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What is Circular Design?

Circular design – have you ever heard of it? For a while now, it has been common knowledge that we need to become more sustainable as a society. But it is not so clear yet what the ideal way to get there looks like. There are many approaches, especially for the economy. Here, sustainable means circular, and circular design is one of the most promising approaches to achieving the sustainability goals set in product manufacturing.

We at PESCHKE have already started to incorporate elements of circular design into our product design process. Protecting our planet is important to us and we believe we can support our clients in making a big contribution by implementing this design strategy.

But what exactly is circular design and how do we use this strategy to design products that are better for us and our environment? We’ll explain all that in more detail in this article.

July 22, 2022

The sustainability challenge – “The next big thing in design is circular”

To be able to produce sustainably, materials need to be used in a targeted and resource-efficient way. In Europe, on average, a material is only used once before it turns into waste. This fact is shocking and illustrates the extent the waste of resources has taken on in our current economic system. There is no talk of true sustainability!

The circular economy, on the other hand, is based on the idea that no more waste is produced and only recycled materials are used. Recycling, upgrading and reusing materials in production keeps resources in the cycle.

The circular economy requires a completely new system in which products, services, business models, markets, etc. are designed and laid out specifically for this purpose.

This is where circular design comes into play with its guiding principle, “Design out waste and pollution”: The circular design method deals specifically with the design of products and associated services for a circular economy and thus forms the sustainable core of the new system.

Circular design: process overview

The circular design process makes use of different approaches such as design thinking » and human-centred design » to understand the needs of users and to cover these with optimally designed products. This results in the following four process phases:

  • Understand: Get to know the user and the system in terms of circularity through circular design analysis; circular flows, regenerative thinking, imitating efficient systems from nature (biomimicry »)
  • Define: Write down challenges, sustainability criteria and intention as a designer and develop a circular design strategy; identify circular opportunities, place the product in the circular business model and create a brand promise
  • Make: User-focused research and the conceptualisation, design and creation of circular prototypes for as many iterations and versions as possible; integrating feedback mechanisms and choosing smart materials
  • Release: Taking the circular design to market with authentic storytelling and building customer loyalty; product journey mapping and continuous learning loops

We will get to the strategies that are used for circular design later on.

Circular Design Process | Produktdesign Wien
Sustainable business model

Just like any other economic system, the regenerative circular economy must be profitable and provide benefits for the customer that go beyond pure sustainability. Therefore, customer-centricity and storytelling are a focal point of the circular design process.

Sustainability issues are taken into consideration in all phases of the design process: After environmentally conscious sourcing of recyclable materials, the life span of products is extended through repairing, upcycling and reselling. At the end of the product life cycle, the product is recycled or broken down into its individual components and processed for reuse. By choosing previously used materials for the creation of new products, products and materials are kept in use, or “in the cycle”.

Circular Business Model | Produktdesign Wien
Sustainable consumer behaviour

A sustainable circular economy only works when circular products are purchased. In addition to government support measures such as tax breaks, it is therefore particularly important from a marketing perspective to create awareness among consumers. Their purchasing behaviour needs to be positively influenced by educating them about the advantages and relevance of circular design.

Circular Design | Produktdesign Wien
Strategies for circular design

Circular design as a design direction is characterised not only by its process, but also by its strategies and approaches:

Product life extension

Extending the technical service life of products is essential. This is particularly true in the area of consumer and capital goods, as the production of these products requires a great amount of resources. At PESCHKE, we also pay attention to the durability of the used materials and reparability when designing capital goods such as ENGEL injection moulding machines.

Circular material choices

Recyclable materials are natural raw materials that are used in products in such a way that the materials can circulate in the natural or technical cycle and enable a healthy circular economy. A widely known example from the area of product packaging is cardboard.


Dematerialisation means a reduction in the use of materials and energy » in the manufacture of a product, lowering the impact on the environment. The efficiency of a product is thus increased throughout the entire process from material extraction to design, consumption behaviour, use and disposal.


Modularity refers to a system in which individual components can be optimally assembled at certain points to form a complete product; non-detachable connections such as unnecessary adhesive joints do not exist. This means that components can be replaced individually in the event of damage without having to dismantle or dispose of the entire product. Similarly, components can be easily added or updated.

Examples for circular design

Enough theory, time for examples! Circular design is not a purely scientific consideration, but a design direction applied in real life that has already produced a large number of successful, circular design projects.

Here are some top examples from the industry, especially from Denmark:

  1. Kvadrat Really » recycles textiles into table tops, hardboard and acoustic materials. In the textile industry, only 25% of recyclable textiles are actually recycled – even though 95% of all textiles are recyclable. With its approach, the Danish company gives the design and architecture industry food for thought regarding the use of resources and how to design products and services in the sense of a circular economy.
  2. Paboco », the Danish Paper Bottle Company, produces paper bottles with a thin, 100% recyclable PET barrier. The bottles are specially designed for large-scale production and already available on the market. The plastic savings are enormous and the bottles are fully bio-based, compatible with the paper recycling system, have a threaded structure as well as a closure made from paper and even the lettering is applied with water-based inks via digital printing.
  3. Plasticpreneur » develops small-scale solutions for recycling plastic. The Austrian company offers technologies, services and products to experience plastic recycling, create products from recycled plastic, learn new skills and manufacture products locally – all according to their guiding principle, “Let’s make plastic circular”. Machines and moulds are developed, designed and produced in Austria.
  4. Fairphone » calls itself “The smartphone that cares for people and the environment” because of its focus on durable design with fair and recycled materials. In addition, the Dutch company works on placing more emphasis on bringing sustainability and fair labour practices into the electronics industry.

In the capital goods sector, circular design projects cannot be implemented in the exact same way as it is the case with consumer goods, but circular design approaches can nevertheless be used to improve sustainability. At PESCHKE, projects with a strong focus on circular design are already in the works – more on this in a later article. However, we have had our eye on sustainability criteria for a long time: In product design projects, we have been recommending optimisations in the area of sustainability to our customers for years and, for example, apply the circular design strategies of modularity and the selection of recyclable materials whenever possible.

When it comes to modularity, we support our clients through close cooperation with their technical construction teams. While the construction team sets up products in a modular way, our product design conveys this benefit visually, meaning that the end customer can recognise modularity in the product without necessarily needing to have technical knowledge of its construction.

A small example for recyclable materials with a big impact is the packaging of control elements. As a standard, these are packed in polystyrene for delivery, but this is harmful to the environment and our health ». Small, detached polystyrene beads spread quickly in nature, take centuries to degrade and enter the food chain via a range of organisms. For this reason, we recommend sustainable cast fibre/fibre pulp instead (which is already known from egg cartons), which is 100% recyclable, and/or compostable ».

Similar terms and strategies

Circular design is not the only approach to sustainability. There are many other terms floating about, some of which overlap and some of which have a specific focus. Here, we explain the best-known terms from the world of sustainable design:

Eco design

Eco design is a systematic and comprehensive design approach for products. It aims to reduce environmental impacts throughout the entire product life cycle through improved product design. The difference to circular design is that the current eco design direction is limited to energy-consuming and energy-related products and attempts to minimise their negative environmental impacts. Circular design, on the other hand, focuses on creating value and maximising positive environmental impacts on a system level.

Green design

This design direction focuses on the use of recycled materials, renewable energies and the reduction of energy and material waste.

Sustainable design

Compared to green design, sustainable design emphasises strategies that protect the environment and focus on energy consumption ».

Cradle to cradle

Also abbreviated to C2C, is an approach to a consistent, end-to-end circular economy. It mimics nature » by modelling industrial processes on natural processes, thus avoiding toxic or hazardous materials and waste. Together with biomimicry » and life cycle assessment », C2C plays an important role in circular design strategies.

Transformation design

Transformation design is a people-centred, interdisciplinary process. It aims to create desirable and sustainable change in the behaviour and form of individuals, systems and organisations. This multi-stage and iterative process applies design principles to large and complex systems.

Social design

Social design is a direction of environmental and architectural psychology that focuses on people and a communal search for ecological, socially responsible solutions » that help us in our everyday lives.

What all sustainable strategies have in common are the three overlapping areas environment, economy and society, which are all essential to achieve true sustainability.

Elemente für Nachhaltigkeit | Produktdesign Wien

Circular design – a strategy that is here to stay

Circular design has the potential to achieve measurable sustainability in product design and effectively reduce the burden on the environment. Bit by bit, companies are recognising the positive impact of this design strategy, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. At PESCHKE, we have been integrating environmental aspects into our product design process for a long time and are increasingly focusing on circular design and its many possibilities for optimisation.

In Europe, Denmark is the unspoken pioneer in circular design – the rest of our continent is clearly lagging behind. Together with our customers, we want to contribute to bringing Austria among Europe’s top countries in the field of circular design.


Would you also like to introduce more sustainability and elements of circular design into your projects or benefit from consultation on the subject? We look forward to your message!

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