Facilitating sustainability of a product’s lifecycle impact in the early stages of product development

Victor Martinez

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Due to the higher potential impact on a product’s sustainability, this research focuses on the early stages of the design process, and the delivery of simplified information to assist and guide designers in their decision-making process. A specific tool (Trophec) was developed with a ‘soft modelling’ approach as its main characteristic, which delivers a holistic perspective of the life cycle of a given product. Evidence was found indicating that around 80% of a product’s environmental impact can be traced back to the early stages of design, when designers work in a very intuitive, rapid and conceptual way. Furthermore, dozens of ‘eco-design’ tools, guides, checklist and working frames were explored. Existing research into some of these ‘eco-design’ tools has found that they were mainly used, or provided assistance to designers, at late stages of product development, when the product has already been conceived and many decisions have been made and subsequent compromises decided upon. These tools do not seem to respond appropriately to the culture and needs of designers in early stages. Moreover, these tools are not being used among other reasons because of their complexity and/or requirement of investing long periods of time and specialised knowledge. A test was developed in order to detect any influence of the tool in the designers’ working processes, in which graduate, undergraduate students and professional designers participated. The protocol consisted of a design task with a ‘think aloud’ method. The task was completed with a semi-structured interview. In parallel to these tests, the web-based tool was open to the public, registering data from more than 400 users from all over the World. These tests showed evidence related to designers not voluntarily incorporating sustainability criteria into their projects, as they perceive this activity as optional and to add later on the process, once the product is defined. Important statements were made in the interviews, in relation to the limited capability of designers to truly influence the outcome of the entire design process, understanding that some issues of it are determined by other departments or professionals within a company, normally management and marketing. All the previous supports findings in the literature review and highlight little change in the last 10 to 15 years. As major contribution of this research, stands the novel method used to capture, analyse and visualise the designers’ working processes, as well as the identification of certain basic conditions for the future testing and analysis of ‘soft modelling’ tools at early stages of new product development.
Original languageEnglish
  • English, Stuart, Supervisor
  • Conti, Matteo, Supervisor, External person
  • Hilton, Kev, Supervisor
Publication statusIn preparation - Jan 2015


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