January 19, 2022

What Is People First Design?

Sick Planet

People First, Together

"People First Design" should not be confused with traditional, human-centred design, which often encourages individualism, rather than togetherness. Individualism, which is on the rise, is a fundamental obstacle to our collective ability to address the most pressing issues we face as a society today.

For decades now, designers have been taught to consider human needs in their work – only human needs. But design that is good only for people, without looking at the at the well-being of our planet, has got us into big trouble. 

While human-centred design is (in theory) inspired by the principle that broader human-centric systems should be considered, in practice, the needs of the individual user tends to eclipse the consideration of communal needs.

Addressing communal needs requires inspiring a collective effort and collective behaviour - collective effort often requires individual sacrifice. "People First" means encouraging collective behaviour, discussing, and designing solutions that are more circular, more inclusive, more available, and more accessible to many more people.

 “It doesn’t matter if you design a fantastic sustainable product if no one can afford or access it. If we can design inclusively — not just products, but supply chains, manufacturing, distribution, etc. — we can empower many more people, both individually and as part of a system, to tackle the biggest challenge of our generation - climate change” says Johanna Fabrin, Strategy Design Lead at Space 10 Research & Design Lab, Copenhagen.

"People First" means Planet First because there is no separation between human beings, our planet and nature - we are intrinsically linked.

Design that is not good for our planet, is fundamentally bad for our people - it’s time for us to move away from Human-centred design and work towards Humanity-centred design.

 

Humanity-Centred Design 

Humanity-centred design is a practice where designers focus upon people’s needs, not as individuals but as societies and cultures, inherently linked with the health and well-being of community and our planet.

"We should not see people and the planet in competition with each other’ Fabrin continues; "Humans should be part of the equation, but not at the expense of everything else. We can only create a good life for people if we create a good life for the planet."

We must rethink the relationship between humans, design, construction, technology, and our planet, realising they are a complex system of interdependencies. Approaching everything we design as part of a huge, interconnected system means that we start with a values-based approach: a regenerative attitude, rather than a corporate manifesto.

Sustainability is not enough.

Sustainability, as currently practised in the built environment, is an exercise in efficiency, or using less. The use of environmental rating systems creates a reduction in the damage caused by excessive resource use; “doing things better”, rather than “doing better things”.

But the word sustainability itself is inadequate because it does not tell us what we are actually trying to sustain.

Sustainability alone therefore is not an adequate long term goal - we must do better, we must become regenerative by design.

“Regenerative design works as a positive force that restores, renews, and revitalises. A concept that’s inherent in nature, regeneration should be the approach for how we interact with our planet, that’s focused upon giving back much more than we take.” Bill Reed, Regenesis Group.

Regenerative Design also changes our approach to community development issues, given the need to plan in a way that supports disenfranchised people, promotes affordably priced housing, and brings issues of social equity to the forefront of People First design.

True regenerative design requires humans to participate as a key element of nature, society, and culture, creating a co-evolution within our entire eco-system. Instead of doing less damage to our environment it is necessary to learn how we can participate with our environment by using the health of ecological and social systems, as a basis for our design.

People First means Planet First because there is no separation between human beings, nature, and society, we co-exist, together.

 

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