The Next Evolution in Design: From Experience to Purpose

Doing good for society and the planet

Chemistry at PvKO, sharing about the shift of Design from experience to purpose.

In recent years, there has been a shift in the way businesses approach customer experience. Instead of focusing only on providing a positive experience for customers, companies are now seeking purpose-driven value propositions. This shift is driven by consumers’ growing awareness of our lifestyles’ impact on the planet. Smart companies are the ones able to connect with their customers in new ways, doing good business by doing good for society and the planet.

Every organisation must deal with increasingly critical consumers and activists who demand that companies take accountability for their environmental responsibility. 

In 2021, a civil court in the Netherlands ruled in a landmark case against oil giant Shell to reduce their CO2 emissions by 45% in 2030 compared to 2019. The environmental organisation, Friends of the Earth (FoE), brought forward the case alongside six other bodies and more than 17,000 Dutch citizens. Between activists like Greta Thunberg and more extreme groups like Extinction Rebellion, organisations, brands, and even governments are under increasing pressure to be ‘clean’.

The scrutiny of large corporations is not new. Be it Nike’s child labour factories, Nestle’s palm oil deforestation or McDonald’s animal welfare concerns, resolving these poor business practices is no longer a differentiating point.

A meaningful value proposition helps build customer trust and loyalty.

Leading by Example

At the same time, customers are voting with their wallets and are willing to pay more for products and services from companies that align with their values. Employees are switching jobs in search of more ethical employers. Both require brands to lead by example and establish a standard — setting a vision and purpose that goes beyond the everyday material needs their products and services seek to meet, particularly not one driven by unbridled consumption. 

An excellent example of a company in this category is Patagonia. Its founder, Yvon Chouinard, created a specially designed trust and a nonprofit organisation to ensure that all of Patagonia’s profits — about $100 million a year — are used to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land worldwide. Going beyond the attractive Design of their apparel or their seamless retail experience both in-store and online, buying an item from Patagonia is now anchored in their newfound ‘raisons d'être’.

One of the key benefits of a purpose-driven value proposition is that it helps build customer trust and loyalty. When a company is transparent about its mission and values and consistently acts in alignment with them, customers are more likely to trust and support the company. This includes everything from their products and services to how they treat employees and engage with the community.

Another notable example is Danone. In January 2022, Danone became the first and only top 10 branded food and healthcare manufacturer in the UK and Ireland to have all its operations B Corp certified. How Danone communicates this and attaches it to customer value will be vital to shifting consumer behaviour to prioritise their products over the competition.

Visitors of the PvKO Winterfestival play the card game BossUP!.

The Role of Design

Design also plays a crucial role here. At the beginning of the 20th century, Design was a means of creating increased consumer desire through aesthetics. A 100 years later, Design has evolved to encompass function and operations, acting across the entire value chain to deliver ‘seamless brand experiences’. In this context, Design has become complicit in helping brands deliver products and services in convenient and attractive ways at evermore affordable prices. 

One of the global success stories in harnessing the power of experience design is IKEA. From the attention to detail and practicality of their furniture to the aroma of the meatballs wafting through their retail stores, everything at IKEA has been designed to prolong your visit and keep you spending more. But IKEA’s story is also changing. The iconic brand now focuses on Healthy and Sustainable living. Their website says, “We are committed to creating products and services that inspire and support people to make positive lifestyle changes, consume in more circular ways, and live better everyday lives.”

Applying insights from design practice is an ideal tool to ensure that all your target groups embrace the new way of thinking and acting.

The evolution of Design

We see the next evolution happening now, where Design is helping to orchestrate the alignment needed for organisations to reinvent themselves. Whether through new products, business models, communication strategies, or internal processes and procurement policies, the change needs to cut through the silos. 

Beyond the logistics of business operations, such transformation is a challenge on a human level — changing mindsets and enrolling teams in new ways of thinking. The framework and insights of Design practice are inherently ideal for this, rooted in understanding user needs, both employees and customers alike, through empathy and openness to ambiguity and experimentation.

According to a report by McKinsey, the sustainable and regenerative economy has a market potential of $4.5 trillion. In short, taking a long-term perspective and prioritising the well-being of society and the environment is good for business. Companies prepared to take bold steps to transform themselves into more meaningful organisations will emerge stronger and more relevant. Finding purpose will not only sustain them as a business but create more profound value internally and externally en route to a more sustainable planet.


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