The practice of EcoDesign: a study of small product design consultancies

This paper reports on an ongoing study that explores how UK based designers, in small design consultancies (SDCs), locate information and learn new skills. Semi-structured interviews were used to improve understanding of the context within which these designers operate and how their design process works. The interviews also helped to construct a clearer picture of what these designers understand by the term EcoDesign and how widely it is practiced. Collectively small design consultancies play a very important role in the design and creation of consumer products. SDCs make up approximately half of all employed designers and generate as much turnover as in-house design teams in the UK. The research has investigated the absence of an EcoDesign agenda in many design briefs and how this might be changed in the future. This paper will outline the constraints that designers work under and in particular the barriers that SDCs face when acquiring reliable information and learning new techniques. The paper also aims to explore ways in which designers could be more engaged by EcoDesign. Many important decisions are not taken by designers, but by their clients and managers who often control the general direction of design. However, in spite of these limitations designers can still be observed influencing outcomes, and inspiring others through their work. The paper will draw some conclusions on the reality of EcoDesign practice in UK based SDCs and outline the ways in which this could be changed in the near future.