Unleashing Innovation and Societal Impact Through Values-Driven Design

These days, people choose brands that not just sell products or services but also have an actual mission in the world.

In the past decade, normative frameworks like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Green Deal have become pivotal in reshaping the business landscape. The shifting paradigm towards sustainability demands brands to embody a holistic commitment to socio-ethical, ecological, and economic values manifesting through their products. 

Embracing these values is not just an obligation; it has become a strategic imperative for maintaining a competitive edge and securing social legitimacy within society. For brands to stay relevant and successful, they must search for new ways how to proactively adapt to these emerging sustainability values and efficiently integrate them into their DNR – products, services, business models, branding, and other processes.

What is Values-Driven Design?

Values-driven design reflects the brand’s internal values that are usually stated in the brand’s vision and mission manifesting via products/services, business model, communication, etc. The emphasis on internal values within a designer or brand serves as the bedrock for pioneering products and services.

The values-driven approach is intrinsically linked to product design, business models, and organizational innovation.

Values-driven design helps to align personal values with the ones instilled in the brand, and by transparently communicating them to users, consumers, and wider society, demonstrate shared values with consumers and the larger purpose of the brand. As a result, it furnishes a broader vantage point—one that encompasses vertical, horizontal, and meta-integration, aligning the normative, strategic, and operational facets of a firm’s management.

It’s imperative to grasp that values-driven products and/or services stand apart from corporate social responsibility, often manifesting as goodwill gestures such as visiting nursing homes or tree planting.

Where to begin with Values-Driven Design?

The initial step involves precisely identifying and defining specific economic, ecological, and socio-ethical values that hold significance for brands. For example, if a social value centers around enhancing the quality of life for senior citizens, it can serve as a wellspring for innovative products and potentially transformative business models.

Secondly, once a brand has identified its core values, it’s important to validate them by engaging with customers. It’s possible that customers may have insights to contribute, leading to valuable adjustments or additions to the brand’s values.

Thirdly, the selected core values should be thoughtfully integrated into the design of products or services. This integration should be seamless, extending beyond aesthetics to include materials, manufacturing processes, packaging, and more. It’s vital that these values are woven into the fabric of the brand’s entire supply chain.

Fourthly, clear communication of these values to customers is essential. They should be integrated into the user experience across various touchpoints.

This ensures that customers not only understand the brand’s values but also feel a tangible connection to them.

Fifthly, consistency is paramount. Once a brand has introduced its values, it should permeate all dimensions of the brand, including the logo, color schemes, design elements, business model, and operational processes. This consistency contributes to the creation of a cohesive and distinguished brand that customers can trust and rely upon.

By following these steps, brands can effectively translate their internal values into tangible design elements, resulting in an impactful and trustworthy brand identity. 

Infused with these values, innovators become not only more steadfast but also more determined to surmount obstacles during the developmental phase of innovative products. 

Such values-driven innovation tends to yield greater success, as it is geared toward addressing specific challenges – for instance, tackling senior unemployment in rural areas or fostering inclusion for individuals with disabilities. Consequently, these values-driven innovations inherently contribute to the betterment of society while also making strides toward environmental well-being.

Which Values Matter?

The domain of values-driven design is intricate and expansive, operating within the realms of economic, ecological, and socio-ethical values.

Economic Values

Economic values primarily revolve around product quality and longevity. To extend the lifespan of a product, brands can offer supplementary services such as repair options. Moreover, a product’s aesthetic and timeless design play a pivotal role in ensuring its durability, shielding it from becoming obsolete due to fleeting fashion trends.

Additionally, contributing to the regional or national economy through job creation and bolstering supply/value chains aids in fostering sustainable industrial growth. A striking example is Italy-based Crash Baggage, showcasing a quintessential case of values-based design.

With their uniquely designed luggage that embraces dents, customers are alleviated from concerns of baggage damage, enabling them to utilize the luggage for a lifetime.

Luggage by Crash Baggage

Ecological Values

Ecological values encompass the preservation of raw materials within product design and manufacturing processes. This involves strategies like resource reduction, cost optimization, efficient waste management, safeguarding finite resources, and transitioning to alternative materials or energy sources.

The selection of materials holds pivotal importance, emphasizing the use of environmentally friendly, durable, pure, and mono-materials. Likewise, sustainable packaging and streamlined logistics are crucial considerations in the pursuit of comprehensive integration of values into a product system. Ultimately, the overarching objective is to contribute to environmental well-being.

This objective is achieved by embracing circular economy principles, which entail the concept of “closing the loop” through the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle. A remarkable illustration of this philosophy is Commune DIY, a skateboarding workshop based in Lithuania.

With a dedicated mission to recycle old, damaged, or unused skateboards, they exemplify a concerted effort to mitigate the substantial waste generated within the industry.

Eye Skate Lamp by Commune DIY

Socio-ethical Values

Socio-ethical values are intertwined with moral and ethical standards, transparency, and traceability throughout the creation and promotion of products or services, for example, being transparent about the composition of materials, and providing information about the supply chain. In the design processes, the application of standards can be an important proof of ensuring safe working conditions, the highest quality of product manufacturing, fair wages, no child labor, etc. 

Moreover, products can be thoughtfully designed to cater to the needs of marginalized social groups. For instance, specialized products can be tailored to address the requirements of the disabled community. A striking example is presented by The Knotty Ones, a brand that not only crafts sustainable knitwear but also empowers rural Lithuanian female artisans while paying homage to the cultural heritage of the Baltic region.

Garment by The Knotty Ones

Distinguishing Values from Value

A salient distinction arises between values and value-given. The important distinction is that values are internal, whereas value-given, or, in other words, profits, usually are measurable in monetary terms that the organization derives from an asset (product, service, etc.). 

Values are intrinsic and foster innovation, guiding the creation of products that resonate with societal needs. Value-given translated into profits, springs from products that encapsulate these deeply rooted values.

How Can Brand Strategy Help to Promote Your Values?

Many brands falter in resonating their values-driven innovations, often due to underemphasized brand strategy. Clear communication, underpinned by authentic brand design, becomes the conduit to bridge the gap between innovation and engagement.

Highlighting these sustainability efforts fortifies connections with consumers and partners, underlining that the quest for innovation also embodies a dedication toward positive societal and environmental impact. In a realm where innovation merges seamlessly with societal and environmental impact, values-driven design serves as the blueprint for a better future.

By interweaving economic, ecological, and socio-ethical values into the fabric of innovation, brands transcend profitability to embrace a higher calling. The journey towards transformative innovation may begin with identifying internal values, but its destination encompasses an entire brand ecosystem and overall strategy that weaves together purpose, design, and the betterment of humanity.

This article was prepared based on the results of the research, which was funded by the Lithuanian Science Council (project No 09.3.3-LMT-K-712-23-0193).