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The proposal of new ways of thinking, being and doing

Design Thinking (DT) methodologies have found their way into academic, professional and amateur environments as a valid and even desirable way of dealing with change.

But what is Design Thinking? It is a process for creative problem solving traditionally used by Designers. What’s special about Design Thinking is that designers’ work processes "can help us systematically extract, teach, learn and apply these human-centred techniques to solve problems in a creative and innovative way” (Interaction Design Foundation).

This process (and its variations) have become an effective methodology for agile, collaborative innovation in various fields. Companies such as Apple, Google and Samsung have rapidly adopted the Design Thinking approach, and Design Thinking is being taught at leading universities around the world, including, Stanford, Harvard and MIT.

Why human-centredness in conservation?

Currently, one of the main characteristics of DT is that it is Human Centred which means that “you’re pulling together what’s desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable” (IDEO). The Human Centred approach helps us to make sure that our solutions will be in fact desirable and understandable by the people we are creating these solutions for.

But human-centredness - as a concept - could definitely be criticised by environmentalists as the wrong approach for conservation. This combination of words sounds really bad for the environment, right? There is actually a movement called Earth-centred Design which tries to make a point about this wording. But, in my opinion as a Design for Sustainability practitioner with more than 15 years of experience, any attempts of using design methodologies for environmental conservation, sustainability or social innovation falls under the umbrella of Human Centred Design. We are, after all, humans, and we design for humans to change behaviours that are not compatible with the limits of this planet. Although Design for Conservation is inherently systemic and holarchical in its approach, the recipients of our ideas are still humans.


In Design for Conservation, humans are yet another species that depend on complex ecosystem balance in order to survive. Humans are parts of a whole, a vibrant, beautiful, incredibly resilient system. If we embrace our humanity, we recognise ourselves as creatures of this planet, honour our connection to it and our role as its guardians.

This is not a new concept or approach. Most ancient, traditional cultures have known that humans are part of a greater whole and that when this connection is lost, ecosystem balance is lot. In New Zealand, The Maori have a word for this: Kaitiakitanga*.

"Kaitiakitanga is integrated with the spiritual, cultural and social life of tangata whenua; is holistic across land and sea; includes people within the concept of environment; is locally defined and exercised; does not focus on ownership, but on authority and responsibility; and is concerned with both sustainability of the environment and the utilisation of its benefits." (source)

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