people experiencing the service. This method is definitely a work in progress and it has helped clients recognize opportunities to deliver better service experiences, but because it is done in a linear fashion (horizontal, left to right), there are missing components around the systemic side effects (e.g. policies, supply chain, local partnerships). We believe that this method could be used as a complementary tool to other methods whenever it is necessary to map out a chain of events surrounding the service experience. Methods such as ecosystem maps and service origami might lead us to identify systemic loose ends as these tools provide a circular shaped canvas. Unlike the tapestry, these other methods are not confined in a visual journey format that is bound by time and sequencing of actions.

Circular Design in Service Design: Recommendations

Learning from our first attempt, our group reconvened and again looked at current methods and use cases. We explored other methods and came up with a list of them to test:

  • Service origami – this tool provides a physicality to map the experience of a user going through a service. In this, a card is marked value, which we could include to be those of circular design.
  • Current-state and future-state blueprints – these tools allow designers to identify opportunities and capabilities by capturing a step-by-step process of the front stage and backstage
  • Ecosystem maps – a tool that maps the holistic experience and the variables that moves the user (physically and/or digitally) through that experience 
  • Experience principles – by identifying these principles, it conceptualizes principles to anchor to and design towards in our process/work
Mariah Mills put together this video which shows the service origami with physical cards

Service Origami

Continuing on our exploration of methods and techniques to infuse circular design into services, we tried our hand at a digital version of service origami, applying the method to the same grocery pickup service experience. While the experience tapestry helped us identify patterns that exist within the service across actors in a visually linear way, service origami provided us with a more holistic, circular view of the service landscape, including cycles and the complexity of ecosystems. With the complexity of this particular service, we approached our process by applying layers of information (see the key at the bottom of the graphic).

Service origami
Service Origami Example

While circular design tends to focus on a product’s lifecycle, we explored service origami to recognize opportunities for reusing or recycling products, and more importantly, to take a deeper look at the people providing, delivering, and receiving the service. By emphasizing the role of the actors and their potential to streamline and optimize the sometimes manual aspects of their actions, we identified opportunities for regeneration and reuse of the actor’s roles between cycles and moments.

Service origami helped us visualize various cycles occurring within the experience both front stage (visible to the customer) and backstage (invisible to the customer). This method also visualized the impact one cycle can have on another and ultimately the end-to-end experience. In this example, Leah, the customer (front stage actor) experiences the service on a regular basis (weekly), whereas the employees are experiencing and performing tasks within multiple cycles on a much more frequent basis (hourly and daily), impacting various customers simultaneously. This allowed us to identify opportunities where various backstage actors’ roles could be regenerated to increase and improve efficiency and quality of work for all employees, which directly impacts the experience delivered to the customer. Additionally, we identified reuse and recycle opportunities for the customer within their repetitive service.

Service origami detail
Example: If the backstage actors (store clerk, delivery associate, staging associate) are not able to perform at their highest utility, they may negatively impact the circularity of the service. If wait time is high because of a lack of efficiency backstage, this can have a negative impact on the customer and on the environment, like increased emissions from the car running while waiting to be served.

Further Considerations

Throughout the application and use of this method, we continued to recognize additional methods that service origami could inform or continue to help build the service.

Service origami lends itself to further illustrative exercises and methods:

  • Creating stories/storyboards of future state concepts;
  • Service storming (physically acting out a service), ideation, etc.;
  • Future-state blueprinting to detail out the front stage and backstage actions, touchpoints, and supporting processes and technologies, leveraging the opportunities and value identified in each cycle; 
  • How Might We questions, idea or concept generation to further solve for the identified opportunities that frames ideation;
  • Experience tapestry to see how we might implement some of the changes and add more value. The opportunities for using this tool are endless.


We hope to take our learnings and apply them to our projects in and outside specific sustainable issues. We will also continue our exploration of sustainability and circular design. Stay tuned!

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