The Role of Design in Fostering The Lowsumer Consciousness


More than a trend, it’s a matter of responsibility: the challenge of contemporary design is to maintain relevance in a saturated world.

by Fernanda Franco Cannalonga cover image Precious Plastic translated by Carolina Walliter revised by Tracy Miyake

When Mother Nature cannot regenerate as fast as necessary, natural resources become scarce. In this scenario, there is growing evidence that today’s spirit can be translated into the maxim “less is more,” encouraging people to develop the habit of questioning everything they consume. Just as it would be unrealistic to predict the radical extinction of consumption, it is undeniable that new alternatives show it is possible to consume more intelligently.

We call the awakening of this more conscious mindset that extrapolates daily life and reaches industry Lowsumerism. New creators are encouraged by personal needs and perceptions to propose innovations that predict the desires of the future and inspire the traditional market.

These products are conceptually aligned with this emerging behavior to present design solutions that become benchmarks for contemporary identity and aesthetics.

The challenge of design is to maintain relevance in a saturated world. Who needs excess? More than just a trend, it is a matter of responsibility: the European Commission reports that over 80 percent of the environmental impact of a product is determined in its design phase. It is time to come up with new business models, based on an economy that is more aware of the needs and problems that surround it.

The proposals of entrepreneurs

If there is little room inside corporations for noticeable changes and to develop proposals related to this trend, small entrepreneurs can quickly advance test products and focus their efforts on crowdfunding campaigns. Contributors are not simply consumers of innovations. In addition to financial returns, entrepreneurs get an opportunity to build a network that is engaged and committed to disseminating the idea and product improvement.


Three Italian friends obtained the support of 3,827 people to solve an environmental issue generated by disposable coffee capsules. A product that generates waste during production, or that makes consumers produce unnecessary waste, is not in line with the zeitgeist, and therefore is not welcomed by those who want to reduce their waste production. The solution presented by WayCap is a rechargeable capsule that you can fill with coffee purchased in bulk. After use, the used coffee grounds can be poured in flower pots as fertilizer.

Messages to unburden the planet

The brand Stop the water while using me encourages its consumers to save water. The packaging is responsible for the campaign exactly where this precious resource is wasted the most: in the bathroom. The line of products is completely natural and does not contain any artificial ingredients, colors, or preservatives, since these contaminate the water and make reuse more difficult. Recognizing the need to go a step further, the company donates part of their profits to initiatives that bring clean water to communities in need.

stop the water

Conscious citizens, who do not need prodding from brands to change their behavior, question all the processes, from extraction of raw materials to labor, and on to the disposal of products at the end of their life cycle. Distribution processes must also be reconsidered.

Packaging is still seen as an important feature in design because it communicates the intentions of a brand and protects the product,  but its absence can be even more meaningful.

Local retail stores already have noticed a new way of doing business in what is known as “zero waste” behavior. According to Milena Glimbovski and Sara Wolf, founders of the packaging-free supermarket Original Unverpackt, any product can have its size, shape and consistency changed to fit this model. These entrepreneurs encourage reflections on new possibilities of consumption and show paths toward conscious choices. Foods, beverages, cosmetics and toiletry items advertise themselves, because they come in clear containers where nothing is hidden.


Small change, big difference

Dave Hakkens is a young questioner from the Netherlands, and visitors to his website do not take long to realize this. He put his own habits to the test and creates ways to stop accumulating stuff, whether by washing his hair without shampoo or going 31 days without chewing

His latest project, called Precious Plastic, aims to transform plastic waste into something of value. He developed machines to recycle plastic waste locally and shared all the blueprints for free on his website so people around the world could build their own small factories.

“[Plastic is] used everywhere, but also ends up everywhere. Damaging our planet, which is weird. It’s a precious material that is laying around everywhere for free. We could also turn this waste into something new.” — Dave Hakkens

An alternative: repurposing

Although recycling seems a good choice for waste that could end up in a landfill, this option faces severe difficulties such as lack of infrastructure in cities. The recovery of a material by the industry rarely results in a product of equal or greater value than the original. This process is called downcycling. A food packaging usually does not become another food package. The same happens with paper, which loses its characteristics after recycling. The method also uses a lot of energy, which does justify unbridled consumption of recycled products.

The opposite of downcycling is upcycling, which improves the condition of the reused material. This method, which is almost exclusively done manually and on a small scale, is quite common in decoration and fashion.

Comas: marca de upcycling que produz moda a partir de camisas com defeito.
Comas: a Brazilian upcycling that produces clothes from shirts that have flaws making them unsellable.
Edelplast: marca do designer Billie Van Nieuwenhuyzen desenvolve joias com cabos reciclados.
Edelplast: brand belonging to designer Billie Van Nieuwenhuyzen, who creates jewelry from recycled cables.
Tatiane Freitas: cadeira nova feita a partir de uma quebrada.
Tatiane Freitas: new chair made from a broken one.

When responsibility is no longer a part of how a product is made, individual actions become relevant. Buying, using, and discarding became automatic actions among other everyday tasks. Following this line of thought, um an engaged citizen who reflects on these steps is more of a change agent than the conscious consumer. While the former avoids clutter, uses a product for longer and delays its disposal, the latter only replaces one product with its “greener” version in the store. Will we be labeled as conscious consumers or deserve to be called engaged citizens?

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Go further

Design for sustainability

There are many opportunities in people-centric design. The concept of emotionally durable design can increase the life cycle of an item, creating emotional connections through the idea that the product has gotten better with time.

Trash Is Nothing More Than A Design Error

Gonzalo Muñoz Abogabir is the social entrepreneur behind Triciclos, an innovative recycling company in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia. He dreams of a future without waste and believes that trash is actually a design mistake that future generations will not forgive.


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