The Role, Responsibilities and Choices of Product Designers and Buyers

Having trained as a Product Design Engineer, I’ve always enjoyed solving problems, looking at peoples’s needs and designing solutions that meet them, products, services and platforms. Oh and materials, I love materials!

What I soon began to grapple with and question, was the role of design. The responsibility of the designer (or perhaps often lack of), recognising the huge consequences of all the stuff made, marketed, bought, used and well…. quite often, very soon disposed of. Ultimately a lot of this driving the economy.  As a designer you can often end up as a cog feeding this cycle, designing to a tight brief from marketing insight, filling in a gap in a product road map, pushing costs lower and lower to reach the right margin. Designing for a symptom,  not getting down to the root of the problem, the cause (yes moving towards system design thinking).


All this of course is at the expense of our planet, from the resources extracted to the chemicals or materials ending up all over the place, rivers, seas, waste dumps. Yes, we’ve started building up the recycling system to attempt to handle this, but really it’s got a lot of catching up to do. Recycling will not save the planet, it will just slow down the inevitable.

Does anyone else have the feeling that all this stuff, products, waste, is really beginning to accumulate? Where ever you go you see signs of our wasteful lifestyles. The sheer speed and scale of it means it can no longer be hidden or shipped off to far corners of the world.

Alongside environmental consideration, another important area is that of social, people. Who’s behind the product the label, the factory workers, supply and distribution chains. What are the lives like for those living in the area where resources are being mined, trees felled, fabrics dyed and factories churning out our plastic products, electronics.

“How you make your product, what’s behind the scenes, who makes it and what its made from is becoming increasingly as important as the product itself. We need to (and in some cases are) move to a more holistic approach to sustainability”

One benefit of our ever connected, digital, blockchain, mapped and photographed world, is that these elements, some of the bad practices and stories behind them are becoming increasingly difficult to hide. Businesses are moving (or being pushed) to greater transparency.

Alongside this there are a whole host of great examples of businesses beginning to redefine this arena, from tracing and sharing their supply chains, to developing new business models, social enterprises, purpose driven, modular designs and thinking about experiences. I’ll share more specifically on this in another article.

So the good news is that we as consumers, or I much prefer conscious citizens can do a lot to change this (much as sometimes I think governments and large businesses sometimes like to play down……..).

So at number 4:

4. Always Question and Choose for Ethical and Good Design –  Fair Trade, good materials, ethical policies, 2nd hand and support local and independent


The Buyerarchy of Needs - Sarah Lazarovic


I think one of the first questions to really ask yourself is if you really need it. How will this thing, improve your life and for how long?

There’s a great alternative of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ” The Buyarchy of Needs” by Sarah Lazarovic related to this. It also resembles the old waste hierarchy – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (now often expanded on with Rethinking as well as energy from waste, landfill etc).

Another element to the “Use what you have is also fixing and repair, looked at in “Broken Doesn’t Have to Mean Goodbye (1)

“Every time you spend your money you vote for the kind of world you want…..” Anne Lappe


If you’ve looked at my instagram feed at all, you may be aware that I do like exploring 2nd hand shops. If you’re looking for something specific it may be worth going online to the likes of Freegle, ebay or shpock, but a browse and a rummage in the local charity shops (of which Reading has a load), can reveal some lovely finds. The Sue Ryder Duchess of York on Oxford Road has a great bric a brac shelf and vintage and retro boutique at the back, while just along the street there is the British Heart Foundation one that specialises in furniture.

I have to admit I only recently finally made it to Fanny’s Antiques, tucked away just off, its an amazing house and garden full of antiques to uncover. If you’re into antiques then you should also check out a list that Alt Reading put together a while ago.

If it’s more vintage clothes you’re after than there’s Georgina’s Vintage in the lovely Harris Arcade, where you can perhaps also try a hat on or two, a couple of shops down or even the Collectors Centre Reading . Another one to venture to is Frock and Roll on Watlington street.

Alternatively you could also try out LETS. Readings Lending Exchange Trading Scheme that allows local people to exchange goods and services with one another without using money. The currency is called Readies, which, as a rough guide, 10 Readies is equivalent to one hour’s work. I’ve yet to try out the scheme in Reading, but was a member of the London based ECHO time banking and took part and shared some some great sessions with them.


One of my favourite more independent stores I discovered exploring is  Epoch 3 .  It’s always s a breath of fresh air to see the latest local artists wares and upcycled, pre-loved furniture. My sister, who lives up in Edinburgh is the proud owner of a jazzy Giraffe painting that I took up on the train as a house warming gift.

For more upcycling, restored furniture there was also the wonderful Against The Grain, (I’m actually typing this on a bright yellow painted desk from there). The furniture was upcycled in a apprentice training scheme. Unfortunately, they’ve recently had to close for the time being while looking for a new delivery model.

(for more independent insights check out Independent Reading)


Just a few weeks ago Ethical Reading was launched with the aim “to make Reading a better place to live and work”, through encouraging all types of organisations and their employees to make more ethical choices. They’ve already run a number of events to bring people together to share ideas and will also have training resources.

“Every time something is really easy, really convenient then the burden has been outsourced elsewhere…..” Rob Greenfield

From the 26th of February to the 11th of March is Reading’s Fairtrade Fortnight with a host of talks, displays and other activities going on around Reading.

“Our mission is to connect disadvantaged producers and consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and empower producers to combat poverty, strengthen their position and take more control over their lives. Small Changes for a Big Difference​”

Fairtrade Reading

Many of them based around RISC (Reading International Solidarity Centre), home to many green and ethical groups alongside it’s one world shop with a whole host of sustainable and Fairtrade products. It’s a great place to go if you’re looking for a different type of gifts from around the world. I’m a big fan of the books there, especially when looking for lovely children’s books with some great messages.

So with such a range of good options and options for good out there, take the time to slow down, question and make sure your money counts!

Want to join in mapping the organisations, people and campaigns doing some great things to get involved with and support, then share in comments, #ecordguk or just contact me

Stay tuned for tip 5


5 Tips For Supporting Everyday Sustainable Change

  1. Broken doesn’t have to mean Goodbye – Repair, Mend, Maintain, Sew, Knit and Reinvent it!
  2. Get creative with what you have, learn and be inspired by others – Try making your own gifts, or perhaps give or take part in a workshop or events that support this
  3. Try eating and buying more Local, Seasonal, Veggie and homemade – Good for the environment and your tummy
  4. Always Question and Choose for Ethical and good design – Fairtrade, good materials, ethical policies, 2nd hand and support local and independent
  5. Get out, share and connect! There are loads of Community initiatives sharing Knowledge, Spaces, Connecting, creating Tech, Energy and supporting getting out into Nature


This blog originated from involvement with the Open Source Circular Economy days  (#OSCEdays) and an original mapping with participants during Reading Green Fest.

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