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Ep5. From Human-Centred to Planet-Centric Design with Samuel Huber

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In this episode, I’m talking with Samuel Huber. Samuel is one of the leading voices for planet-centric design, design thinking for AI coach, one of the founding members of For Planet Strategy Lab and many other things that we will cover in this session. We will also discuss strategy prototyping, human-centred design pitfalls and how absolutely anyone can create sustainability-focused movements within their organizations.

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Transcript (automated and raw)

 Hey, so this next conversation is gonna be with Samuel Huber, and he’s a planet centric designer. He’s an advocate of us shifting from human-centered into planet centered design, and this is exactly what we’re gonna discuss today. How can we do that? Why is it needed? How can we think as design leaders or product people or technologies of any source in more sustainable ways?

How can we drive the change within our organization, within our teams? We are also gonna discuss how to prototype strategy, how to be also tactical in terms of coming up with more planet centric solutions and with examples and everything in between. And of course it doesn’t have to be said.

If you enjoy this session, make sure to leave a comment down below if your thoughts may be smashed, but like button or share with a friend.

 So maybe let’s start with why we’re here really because planet centric design, I’m sure a lot of people are gonna have their own ideas of what it could mean, but what does that stand for you?

Yeah, I think it helps very much to look a bit where it’s coming from, right?

And what is very prominent right now is human-centric design. Most of us know it, live it every day, and. It’s also a great thing, right before that, we weren’t talking about humans sometimes at all. There were just an afterthought. However, the issue is a bit that we treat human-centered design as if we can optimize for humans forever.

Like almost like we would be in a vacuum. And the issue is a bit, we are not, we’re all on this planet. So we are the human actors on this planet that has limits. And we have to find ways how we can actually design within these limits, and not just for our own values, but also for all the other actors that we share this planet with.

So what Planet Centric Design does is it’s not so much about which materials you use or what exactly you’re trying to get to in the end, right? If it’s circular or not. What Planet Centric Design mostly does, is it’s a perspective. On design that descenters the human. The human is still there, but we’re giving awareness and also voice to all the other actors that are there.

And there are some other human actors, maybe some that we just haven’t included yet because they were not loud enough, like communities or, or cities. But then there’s also a lot of non-human actors like trees or the ocean. Or very important as well. There is some things like an AI or a technological system.

So all of these are actors that play an important role. All of you have met, for example, one of the most influential stakeholders or non-human actors in the past couple of years. It was the coronavirus, right? So this thing messed up every single. Product service that we had but we weren’t really designing for or with it.

But if we would have a lot of things would change, would’ve changed dramatically. So planet centric design then really tries to include these perspectives and it does it in four movements. Just gonna go quickly through them. But the first one is really going from human to planet which means adding these planetary stakeholders and really recalibrating our tools that are called user journey, user persona, user research to hopefully include also the non human elements.

The second one is that we have to move from quantity to quality. We’re obsessed with quantitative measures. We are, there’s people that say, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. I would say on the other hand, if you can’t measure it, you have to manage it. That is exactly where the magic starts happening.

And it’s also this idea why does, so in German, we, we say the cake always gets bigger, right? So everybody retains the same size of the piece. Mm-hmm. But why don’t we just make the cake tastier? Well, we can increase the quality of the cake instead of the size. The third movement is all about thinking in different time horizons.

So a lot of us, we run quarter to quarter or week to week. But if you really wanna be serious about sustainable regenerative solutions, you have to start working across multiple horizons. That also when it, when you realize that actually they can be even profitable. Maybe not in the short term, but definitely in the long term, and maybe already in the midterm.

And the last movement is all about being honest with our business models. So we have to go from market fit to planet fit and what this means that we have to attribute the true socioeconomic cost of things. So not just push everything to the communities where something is built or where the mine happens to be or stuff like that, or to the exploited workers, but to really account for these costs.

But it’s not just cost. There’s also another thing we have to be honest about the socioeconomic benefits that we have. Maybe it’s not just money, maybe it’s other things as well. So recalibrating business models, and that is also really good. Way of going forward. And these are these four movements. They can lead to circular solutions, they can lead to inclusive solutions.

They can lead to very basic solutions that are not so different from what you have achieved with human centered design, but you’re making these trade-offs visible and that is the key and the first step for change.

It almost also allows you then to have, you could structure activities, you could structure the tactics, you could structure your strategy around.

It almost acts like a pillar plus the banding, the buckets where you can put your efforts. Right. And to define things around.

Yeah, very much. I mean, tackling the whole thing, right? Whenever you’re tackling a system, changing a system is hard. And it helps to know a bit what movement am I going into?

Interesting because I’m, I’m sure you started like a lot of other designers, let’s say, or design leaders, researchers as a maybe product oriented designer, and I’m presuming Right.

But, but you started probably from that human-centered lens and kind of you human-centered design approach as I’m thinking. How did you end up with a planet centric kind of, you know, ethos I guess, for lack of a better term?

I’m not like what you would consider a classic designer. Right. I didn’t go to art school or design school. I did communication, science and economics in my undergrad. And then after a wild year in New York where I ended up working for a performance and art gallery and radio station I came back and I went to yeah, which is quite funny.

A leading business school while at the same time being fully immersed in the Occupy Wall Street movement at the time, which was happening outside the gallery all the time. But I went back to this business school and did a graduation program called management Organization Studies and Cultural Theory.

Which really showed the systemic view on a lot of things that are happening on how organizations are really embedded in layer and layers of environments, maybe even multiple ones that they are trying to interact with. And this is a, a first important element, kind of really learning about there is much, much more than just kind of a classic business lens that you can apply to things.

And I was really lucky at that time there was a partnership with Stanford University and that’s where I actually got my design training. So I did the, the OG design Thinking course, the ME three 10 course which for mechanical engineering together with Larry Lifer, a lot of the people there where they just realized that if you bring more people together from all over the world, the course is getting harder and they’re learning more.

And it was very much the case. So I worked with or my team was spread across China, Japan, Finland, and Switzerland. And it just took us a year to come up with a solution to a challenge that was given. And funny enough, the company that sponsored the, the challenge, which was ubs, the big Swiss bank, one of the two big ones that’s still around and bought the other one.

So they asked us to, to set up a future think tank and in the future, think, think tank. One of the things I’m most proud of until today is that initially this was supposed to be kind of a finance think tank, future of finance, but we showed them, or managed to show them quite quickly that it’s way too narrow to think about how finance will be in the future.

And we said as a bank, you’re an organization in the middle of, of society that is kind of connected to all these different parts. Would be much more exciting to see this as a societal think tank.

We were looking into new money, right? It was the, the first type of, of Bitcoin back then. We were looking into new work. Now everybody’s talking about new work, but it really showed me that there’s so much depth in all these topics. And after that, I had to go to so in Switzer we still have military service, which I did for the first half of it.

I would say it takes in the end around 10 years, so you have to go back every year. But when I really started working, I was like, Hey, I need to do something better with my time than sit in a bunker all day. I, I just cannot do it anymore. And so I, I moved on to what’s called yeah, the civil service.

And there I got so lucky and worked for, which is I would say a leading NGO in, in Switzerland working on food safety or the whole kinda mission to, to help sub-Saharan African countries become more entrepreneurial have more regenerative agriculture interiority here. It, that was my first exposure to this whole regenerative thinking.

Exposure to, they called it agro ecology, which is another view. And that really was Also kind of an, an inspiration there, right? To, to see that they also had this approach. They wouldn’t send out people with vaccines against malaria, but they rather said we have to change the small practices so people have to close the puddles that are everywhere.

They should wear nets. And that this, in essence had a much bigger effect than always coming again with the newest technology and drones and whatnot, right? Yeah. And yeah, with these three things pieced together, I think you get pretty close at what was the base to then finally realize, Hmm, it must be more to human-centered design.

It’s fascinating because I presumed wrongfully that your background was more of a product design and that maybe was because, you know, I saw a few things about strategy prototyping. And prototyping itself is, is such a tactile, such a effort where you really try a lot of different things and usually it’s tied to like product design and development.

But it’s fascinating and it sounds like you almost started as a very holistic systems thinker as a default which probably would be quite opposite of what every other designer or researcher today would deal with.

Which kind of leads me to main question maybe of a session you might have read the book by Mike Montero, ruined By Design addressing the challenges of a lot of different lenses, but primarily, I guess the division between like Western world, the different cultures and, you know, different groups of people. And how, I guess if I paraphrase it and summarize it in one line basically the world is exactly how we design it.

Yeah, thanks for bringing up the quote. I really like the, the quote because he also says like, the world works right, the exactly the way. And I really like it that he says, or he uses the, the word working because the thing is quite often we see design way to static as kind of how things are, how the artifacts look that we’re building.

But by saying the world works exactly the way how we designed it, he really implies that design changes behavior. After all. It’s not just the things we put out there, the artifacts, but the much more important part of design is the behaviors.

We are maybe not always so good at really looking. A couple of steps ahead of what these behaviors then kind of what are their, their results or their effects that concern even more people than who actually started using the, the product or the service you designed. So that’s of course one thing where I would challenge him a bit on this quote is it’s this notion that we really have the full agency to design everything so that we are as smart to really say how all of these things come together.

I think more often than not this resonance that is generated by the things that we build becomes its own. Or gets its own agency so it kind of develops further. And if it works in the right way, I would claim it as a designer, I would say this is exactly as I attended it. And if it doesn’t work in the right way, you have people either say, well, our users are stupid, or it’s used in the wrong way.

Right. Then you don’t claim it. But I do think what he doesn’t see is the agency that the things have that we’re actually also designing cuz they have their own agency. It’s not just the designer that has mm-hmm. The agency. And this leads me to, to really wrap it up. It is the big issue that we cannot plan for the whole thing.

We can I mean, you, you mentioned earlier that I come that I may might have come from the holistic view and then went into how do we actually do things? And the reason there really was there is there is a limit to thinking about stuff. There’s a limit to analysis. There is the moment where you have to start putting something out there and learn from the resonance it generates.

So you have to synthesize new knowledge almost. And this is very much also the case in these very complex systems where you have to start synthesizing from what you learn. So the key really is to have these feedback loops in place, how you’re learning, how you’re progressing and how you’re moving there.

How do I guess, set that up? And maybe this is already far reaching to the, almost like a next topic, but my personal challenge has always been, especially when working with trying, I guess, to bring that sustainability or impact into the business discussions and. You know, you just have that much of reach or power or influence within business to do these things.

I guess my key challenge has always been doesn’t matter how small the feedback loops you’re gonna create you know, we still could be kind of sandwiched in, in, in terms of like where you actually address some sort of challenges and solve something or prototype something. It’s still within these boxed in means typically in like commercial setting.

Like what, what, where do you really start with that?

That is, I mean, a lot of organizations are set up in this way because they have to protect the ones found product market fit. When we really think about, if you zoom out a bit now from these questions, why did we even get there in that position is every organization, no matter what size started out as a startup or most of them at least.

And what does a startup do? It’s trying to introduce variants into its practices because it doesn’t really know yet what works and what doesn’t. So that’s why startups are characterized as chaotic or, I don’t know. Yeah, youthful. And, and they fail. Right? And it’s because they have to. It’s, it’s almost like evolution in the biological sense.

You have to figure out which set of practices works and fits. And the moment you hit that moment, that sweet spot and realize, okay, I think we got it. That’s when an organization starts changing, where it starts adding layer and layer of management to protect this thing. And the be the best way to really protect such change is by siloing so, and organizations, and we see it all over.

Right? So this has been kinda identified by other people that these silos are an issue where, where they don’t talk to each other and there are multiple ways how to break that up again, right? For example, Holocracy, where they really try to set that up as well. But if you’re not careful with holocracy, on the other hand, suddenly you have everything organized in circles, but the circles become silos, right?

It’s a very tricky thing. So what you observe is just how organizations stay alive in the short term. And now the trick is to move the question from short term survival to thriving in the long term. And only if we manage to open up this, this per perspective we are given kind of the importance to, to be heard within an organization.

What I’m hearing as well is that a lot of that, I guess planet centricity or I guess impact focused sustainable solutioning or, you know, that approach to kinda creating lasting solutions is tied a lot into resources. So, observably, let’s say a startup who’s maybe ethos has nothing to do with a sustainability or, or something like giving back or bigger impact variable effects.

I think this, this idea of first we have to fix it and then we can start becoming a good company that is regenerative is quite present or prevalent around us, but I do think it’s.

Very outdated. What organizations should do th this day is work on in, in three different temporal horizons at the same time. So really, what are we doing right now in the next couple of months? What are we a achieving in the next two years and that we’re gonna do in the next five to 10 years? And the important part is that the small things you do have to pay into what you want to do in the next two years and the next three years.

Now I like to look at this usually in the form of a, of a vision code, right? This kind, I have two pens here. So it looks like this very simple graph. But what it shows is how further you go into the future or the futures the uncertainty gets bigger, but uncertainty if you rephrase. This is also opportunity cuz you have more ways to change.

Things, right. And so I believe modern organizations today understand that. And even though if they could not live up to the highest sustainability standards from the beginning, they know exactly how their actions today connect to becoming more sustainable in the future if they really find no way to use this.

Because if I’m very honest, the context I’ve been in the moment you manage to see beyond just the short term, you realize that actually a lot of regenerative practices are a lot more profitable, even on the financial sense. But if you get better as an organization to also capture value that is maybe not exclusively of financial value you realize that you’re doing much, much better.

You’re building stronger relationships. You’re building stronger communities around your your organization. You have less fluctuation. You attract much better talent. You, you have a. Kind of customers maybe that really act more as a community and not just as a group of people that tries to go for the lowest price.

So I do believe the, the smartest of the smart startups, they really see kind of this regenerative approach or planet centric approach as a key business tactic from the very start.

Would it be fair to then say that, to be successful at that you as a practitioner or a team or organization, you kind of need to be able to zoom in and out through those timeframes basically still the goal and actual sustainable impact has to be defined beforehand. Like how do you actually manage that? Because, I can also foresee a lot of people listening, let’s say, and maybe they are typical majority are gonna be to say UX researchers, designers, and, and they, it’s gonna make sense, I hope to a lot of them of like what we’re talking about that funnel and those, you know, free buckets of source.

But I’m sure we are gonna struggle to zoom in, zoom out. Like where do they even start? Like how do you actually do that? Do you have any advice or,

I mean, where to exactly zoom in? This really depends on the context, but most people when they’re working in organizations have one huge benefit that is different than three years ago.

And the more organizations I ask if they have sustainability as one of their strategic goals has increased. I don’t know, manyfold. So I, I was looking for this over and over again and thanks to regulation, I mean, this now really is in the European context, but thanks to regulation like the, the green deal and all these things, we have a massive regulation in place on the international level.

Now this is being turned into country law and then also picked up by a lot of the organizations. So the situation as I see it right now is we don’t have to explain anymore why sustainability or regenerative practices matter. That is agreed upon, and it says it quite prominent in, in the strategy.

The big question is to how, how are we doing it? And here comes the interesting thing, right? It’s not just the designers in the silos, let’s call it this way, that are wondering how can I do it? It’s also the managers at the very high levels who, who are now, okay, so we said we’re gonna become more sustainable.

So how are we doing this now? And the, the sweet spot is really finding out within an organization where these conversations are being held and who’s part of that. And in my strategy practice, right? So I moved a bit away from doing design, much more doing strategizing. So really working with organizations and evolving their strategy practice.

And what we’re doing there is also, we’re not just looking at the, the C level or the board, of course that’s also very important, but we have this notion, we call it the entrepreneurial core of an organization. And that traditionally has members of the board and some of the C level, but it can also have other members within the organization that are part of that.

Maybe it’s also a new joiner and she has just joined comes from another company, but, but sees this responsibility over the whole value creation of the firm. So she’s, she’s willing to take this responsibility, or at least the interest, even though she cannot decide everything. She has this entrepreneurial drive to do that.

And identifying this core is the first and most important step. Cuz once you have this core together, this is where you can drive a lot of initiatives from to, to really change organizations.

I feel like it’s quite important to highlight in, in my personal experience as well, when I would want to contribute or shape a bit more sustainable practices. I kind of would have to pull out of my day-to-day scenario to kind of sometimes think bigger, but also change my environment. To allow both more sustainable conversations to happen. Like it’s, it’s extremely hard for individual designers, and I foresee a lot of pushback as well, or comments being like, oh yeah, but day to day we can’t even afford thinking about sustainable solutions because we have business target and single fat nature. It’s almost like a step one to kind of like be able to, to forget the day-to-day demand, but then start reflecting of what’s needed down the road, if I’m hearing that correct.


I fully agree. I mean, creating space, right? And I think you can even do that in a small team.

You can also try to do it really on your own. But you, it needs space. And I said it again, a lot of organizations, this might be explicit or implicit, but they’re not so much interested in everybody. Trying to do different things. Right. So organizations really are machines that try to keep you busy with what you’re supposed to do.

Mm-hmm. Not opening too much of the room. Yeah. So you have to start figuring out how you can hack this system. And some things that I did, sometimes I had to do it right because I started a PhD. I kind of had to get out of the rest of what an organization was doing. That was very easy. I just worked well.

It wasn’t easy to be honest, but I just started a part-time week. And what you realize the moment you do a part-time week is that you’re getting paid less of course, but you have the same output. And I believe a lot of people could really do like a how can I call it, an undercover part-time week where they try to get all the work done in the four days and then use this extra day to really push topics that are important to them.

You can do this alone. Even more fun if you can do it in the team, right? If you have a couple of people having each other’s back and installing things like that, another way you can do it is, or is had changed or it changed. Everything massively for me was saying I have meeting free mornings. I don’t do meetings in the morning anymore cuz that’s when I work productively and my productivity increased so much and suddenly I had time to also tackle these things.

So these are like very small hacks that you can do to make this space because you need that. It really is. Yeah, you

need intent, right? Like you need, you need to kind of decide that this is what I’m gonna focus on. With the businesses who focus on sustainable approach or community building because typically it comes down to like the immediate reach.

Like where can you actually impact? You know, on a sustainability spectrum of source, like you cannot reach the global scale perhaps, but you can do community. It’s always comes down to kind of making a decision and, and making almost like a pillar or a principle level decision that we are gonna do this.

You know, like it has to almost like be, be a start. And I feel like it doesn’t have to be organization or a team, it can be individual as well.

I mean, if, if I can mention one difference I really see between human centered and planet centric design it will be the following.

And interesting thing is actually I didn’t even see that first I was approached by a student writing a master thesis and she just threw this question, or this, this thesis at me and I thought like, yeah, this is amazing. This is exactly what it is. And she told me something like, would you agree that human-centered design puts the responsibility.

To the user or to the single person and planet centric design puts the responsibility to the organization and it’s so spot on, right? You can, of course, always do things on your own, but really then understanding that there is this organizational or systemic level to it and starting to work with that is absolutely key to start moving this as well.

But would that then mean, I guess, a meta change management? Like, you almost then need to create a movement, right? If you’re isolated and you’re in the wrong culture, maybe you are not even gonna be able to.

You have to organize a movement? Yeah, but the good thing is we can really learn a lot from we’re all part of the second big transformation, right? We had the digital transformation in the past 20, 25 years, and I remember when I started out working in design, how much we had to fight just to do interviews at user interviews.

It’s, it’s ridiculous when I think back now, but we had these career tactics, so we would do. Inter interviews of course, but also we would just sneak it in everywhere, sometimes even on our own time because he said, how are we supposed to come up with good decisions if we never talk to these people? And this is just one example, but we, we have gone through this massive transition and a lot of organizations have become much more human centered, which is a really a great thing because before there were not.

So I think we can use a lot of these tactics again to now make them more sustainable. And as I said, I, it’s really good if you start on the small level, but we have to then also very quickly create this movement. And this can come from one department or yeah, maybe also the movement comes from the top level.

The only thing that I see is a lot of people on the, at the top level are desperately looking for ways how to actually pull this off. And currently there’s kind of this disconnect and I would just encourage everybody listening here and wondering, where could I start to find, to start finding disconnect?

I experienced a disconnect as well and it sometimes feels a bit futile too. Which is a bit of a separate topic, but I feel like, you know, most of the people, like maybe I’m thinking I’m always focusing on the things I can control. And I wonder if you have any kind of takes of like what an individual or a team could do to kind of meet those execs and maybe, you know, form this, this better group?

I honestly believe a lot of these initiatives come from various directions. So one is of course the one you set top down, right? That a company has to do something, but some are also more bottom up because it’s actual customers that request something like that. And some come directly from the teams how to find the, the middle ground I already mentioned.

What’s really important is to, to figure out what is the entrepreneurial core of an organization. And if you’re not part of that yet, how to become part, another thing to figure out is what are the strategic goals of an organization? Because if you can argue. Or if you can argue that your actions contribute to that, or if you can put them kind of in line into a, into a chain that lead towards that, it will help convincing C level.

And the third part that really helps is in my opinion, prototyping. So you have to start putting things out there and waiting for the resonance.

When you say prototyping, you mean actual product prototyping or like what, could you give an example of that

so prototyping is pretty much my whole life right now.

Not that I’m prototyping, well actually I’m also prototyping my life, but I have just realized it’s an absolutely fascinating concept because prototypes. It really depends who I’m talking to, right? Sometimes I talk to architects, then to designers, then the chemists and so on. And everybody has a bit of a different idea of what a prototype is.

But I can give you mine, right? So prototypes for us, but often are aifs, I’m gonna call, it can be digital or, or physical artifacts. Now, I think all of these artifacts are material in one hand. So materiality is also quite a, an elusive term. We, we use it in academia to describe things that are not just talked about, but that it have some materiality, which also, again, can be digital or can be really a kind of a physical feel as well.

But the interesting part is much more is not so much the artifacts, the prototype, but actually the connected practice to it, the prototyping. So this activity, and to me successful prototypes have four elements that they achieve. The first one is they are inquiring, so they engage in generative inquiry, which means they generate things to learn more.

And this is very different from how a lot of designers, especially digital product designers, use prototypes. They use these prototypes. Yeah. To prove a point. To convince, to evaluate. Yeah. Yeah. And that is, I mean, that, that is helpful as well. But I think like honest prototyping puts something out there and is very much interested in the resonance that is generated in the new things that come from it.

So it’s inquiring, it’s the first element. The second element is about temporality and how a prototype manages to project a future state into the present. And the interesting thing is the moment we, we project it into the present, we can start discussing it. And we’re not just discussing. In our minds, right?

Because when we just talk about things, we quite often have, we agree on something and then we, we don’t even realize that we actually had very different ideas to start out with. But if you’re projecting desirable future states in the present, we can make them actionable for not just the two of us, but also a lot of other stakeholders.

Some of them have no idea how to build a prototype, but this doesn’t keep them from being able to interact with it and, and give feedback to it. And this is very important, and especially for sustainability challenges where just so many different types of stakeholders are involved. Powerful ones and marginalized ones.

The third thing that happens is oscillation. So prototypes need to be dynamic. What I mean with this on the one hand, if a prototype is too, liquified is what I call it. So it’s too soft, too unclear, too abstract. That’s very difficult for us to resonate, right? It just doesn’t give it a strong enough trigger for us to work with it.

But on the other hand, if it’s fully fixed, it’s boring. It will not live further. It will lose relevance the moment you’ve used it. So what we have to try to do is with crystallizing and liquefying, getting prototypes to oscillate, to change certain layers of a prototype by keeping others stable.

That’s another thing, right? We always think of this is a high fidelity prototype or a low fidelity prototype, but let’s be very honest, there is certain elements in every prototype that are high fidelity in the sense of here we really put a lot of thought in and we know exactly what is happening and low fidelity where we just use it as a frame in order to kind of guide them through.

So I think high fidelity, low fidelity prototypes as kind of a typology It’s not really applicable when we are really looking into it and they just get to the last, and to me most exciting element of prototypes is they are, they have agency, and agency is this concept of they have the power to, to kinda decide how they, how they interact or also they have the agency to, to bring certain topics forward.

And when you think about it’s quite apparent, especially with prototypes when you put them in a testing setting and ideally you’re not selling your prototype cuz you all know that’s not what you should do. But you put them in a, in a testing setting and this is the moment the prototype starts speaking to your testy.

It has its own agency, its own voice, and you’re observing what this prototype is doing. And when you’re lucky, the story of the prototype and your story kind of aligns. But if you’re unlucky, Or personally I would say, if you’re very lucky these stories don’t align and something new is generated because this prototype has agency.

And that to me is some of the most fascinating stuff that happens with great prototypes when also call it prototypes on the loose, right? Suddenly when a prototype kind of starts traveling within an organization and, and you cannot really contain anymore what is happening. So usually it’s not an ideal case, but it’s, it really shows you prototypes are almost like team members.

They’re almost like non-human actors that are part of your team and you can send them off to close that gap that we talked about to convince the C level and to make sure you together with your team have a shared understanding what is really happening here

I love this approach as well, it’s also comes very natural to designers. Maybe they just need to shift that evaluative mindset into generative mindset. And kinda kinda think about this as a starting point, but how do you, I guess, yourself, from your experience, measure the impact to be? I could prototype a roadmap. I could prototype a service blueprint mm-hmm. For a service to be like, like there’s a lot of things you can prototype, but every person who looks at it is gonna have their own ideas.

What that means, you know, from impact wise or outcome wise, like, how do you, I guess, How do you track that? Like how do you even like, you know, tie in those loose ends in the end?

In its essence, your question has this huge challenge of how do we measure non quantitative things, right? And that is a driving question. Also, when we talk about sustainability, because we are just so used to only care about quantitative metrics, we’re, we’re so used to them that UX designers sometimes would interview 10 people and if the flow tested well with eight out of 10, they will say 80% of our users found the button.

And this is like when it breaks my heart when I see this because it takes all the beauty we have and qualitative research and all the insights we get out of it and pretends to be quantitative. And it’s, it’s just a dangerous practice. But I’m not even blaming the designers so much. I know that this is one of the, the main ways that they are heard.

Right? On the other hand, if you go a bit further, it’s also the reason why we are all suffering from carbon tunnel vision, right? Because carbon equivalence is rather easy to calculate in a quantitative way, and that’s why everybody’s just interested about. Carbon numbers really with the tunnel vision and leaving everything else out Yeah.

Of the picture.

I started this, this session with a quote from Mike Montero, or not a quote, paraphrasing him. Really? Because it’s a whole book of Iran, you know, about how designers basically ruined the world in unintentionally because you’re being kind of put in, in your thing and again, you’re kind of have your blinders.

Maybe it’s about carbon blueprint maybe, or some other kind of measure, and you are chasing it and you’re not thinking kind of openly . But if you listen to , or observe the likes of, you know, the big tech clan, Elon Musk I think infa stated that we, we long reached the point of no return in terms of climate change or, or sustainability goals or, you know, anything which we could kind of push back. Have we reached that point of no return? Are we just doing basically damage control now?

I hear this point a lot, right? The good thing is when doing planet centric design, the planet will most likely survive.

But it would be a very different planet and it’s, yeah, it’s not really the point of planet centric design, right? When I talk about the planet, I’m thinking of. As we have it today, or a better version of that. So I don’t really go into to me it’s a very technologically driven discussion saying like, yeah, we messed up already anyway, there’s no need in now caring for it.

Because when, when there has been one thing that the planet and also even our species have been kind of famous for, it’s how we adapt to new circumstances and how we, how we can work with that. So I have a much more optimistic view, even though the times are extremely challenging and I really hope that more and more people wake up to this and I get a bit sensitive about all this. Or another thing that I hear often as well, in 20 years we will have synthetic or chemic recycling. So there’s no need to now build up these structures to recycle. We will be able to split up everything into molecules anyway very soon.

It’s another thing or carbon capture, right? So we’re just gonna suck it all out of the air. To me, these are all excuses and I’m more than happy if they become true. But we need to do things now. And the, one of the most massive things that we can do really now is change the practices and how, how we design and build products that then have further practices or behaviors of, of people.

So that this is really, to me, the main. Anchor point where we have to kind of hook into and work with it because there is, there is opportunity to change something there. There is so many inspiring and super motivated people trying to push this young and older ones. And I think this is really just the main mission or challenge we have as our society right now.

And everybody who wants to chicken out feel free. But I’m happy to push with the other ones that remain in the boat.

And I don’t think they’re chicken out. If anything, they’re just. Doubling down on the methods field or the know, you know in a way there is a lot of that, again, human-centered design legacy where, you know, we, we are thinking about specific person’s needs in a very commercial setting, but not necessarily about the community as a whole or what knock on effect that is down the road.

Typically, let’s say a designer is gonna think about sustainability, but think about that end goal, you know, which you mentioned already. And they’re gonna think, oh, I’m just gonna design this app, which is gonna allow you to track the carbon footprint. Or I’m gonna design you an app for, let’s say, I don’t know, managing of a charging stations or, you know, your car battery or something along those lines, which is basically gonna be.

A widget or an add-on tool on top of this bigger service, which really has a bigger impact than, you know, various supply chains and the energy system and the grid limits and a lot of other factors basically, which we don’t really design for. We, we kind of think that may be driven with a human-centered approach because we think it’s gonna make my life easier, so it’s gonna make someone else’s life easier.

And there’s gonna be two people, and then foreign you know, 20 and so forth, and there’s gonna be thousands. But it doesn’t mean that it’s, I guess, you know, it’s the right thing to do. In my head at least. And I know you, you starting the for Planet Strategy Lab as a, a guess an initiative or, or I guess a helping hand for businesses who would need that type of thing, but like what is the ethos behind it?

Like what are you trying to actually achieve?

Yeah, so we talked about a lot of things today already, right? So how human-centered design. It’s really grounded in this, in this ethos to optimize or maximize value for humans. And I think this is also really the issue with human-centric design because we see this in a very quantitative sense.

And I do believe there is still growth possible, but I think we should do this on much, much more of a qualitative way or qualitative dimension. And this is where the for planet strategy lab comes in, right? You already have it in the name. We’re trying to move organizations from a for profit model to a for planet model.

Now, this doesn’t mean that they all go broke in this process. Not at all. But what we’re trying to, to work on with these organizations is directly on their value creation. So we’re prototyping with board C levels the entrepreneurial core and even their context to figure out. What is it if their value creation is optimized for planet and notfor profit?

And it’s quite fascinating work because it’s, it adds so many layers to how organizations understand themselves who they are talking to, right? It’s no longer just the customers, but we map the whole set of planetary stakeholders that they have. And it’s quite inspiring work, at least for me, because I really see there is so much potential in doing this.

And it’s overcomes this, this growth imperative that you always have to get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. And it really focuses on quality. How can we be a quality company, a quality organization, a quality institution? Because there is enough for all of us, right? We’re still throwing away.

Don’t have the exact numbers, but I, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re throwing away a third of the food already. So it’s not about growing more food. It’s also there is enough room in cities to have organizations here to really work with that. The issue is much more that we have just these huge companies that take away from all the, the smaller ones and then not really distributing this again in the communities, but distributing it to just their shareholders, which is a very small group.

So the goal is really to start creating value for many and not just for few. And the interesting thing with the for Planet strategy Lab is we’re not an ngo. We’re also not a charity like we wanna be proper entrepreneurs, which is why this is Kinda set up as a limited company, I believe it’s called in English.

So we have shares, we have a board, we have don’t have a CEO yet. But we have all these classic structures in there because we wanna approach old organizations we work with at eye level. And we wanna prove that actually with such a regenerative business model that we ourselves have you can really create value,

for So in a, in a way you are prototyping Yes.

Your business. Yes.

I mean, not in, not only in a way like we, this is our approach. We, we started working on this a year ago and it came a lot from the academic side, right? So this lab is situated between science and technology university kind of a business university and an arts university.

But at the same time, Not officially part of those because we’re this entrepreneurial organization, or actually we’d like to call it an experimental organization. And there’s a few things that, that are a prototype, right? So for example, in our, in our contracts, it says our shares, they don’t grow in value, which is a ridiculous thing to do when you found a company and, and actually test this in there.

Another thing that we have is whenever you hold chairs, you have to contribute as well with your work, with your network. And with this, we kind of have this ownership really closely together. And the third element that makes this for Planet Strategy Lab special is we have two sites. We have the enterprise, which is the, the body that manages all the projects and the the research projects and so on.

And we have the club as we call it, which is a community of. People we try to really optimize for intergenerational to optimize for also diversity, but really on kind of a lot of dimensions. So really seeing that we have a lot of opinions in there. I think the main thing that you need to bring is you have to be willing to discuss and debate.

We love strong opinions as long as you’re not shouting them. This club also has a share in the enterprise and kind of makes sure that we never really changed this, this really ethos that we’ve given ourselves to work there. What we’ve done, it’s really a fascinating organization that, that has the, the approach to.

Or the kind of the ambition to attract the best people. And I know the best people, they’re worth their money, so we want to be able to really also pay people the money they deserve. Again, they’re not a charity, so they’re really, really smart people working on the most complex topics that decided not to just work in a large organization, but really take this entrepreneurial risk to work in that.

And we wanna get them together to work on problems that we don’t even know how to solve them yet. And yeah, it’s a prototype.

That’s fascinating. What sort of, I guess, clients do you anticipate to have, just out of interest? As you were talking about it, I could see a few kind of big brands and technology houses kind of flash up in my mind to which would be like

forward as we really also have this kind of art part come in?

We always said we want to work with the avant-garde of organizations. So the avant-garde movement, right, was the most progressive organizations. So what we’re not doing is convincing you that sustainability matters for you. We’re working with organizations that we talked about a bit earlier where maybe they already have it in their strategy.

The top management is interested, people in the body of the organization are interested, but they don’t know how to get it together. And these are the type of organizations and the industries can be quite vast. So currently we have a project running, which is very fascinating. It’s in the educational space.

I cannot say so much about it yet because strategy is always a bit tricky topic, but it’s really all over Europe, multiple universities coming together, working on their 10 year strategy, on how education should. Kind of evolve given ai given our, our crisis, given the, the new way we are, we’re working and this is one thing that we’re doing and we are really using planet centric design, or at least planetary perspectives to have a broader approach to such a strategy process.

Then other projects that are, that we’re currently planning to set up are more in the construction sector. That’s a bit of a favorite of mine. Not that I’ve had so many ties to it, but it’s just so many emissions that emerge from that sector. So I just think the leverage there is massive.

Another one is finance financial sector where we’re working with, and then also of course various startup companies that we’re looking into. So it’s really broad and actually I’m always happy to work in a sector that I haven’t really worked in before because it doesn’t matter so much about. The actual contents that these organizations are in, it’s much, much more of how they can then adapt and transform their value creation.

You don’t have to know that sector. Well, of course you will. I’m sure you know, as every, you know, if we would take typical design project, you kind of need to become like a subject matter expert before you start a project.

Exactly. And, and I always recommend people to kind of like, oh, if you are gonna engage with a new client, doesn’t matter what the project is, you’re gonna need to read books, read reports, read everything. We can give you basically watch videos before you even start talking to the client. It sounds like you are basically taking that planet centric approach and then, Going on a, on a, basically on a prototyping journey with the actual company, whatever we do, right?


Because the, the last thing we want to be is just a consultancy that says, look, this is our five point plan. And then you’re agile because we, I mean, that’s where the research side also comes in, right? So it’s really this combination of practice and research because on, in, on the research side, we learn everything is very contextual and situated.

But researchers generally just observe. They don’t really engage. Whereas consultancies on the other hand, they don’t really observe anymore. They just apply kind of what they know could work or what they learn from another context and so on. And we’re trying to be in the middle of these, of these two to really, first we engaged on a, kind of an experiment on a research journey together with the organizations to then start prototyping.

How all of this works, and we really gather all the people from our network. So we work with artists as well, right? With musicians, with theater people who really give a different perspective onto what has to be discussed. And I was a bit, well, I wasn’t skeptic in the beginning, but a bit afraid that it wouldn’t work out.

But it turns out that it’s really adding so much value to these discussions because it just gets people into a different way of collaboration, which is so much needed for these very, very challenging topics.

Yeah. And it sounds like going back to, you know, maybe more of a human-centric roots and design thinking, you are applying a lot of those methods, right?

Like in a way it’s just that the things you are looking at or who you are actually engaging with are different, and that’s where you get a lot of that good stuff happening

Absolutely. I said, not a classically trained designer, but the methodologies, the mindsets I apply, they’re inspired by the designerly ways of thinking and, and doing by a lot to a large extent, right?

This understanding of iteration, how you have a design process, how you go very much in the problem space. I don’t call it the solution space, but more the answer space cuz I always think there is multiple answers and not just this one solution, but there’s all these things that I take from that practice.

And I really also wanna encourage designers to, to be aware, right? Of how, how meaningful and how valuable their, their practice is. And at the same time, I observe a lot of designers again thinking, oh, I can do everything kind of, or I know about everything, which is also not the right way to approach this.

Because there’s also people in finance, marketing, even sales, right, that know a lot, but it’s it’s a different type of knowledge. So I’m really a bit against Blaming your stakeholders all the time for not understanding things, which is quite common practice among designers, right? Yeah. Blaming the stakeholders and at the same time claiming a seat at the table.

That’s not, that’s not how it works.

No, no. You kind of need to realize where, where to push and where to pull.

You’re never, in the end of the day, a hero like you did a lot of inputs. One of the things I wanted to kind of run past you really quickly was the recent introduction of design councils Double Diamond 2.0, or what we call the systemic design framework, which I’m sure you’ve seen. It’s really just the same double diamond with, you know, a couple of circles and kind of like surrounding elements of leadership trust building. Basically the software size, the systemic thinking and kind of holistic approach to things. Is this kind of like a step towards us taking the existing toolkit and becoming a bit more. Effective or bigger thinkers in a way, maybe not planet centric yet, but what are your thoughts?

I think it’s a step in the right direction. And at the same time, this step really also shows the, the challenges when going in that direction, right? Because there is a well established design practice that does what we actually have to do.

It’s called systems thinking or systems design. Now, the problem with systems design is it’s extremely complex and you have to be a systems designer to talk about it to others about it, right? That takes away one of the biggest achievements in my opinion, that human-centered design design managed to do, or especially kind of its exceptional design, thinking of democratizing design process in a way that a lot more people can take part in it.

So what it has resulted to, I haven’t used a new version of design council’s process so much because I much more rely on kind of the underlying ideas of, of the classic double diamond process, which to me has the biggest issue that the feedback loops are not as clear. And I also think in the new one, they’re still not, not so clearly in there.

And I, the discussion then to me was much more, yeah, where do they have these additional elements from now, right? So they, they must come from somewhere, but are these really all of them? And that’s the question you always have when you zoom out. Are we now targeting all these elements? So the short answer is, it’s a step in the right direction, but I think it hasn’t fully solved yet.

How we then act with with the increased complexity that comes with such a process.

I feel like also maybe it’s quite ambitious to come up with a framework which solves it all, or, or solves the challenges at like emerging tech level too. Like if you take something like the rise of AI systems all the different developments there are just about innovation and innovation in tech realm. On that note, like what are your takes and I’m sure as you’re now dealing with a lot of clients, AI and chat gpt, like interaction and values is probably one of the things which just is like a stimulus, kinda like we need to have this sort of, have a version of it.

Like how does that look like in that context?

That’s an interesting question, right? I, I mean, disclaimer first is I’m a big fan of Gardner’s hype cycle. I dunno if you know that one where things really overshoot at first, then there’s the backlash, and then at some point they plateau again. And that’s where the real value is created.

That being said, I’ve been in, I mean, we, we make it seem like AI is such a new thing right now, right? The LLMs are to some extent a new thing. I get to that in a in a second. But what’s interesting is, I mean, we have a lot of these machine learning systems, which actually prefer as a term still. Around us and we’ve gotten very much used to them, right?

It’s in our, on our social media feeds when we go shopping when we use, yeah, I dunno, mapping apps. It’s, it’s all there already. The one thing that I realized really changed a lot was not so much technological change, but a change of, of context or kind of the experience because when, I mean, I am part of a teaching team of the course design thinking for AI at the University of Saint Gallen, and we’ve been running this course for, I think it’s in the third or fourth year now.

And just observing the progress of AI through that course has been quite interesting, right? So what really happened last fall was that suddenly these quite complex systems suddenly were available to the students. They could have done it before, right? You need some Python skills and so on. And you could have used these, these methods already.

I, for example, also remember, must have been before the pandemic where I saw a tweet where a large language model, I think wrote a text in the style of Charles Dickens based from the first phrase or something like that. I was blown away. I said it to all my friends and the resonance was not that great.

But what really happened with chat G P T now is that it’s not the technology, it’s the interface. It’s how we can use it in a chat interface and suddenly interact with it. And this is the big difference that really showed people how they can start using it and also allowed them to prototype themselves what they can use this thing for.

And it’s been ongoing until now, right? A lot of people realized what it can be used for, what it not can be used for. And you mentioned with innovation that this happens a lot, right? So. Yeah. A couple years back we had to talk about blockchain, then the metaverse, then ai. So that’s really the hype cycle that always goes.

This is just how the marketing departments of the big consultancies try to push these topics all the time. But what really helped me was to understand there’s two dimensions. Two innovation. One is the technological one, and the other one is a societal or experiential one. So when you look at ai, there has been this development, but what really moved it into top right corner was when the chat interface was introduced.

Or to give another example, QR codes, they’ve been around for a long time. I used them in my keynotes as an example of stupid technology. Right. And I had pictures of QR codes in airplane magazines, which made no sense. I cause don’t have internet. I had pictures of. Yeah, just all these bad uses of QR codes and then the pandemic happens and WeChat in China, right?

And suddenly cure codes are everywhere and, and we’re using them daily. So it’s not the technology that changed, but really the context it was in and the context dimension to kind of kind of thread this back to design practice again, is really where designers can be most active. Taking this technology is making sense of them and putting them in context like that.

And that’s what’s happening with AI right now. Personally. I love it. I love, I’m a very curious person. I’m playing around with it. I use it for quite a few things. I also realize quite quickly what it cannot do, but there’s one thing that I really like doing with it and it’s I ask it to kind of ha you have to prompt it first, right?

So I would say like, Hey, you are a tree in Berlin. What are your jobs to be done? Your pains and gains. And it will answer and it will answer in the perspective of a tree. And it’s such a fun practice to do and I wouldn’t rely on it and not do any further research. But imagine you are in a setting, yeah.

In a workshop, and you can actually have your people interact with the trees and the street that are there. You can interview a tree. And that is really fascinating. If you use it knowing that yes, most of this data is human generated and so on. But if you use it mostly for the value of the interaction and giving kind of a sense and empathy to, to these trees outside the office, then I think it’s a great practice to do.

And we couldn’t do that before.

This has been a very interesting session. I learned a lot and I’m sure the audience did too. How can someone find more about you?

You can direct audience to for planet strategy lab.com. We’re just about to launch the website, so that is one good starting point if you wanna know what we’re doing there.

I have also under my name, Samuel hoover.ch, which is the Swiss ending. Also a small. More of a link list and also reach out on LinkedIn. I mean, I’m always very happy to, to have these discussions and to kind of dive into further discussions if something triggered you or you don’t agree with something or you very much agree with something.

I mean, that is the, the beauty of these open formats and I’m more than happy to hear from you.


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