Environment-centered design for content strategists

The pandemic has affected the life of countless humans. Just a few weeks ago, everything changed literally within a few days. It should not have been a big surprise to our human species (Bill Gates and many scientists were raising awareness for an upcoming pandemic since years). Despite of the origin of the virus, we are continuing to exploit the earth’s resources.

During our studies at the Content Strategy Master programme of FH Joanneum Graz we mainly discuss user-, human- or customer-centered design. And that’s a great thing! We are putting humans first and not businesses or money first.

However, some days ago I’ve stumbled upon a very interesting medium article by Monika Sznel with the title “The time for Environment-Centered Design has come“. To my mind, it’s a must-read for every (aspiring) content strategist – not only during lockdown.

A new view on design

Environment-centered design can be considered as the next iteration of human-centered design. It’s actually addressing our planet’s needs holistically without loosing the focus on humans.

Monika Sznel has built the following definition:

Environment-centered design is an approach to product or service development that aims to make products or services environmentally, socially and economically sustainable by focusing on the needs, limitations and preferences of target human audience and non-human strategic stakeholders. It involves knowledge and design techniques developed at the intersection of human-centered design, usability, ecology, and sustainability science.

Consequently, the approach involves both human and non-human stakeholders. As content strategists we are also designers, at least to some extent. And as designers of products, services, experiences or content we (should) have a responsibility.

Shift towards non-human stakeholders

In the future, we should take this responsibility towards our environment more seriously. This means, thinking of all the “stakeholders” like plants, ecological systems, animals and many others.

To my mind, this doesn’t mean that we have to stop seeking growth. I’m a huge advocate of the growth mindset and a strong believer that we as humans will get better. But it’s time to take the sustainable route instead of the “growth at any cost“-route. It’s time to think holistically and in a sustainable manner. This also implies that we as content strategists have to change our toolset – for example, from buyer personas to non-human personas.

Our impact on planet earth

To start, you can simply think of all the non-human parts that will have an impact on your work (and life):

  • Climate change (rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, etc.)
  • New viruses (COVID-19 will very likely have an successor)
  • Shortage of natural resources (like food but also oil)

Our activity as humans has an influence on the environment and that’s why it’s no enough to think human-centered. At least, we have the responsibility to minimize the devastating effects.

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