Towards a Digital Knowledge Base of Circular Design Examples through Product Teardowns


Design of more circular products is key to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 12, Responsible Consumption and Production. However, many designers lack the knowledge and confidence to bring aspects of circular design into their design practices. One problem is the lack of examples on how circular design is implemented in different types of products and their components. In this work, we present a framework to generate a digital knowledge base of circular design examples from product teardowns (product dissections). Leveraging teardowns, a commonly practiced activity among product designers, can allow the knowledge base to include rich and up-to-date design examples and help inspire future design. The knowledge base covers three categories of circular design aspects: reliability, RRU (repair, reuse, upgrade), and recycling. Under each aspect, we generate a comprehensive list of prompts to guide designers to analyze the product and collect circular design examples. A subset of prompts is showcased in a study of a newly released laptop. We also gathered feedback and suggestions for future developments from experienced design practitioners.

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In a product teardown, designers follow these three steps to collect design examples and perform qualitative and quantitative analyses for the creation of a knowledge base:

  1. Analyze the product and choose one or more circular design prompts in six circularity aspects. Commence the teardown process.
  2. Conduct qualitative and quantitative analyses on the product, or its components if specified in the prompt.
  3. Evaluate how the design of the product and its components perform against the prompt and digitally record design examples on the design of the product and its components. For each insight, designers can tag the associated components and list design tradeoffs (see figure at right).

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