Framing Sustainability in Human-Centered Product Design

Lora Oehlberg, Alice Agogino, Sara Beckman


There is a global imperative for engineers to design sustainable products. However, user-centered designers have repeatedly found that sustainability is not necessarily a widespread user need. Based on user research from a graduate-level product design course, we present findings on how users define and describe sustainability, how sustainability issues interact with user needs, and the tradeoffs and feelings people have when faced with sustainability trade-offs. We also step through a case study of one design teamʼs findings about sustainability, and how it affected the direction of their mission statement and product strategy. Based on these results, we propose a selection of recommendations for how to facilitate the design of innovative and sustainable consumer products.