In his annual letter to fellow CEOs, Laurence D. Fink recently made a memorable appeal. The director of the world’s largest investor Blackrock indicated that he would be shifting strategy and avoiding companies that present a high sustainability-related risk. Fink also encouraged others to reconsider their own operational management: “Awareness is rapidly increasing.”
Meaningful actionLarry’s letter is a sign of the times. Consumers and employees are no longer satisfied with empty-purpose marketing. People are demanding action. The pandemic has created a time of reflection and brought topics like climate change, discrimination, and social inequality to the fore – Joe Biden made these issues the main themes of his presidential term for a reason. Faith in a market that will automatically repair everything and ensure a proper balance is declining, especially among younger generations.
Companies are therefore being confronted with their involvement and actions. They face an outspoken generation that demands purpose-driven wellbeing economics, with products and services that make a positive contribution to the wellbeing of individuals, the level of inclusivity in society, and the sustainability of the larger ecosystem.
Responsibility as a factor of successDigital companies are no exception. Although there are obviously still discussions about the power of big tech, their polarizing effect, and their monopolization of the internet, digital development also has an impact at the more concrete level of companies and products in the immediate vicinity. By not taking responsibility for society and the planet, these firms risk damaging their reputation and sales as well as the loyalty of customers and employees alike.
As my colleague, Cecilia Scolaro recently put it: “Responsibility is the new customer experience.” In other words: companies who take responsibility will be more successful than those who focus on customer experience alone.
Digital boostA major role in the transition to a purpose-driven economy lies with digital makers, agencies, and consultancies. These businesses increasingly work in equal partnerships with clients and therefore have a direct impact on what is considered a good and successful product. Although this sometimes involves an entirely new business model and sometimes ‘just’ a touchpoint, they can take responsibility and generate a positive impact at every level.
Inclusiveness, wellbeing, sustainabilityAs we see user-friendliness become more commonplace, issues such as (digital) accessibility and inclusiveness are gaining momentum. Many business models and services are still based on the average individual’ and don’t take sufficiently into account the indirect impact on the local community. This only serves to widen the gap between rich and poor, between participating and non-participating individuals in society.
To improve inclusiveness, agencies and consultancies should include accessibility principles such as WCAG and progressive enhancement in the development process. This entails everyone trying their best to make the essence of the product or service usable for the broadest possible group and to identify and minimize the impact on vulnerable groups. Including these groups in the design process and user research can not be optional.
The themes of wellbeing and sustainability can also be positively impacted via digital means. For example by designing in such a way that users require minimal screen time and by embracing the principles of calm technology. Generating insight into the environmental impact of the available choices within the user interface can also contribute to behavioral change.
At the same time, makers should critically assess their own footprint. For instance, retailer Organic Basics developed a manifesto and a low-impact version of its webshop to reduce CO2 emissions. This was developed in such a way that it consumes as little energy as possible. When you realize that only 11 percent of the nearly two billion energy-consuming websites are actually active, you will think twice before adding one more. Just as product designers increasingly take into account the total lifecycle and circularity of their products, digital designers could shift their mindset too: when does a website reach its end-of-life? And what happens then?
Shift? It sounds more complex and more utopian than it really is. What you need as a product company or as a consultancy is to establish the right objectives and metrics. What gets measured, gets done. It translates a vision, intended positive impact, or purpose into a structural part of a company’s main processes.
When increasing wellbeing is one of the main company goals, a first step may be to start mapping screen time. This is followed by a stage of reflection: how necessary for success is it to have users spend more time looking at a screen, or are there other ways to provide a better service? And if an e-commerce company believes in promoting sustainability, how about creating a little more digital ‘friction’ against impulse purchases. The reward? Customers who are more aware and have greater loyalty.
Until now, budgets, deadlines, and profits have determined the daily course of affairs. We now need to establish a more nuanced definition of success: what specific impact does a company want to have with its digital tools?
Facilitating such a shift in perspective is easily the greatest creative challenge of our time. Thankfully, an increasing number of methods are available to quick start the positive impact. Companies that record detailed metrics should then ensure that the striving for positive impact is integrated within the operational processes. This would make all digital products and services revolve around those meaningful goals and contribute to a better world. Agencies, consultancies, and all their strategists, designers, and developers may not be aware yet, but they can be a catalyst in this process and help create a wellbeing economy. Who will take the lead?
If you have any questions or just want to share thoughts, please contact Lennart Overkamp, our Sr. Interaction Designer.
Many thanks to Emanuela Cozzi Schettini, José Gallegos, Annegret Bönemann, Ian Dorr, Vera Rademaker, Virginia Rispoli, Joren Bredman, Luca Baldini, Jasper Nijdam, and many others