INTERVIEW: We need to start embracing circular economy principles as designers — Seun Olatunji

 INTERVIEW: We need to start embracing circular economy principles as designers — Seun Olatunji

A United Nations report revealed that in 2022 alone, flooding killed at least 662 people, injured 3,174, displaced about 2.5 million, and destroyed 200,000 houses, which are some of the devastating effects of climate change in Nigeria.

As an approach to solving this problem, there have been moves for private-public partnerships (PPP) in embracing circular and designers are not left out, as they play a key role in ensuring that products and services are climate-friendly.

In this interview with CrispNG, Seun Olatunji, design strategist and design thinking expert, and founder OLAT Design Consultancy, talks about the role of design in circular economy and how to embrace this unique design approach.

Can we meet you?


I am Seun Olatunji. I’m a design strategist and a design thinking expert. I  help businesses innovate better by deploying strategic and design thinking principles to create products and services that are not just profitable but also socially responsible. I currently own a design consultancy called OLAT Design Consultancy.

Can you share your journey, experiences and what led you to become a design strategist?

My design background started as a graphic designer. I studied industrial design at the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) and I specialised in graphics. I practiced that for four years before transitioning into design strategy.

What prompted my transition was my love for seeing the value of design in business and also the business value of design. When I started writing articles and researching the details of the business value of design, I stumbled on design thinking.

Design thinking is a methodology that put users at the center of innovation, it’s focused on empathy and creating human-centered solutions. I loved the principle, I adopted it and wanted to practice it better, and design strategy gave me the opportunity to do so, and even to be able to do design better.

When I used to be a full-time graphic designer. In that period, I met people and I discovered over time, especially in this part of the world, that we streamline design to aesthetics. Even as an undergraduate, I discovered that design is actually beyond aesthetics; it’s about problem-solving.

People don’t really see design as the process, they see it as the end goal, but Design Thinking helped me to embrace design as a process, and also to be able to come up with better strategies that are human-centered in nature. The proper definition of what design is made me embrace the profession of design strategy because it helps me to apply it better. So, I transitioned into design strategy in 2020.

As the founder of “The Creativity In You” and OLAT Design Consultancy, what inspired you to start these ventures and what are your primary goals with each?


Back in 2015, I started a design movement called ‘WHATisDESIGN?’ which is a committed movement focused on helping people discover what design is all about through the instrumentality of new thinking technology research, conferences, and seminars. To be able to understand design, I believe that we cannot sideline creativity. So we wanted people to understand design better, which was what kickstarted ‘The Creativity In You’, which started as seminars in secondary schools and we were also able to reach tertiary institutions as well. Where we help people to be able to see that creativity is innate and that they have the ideas to come up with innovative solutions. We were able to reach out to over 400 students and it was awesome.

At the moment The Creativity In You has been able to transform into a weekly newsletter, which I publish to the people who subscribe to help them understand the innate nature of creativity and how they could also use it for their personal and social benefits.

For OLAT Design Consultancy, what inspired me to start OLAT was the fact that I see that design has come to a level of not just creating products and services that are profitable for businesses, but also products and services that are socially responsible.

So, OLAT Design Consultancy, which is now a member of the World Design Organisation (WDO) started with a mission of seeing design create sustainable innovations, and that’s what we stand for at OLAT Design Consultancy. We are using the principles of design thinking to create innovative and socially responsible solutions. So we embrace sustainable innovation in all we do, even as we help businesses innovate better, either in their products or services.

Can you give us some insights into your work in the circular economy?


At OLAT Design Consultancy, our core values include sustainability and creating socially responsible solutions. To do these, creating design strategies that are truly Circular Economy inclined is very important.

So, we create business model innovations that are also circular economy inclined for businesses so that they could be able to integrate into their core, be it product or service-oriented. Circular Economy helps us to be able to know how to repair, reuse and recycle, and it helps us to create solutions not just for today’s benefit but putting into consideration the future. As we are creating solutions for today, we are ensuring that we are not endangering the future, especially the future of humanity.

So, circular economy helps us to embrace the design thinking approach holistically in terms of thinking system-based. That is, putting into consideration all the other factors that surround empathising with humans correctly because you cannot empathise correctly without considering other factors or systems involved like air, plants and animals. So, all these other factors that form humanity are very important in ensuring that we create innovative ideas and solutions that are socially responsible.

Can you share your thoughts on the role of graphic designers in promoting sustainable consumption and production practices?

I joined a group about two years ago called Climate Designers. So, Climate Designers is a community that promotes designs that are also sustainable. So, for graphic designers now you look at using your visual communication skills to also promote sustainable development goals and initiatives.

You use it to create designs that help the planet and humanity. You can render services to companies that also render such services. That way, you are not just creating visually compelling images, or communicating for profit, but you are using your skills as a visual communicator to also help protect the planet and humanity at large.

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In your opinion,  what are the biggest challenges facing graphics designers in promoting circular economy principles, and how do you overcome them?


In this part of the world, circular economy or sustainable practices is still emerging. It’s emerging in sectors like waste management and agriculture etc., and we are looking at it expanding soon into sectors like advertising and so on.

It is quite difficult for these sectors to evolve into the phase of sustainability but it is doable because we can see organisations like Ikea, Patagonia, and the likes embrace the principle of sustainability. We could see cities like Tallinn in Estonia, Valencia and even the Netherlands embracing the principle of sustainability.

The approach of Nigerian institutions and the government towards embracing sustainable innovation and handling climate change shows and gives a very good bright future towards sustainable innovation.

The challenge is that most graphic designers work with agencies, or companies that are yet to embrace sustainable innovation, and it is kind of difficult for them to start creating visuals for designs towards this direction. But I think designers currently need to start accepting that and find a way to take it more seriously in their profession and see how they could diversify their skills not just for business profitability, but also for positive impact in the climate sector.

How favourable is the Nigerian environment to the design industry?

I believe the Nigerian environment is favourable to the design industry because, in Nigeria, we have challenges that require designers’ skillsets to solve, which is the reason I started WHATisDESIGN as I believe we have challenges that need design processes to solve.

The design thinking process could solve complex challenges and we have so many of these challenges even in the area of traffic, power, efficient mobility and proper infrastructure layout. All these challenges and more require designers.

When I talk about designers, I’m not talking about just drawing or painting. No, I’m talking about using design thinking principles, using circular economy principles, and creating sustainable designs to bring in solutions that are relevant to our environment.

So, we need to start adopting the human-centered approach to innovation in Nigeria and our environment is favourable because we have challenges that we could solve in those areas.

For example, we can harness the fact that there is a high supply of sunlight in the northern part to create solar power for the communities there. We could also solve the situation of drought by creating cultures of greenhouse farming. So, these are ways we could adopt the design thinking process to create sustainable innovations and that could be helpful to our current situation in the country.

So, Nigeria is favourable to the design industry. We also have designers in other sectors who are already creating and making waves even in the interior design and architectural sector. But what we need to look into now is how to make our solutions sustainable.

Where do you see yourself and the design industry in the next 5 years?

In the next five years, I see the design industry evolving drastically, we are getting there. The design industry will evolve to fully embrace ecological design, and sustainable innovation, because we don’t just only want to create designs that are functional anymore. Our planet at the moment, needs designs that are experiential in terms of putting into consideration the whole humanity. Designs that are not only experiential to human beings, but the whole of humanity, and you cannot do that without embracing sustainable innovation. You can’t do that without embracing the principles of circular economy.

In the long run, I see designers coming in to help industries redesign their business models, to inculcate circular economy business models. Developing design strategies that would also be helpful in designing organisational systems that are socially responsible.

So in the next five years, I see myself working more in this space of sustainable innovation and creating solutions that make positive impact, not just only Nigeria, but in the world at large, because the vision of OLAT design consultancy is to become a global leader that uses the principle of design thinking to create innovative and socially responsible solutions.

So, in the design industry, we are moving towards the part where we create more reliable solutions that are regenerative, and sustainable and I see myself being a key player also in that area as we evolve gradually.

As a leader in the design industry,  what advice would you give to aspiring design strategists and entrepreneurs looking to make an impact in the field?

The advice I will give to aspiring design strategists and entrepreneurs looking to make impact in the design space is to start looking in the direction of sustainability and making sustainable solutions. Not just designing for profits, but designing for impact, particularly social impact. Designing not just for human beings to consume but designing for the sustainability of humanity.

So I want designers and entrepreneurs, especially aspiring design strategists, to also start embracing the principles that surround sustainable innovation, which includes circular economy. We have to start thinking of regenerative solutions. We have to start thinking about reusing, recycling, upcycling and ensuring that we manage materials and resources by creating solutions not just for today, but putting the future also into consideration. Not destroying the future while we try to enjoy the benefits of today.

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