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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Thum, Ph.D., CCXP

From CX Basics to CX Brilliance: Why Circular Design is a New Must-Have Skill for CX Pros

Updated: Mar 8

Customer experience (CX) professionals have complex jobs.

In the C-suite, they carry the torch for customers while balancing what is best for the business. They champion policies that make customers’ lives easier.

They meticulously craft touchpoints intended to satisfy and delight customers.

They collect and interpret customer experience data from various sources to map experiences and help employees better understand customers.

At the same time, in day-to-day practice, CX pros are under continuous pressure to deliver value to their organizations. The type of value that rises to the C-Suite.

Sometimes the expectation is to support an increase in sales. Sometimes it's to support marketing efforts. Other times it's to help manage the organization's political, business, and operational risk.


The pressure. Is always. On.


Adding value as a professional in any field often entails upskilling. For CX pros, the core competencies are customer insights and understanding, strategy, metrics and measurements, culture and accountability, and human-centered design or design thinking.

But what I have noticed is that there's a new rising star on the advanced CX skills horizon. That skill is circular design.


Enter Circular Design


Research suggests growing connections between circularity and CX. A recent study noted that customers who strongly believe in sustainable living may even pay extra for your product to live up to their values. These customers are often called LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) and are believed to be early adopters of sustainable products and green businesses.

Research suggests circularity factors into the experiences and expectations of a growing number of customers who strongly believe in sustainable living. Customers want to love your product and feel good about its environmental impact. And they may pay more.


Circular Design: What Is It?

Think of circular design as an extension of human-centered design. Both approaches seek to understand and meet human needs.

Traditionally, human-centered design excels at understanding human needs with a product while a customer possesses the product.

Circular design involves considering, through an environmentally conscious lens, materials used during a product's entire life cycle, from cradle to disposal. Longevity, recyclability, reparability, and responsibility are essential.

Circular design goes beyond a product or service to consider the business cases, the supply chain, production, and delivery systems that go into creating the product or service. Redesigning, reusing, repairing, recycling, and composting materials and products are all parts of the broader circularity topic and circular design puzzle.

Circular design shifts from a traditional linear, take-make-dispose mentality to one emphasizing minimal (or preferably no) waste and pollution.

One common application might be a food maker's selection of biodegradable and compostable materials when creating or choosing packaging. Seaweed-coated food containers that disintegrate safely after use, instead of single-use plastics or styrofoam, would be a specific example.


Adding Value

Circular design's connections to human-centered design might seem apparent to many. Most CX pros understand how human-centered design connects to their work in a fundamental, traditional sense.

Circular design can lend itself to adding new value to the C-suite. New and quickly evolving regulations demand more circularity from businesses. A growing number of companies must take heed or pay.

Maybe you've seen media coverage of tons of plastic bottles and discarded clothing in landfills.

The regulatory landscape isn't okay with that anymore because managing waste is costly for governments and their taxpaying citizens.

Maine and Oregon, for example, are implementing laws that shift financial responsibility for waste creation to waste producers. Companies must pay fees based on how much packaging material they put into the market. France's anti-waste law takes a similar path. Meanwhile, several U.S. states have altogether banned certain packaging materials.

Patagonia, IKEA, Intel, and Asos are a few companies working to accelerate their commitments to circular design. The supermarket, apparel, textile, and electronics industries appear to be at the forefront of embracing circular design as a way to attract customers, satisfy regulators, and live up to their own corporate values.


Suppose you'll spend some time upskilling this year. Circular design may be a winning path for learning. There's an opportunity to become a catalyst for creating synergies between customer experience, society's changing expectations, and environmental consciousness. Customers' purchasing choices increasingly consider corporate responsibility.

What CX pros bring is an innate understanding of keeping customers in focus and a foundational understanding of design. Ultimately, all companies are businesses; every business needs customers for economic success.

Here are some learning resources I've found to be beneficial. Feel free to share the circular design books, videos, courses, and resources you like. Also, note your own experiences of building a repertoire of advanced skills.


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