Circular Design

Circular Design redesigns products to prolong life, minimize waste and potential loss of technical (man-made) materials. This means company’s can design a product that has certain functionalities to ensure components can be reused, materials can be reprocessed and breakages can be repaired. Here are some examples of how designers and entrepreneurs develop and exploit goods, helping reduce material (natural and man-made resources) and energy consumption over time¹.

Design Value Chain

Circular design principles provide value throughout the whole manufacturing, sales and use process for both businesses and customers. To maximise value and profit, companies can consider adapting their manufacturing/sales model to retrieve assets (products) through reverse logistics. Or seek alternative revenue streams to keep customers engaged and loyal.

See Reverse Logistics and Circular Business

 Types of Product DesignDescription
Df Design for ReuseIn a CE model, every circle returns to an earlier point in the product life cycle, which is effectively the reuse of a product, component or material. Direct reuse by reselling/redistributing where a product is used for the same purpose without any changes becomes part of the business model and not of product design. However, such a business model will make the longevity of products more attractive.
Df Design for RefurbishRefurbishing is the practice that is less than remanufacturing but more than repair. Comparing to repair, the quality becomes more valuable by partly substituting broken components to reach the replaced/repaired modules or parts
Df Design for Repair and MaintenanceMaintenance focuses on assessing the performance and services of products to retain the functionality of the serviced parts; repair restores a product or component to good condition after decay or damage with an assurance for the repaired part.
Df Design for RemanufactureThe return of a used product to at least its original performance with a warranty that is equivalent to or better than the newly manufactured products. The practice is a comprehensive process of restoring activities (mainly under the test, inspection, full disassembly, refurbishment, part replacement, clean and reassembly).
Df Design for DisassemblyProducts and their parts can be separated and reassembled correctly, includes separating materials that are specific for different cycles in a circular economy
Df Design for RecyclingRecycling consists of material recovery at end of-life and is the last option to recover any remaining value that a product or component has. Recyclability is determined primarily by the choice of materials (although this also depends on developments in the recycling industry) and the extent to which components / materials can be separated from each other.

Design for recycling should also be included into the actual manufacturing process and the extent waste materials (off-cuts, etc) can be used as feedstock for new products.


Product Design

Design Decisions

Material Decisions

Life Cycle Assessment

Customer Value Proposition

Equally compelling in circular design is the value proposition to potential customers. Regardless of all the effort into the design and material selection, if people do not see value in your circular product, all your effort will go to waste.

Extending the use-cycle of your product opens up new avenues to upsell different services, such as upgrades, customisation, repair and refurbish options. Instead of selling a product, you may improve customer loyalty through a product-as-a-service business model, where a company leases a product to a customer retaining ownership and thus any retained value.

Therefore the circular design of products should not be viewed in isolation of the rest of the business operations but as part of a holistic system delivering value to both customers and maintaining resource utility.

 Product Design QualitiesDescription
Df Design for FunctionalityCircular products that are part of an integrated business model focusing on the delivery of performance or function may be a better value proposition for many customers. Competition is based on the creation of added service value of a product, not solely on its sales or price value.
Df Design for DurabilityDurability includes the longevity and functionality of a product to extend the lifespan but also how to design emotional attachment to a product to make users unwilling to discard is another design strategy.
Df Design for QualityA product's value in terms of robustness and performance that is maintained over time and with fair use. Quality has a broader meaning beyond the word description from a customer's perspective. The quality of a product is associated with the variability of functionality based on product features and performances.
Df Design for AestheticsThe design lasts over time as styles and colours are classical, and the materials age well.
Df Design for Customisation Products that are easily personalized or customizable offer an opportunity to create a deeper emotional bonding between the user and the product, thus prolonging the use.
Df Design for end-of-use cycle recoveryIf products are part of a service, there may be incentives to return them to the provider after use, avoiding stocks of
obsolete products in households, landfill or illegal dumping.

Circular Design Workshop

Designing waste out of products as part of the 9Rs framework is where the circular economy really comes into play. Visit the Circular Design Workshop page to find out what is covered in this class.

We have a selection of workshops to choose from, starting with our ½ day mini series for busy people or the deep-dive 1 or 2 day workshops. Visit The Nine Steps Towards a Circular Business® to review the current selection of workshops on offer.

Circular Design + Circular Business

The aim of good design is, hopefully, destined for use in our everyday lives. Traditionally products were designed for sale in our old linear economic systems where they were simply products to be used and then discarded at end-of-life. As we move into Circular systems, design now takes on a whole new relationship with business. The design of products has the potential to become the business model.

In the opposite Business Model diagram Circular design principles can be included into almost every stage.

1. In the early stages of product design, the focus is on how durable, repairable, and how easy it is to dis- and reassembly and upgrade.

2. During the manufacturing process, raw materials can include materials recovered for reprocessing through recycling collection systems or returned via reverse logistics.

3. The value proposition of the product to the customer (ease of repair, durable, take-back incentive, etc) can be communicated via a company’s sales and marketing efforts.

The Guidelines for Design

In order to describe a circular product design framework a set of definitions needed to be developed that are all inclusive, fully applicable to product design and with a single interpretation of the terminology used². The Butterfly diagram (opposite) has been adapted from the original Butterfly diagram to be more reflective for Circular Product Design Modelling

Click on the image or text to expand the Circular Product Design Butterfly Diagram

Knowledge Centre


1. “Products That Last – Product Design for Circular Business Models” by C.A. Bakker,‎ M.C. den Hollander, E. van Hinte,‎ Y. Zijlstr, 2014.

2. “A Product Design Framework for a Circular Economy’ by van den Berg M.R. and Bakker C.A.

3. “Circular by Design: Products in the Circular Economy”, EEA Report, No. 6/2017

4.”The Role of Product Design in Circular Economy Business Model” by Andrea Urbinati, Vito Manfredi Latilla and Davide Chiaroni, presented at The ISPIM Innovation Conference, Sweden on 17-20 June 2018