Designing with Donut-Centered Design

Summary: Donut-centered Design brings two key areas of design intervention together: the inclusion of users left out of design ‘defaults’ and high-impact sustainability development goals (SDG’s).

As impacted communities and climate change extreme weather become more apparent, we must consider the direction of our designs on both the environment and society. Donut-Centered Design (DCD) is an approach that tackles this challenge head-on, inspired by the Donut Economics model proposed by Kate Raworth, a bestselling author and university professor. This method combines sustainability design and inclusive design, ensuring that our work addresses urgent priorities while fostering innovation and growth.

Note: Frank Spillers will be teaching Donut-Centered Design in Amsterdam next month…one of the first cities to adopt the model on a city-wide scale.

Understanding Donut-Centered Design

Donut-centered Design (DCD) was first coined by Chris Golias, a Sr User Researcher at Google, in 2019. At its core, DCD revolves around the idea that successful design should consider both environmental and social impact, just like a donut has an outer ring and an inner hole. First, when considering design defaults, we often do not focus on underrepresented communities (Black, People of Color, LGBTQ+, Gender, and more…). Yet, if we leave these groups out, we create a host of issues such as harm, discrimination, and the perpetuation of exclusion. Next, we often do not think of humans when designing for sustainability. We look to environmental areas. DCD says it’s important to focus on both. To fully grasp the significance of this approach, let’s delve into the wider Donut model.

Donut Economics: A Model for Sustainability

Kate Raworth’s Donut Economics model proposes a circular economic framework that aims to meet the needs of all people within the means of the planet. The outer ring of the donut represents the ecological boundaries, beyond which lies the risk of irreversible environmental degradation. The inner hole signifies the social foundation inside which people lack the essentials for a dignified life. Striking a balance between these two boundaries is crucial for creating a sustainable and equitable world.

Sustainable HCI and Inclusive Design

Donut-Centered Design builds on the principles of Sustainable HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) or Sustainable Interaction Design, as outlined by Eli Blevis in 2007. Sustainable HCI encourages designers to develop technology and systems that minimize their environmental impact and resource consumption. On the other hand, Inclusive design focuses on creating products and services that are accessible and beneficial to diverse groups of users, regardless of their abilities or backgrounds.

The Power of Combining Sustainability and Inclusivity

By intertwining sustainability design with inclusive design, Donut-Centered Design becomes a potent approach that addresses pressing global challenges while fostering positive innovation and growth. When we design with the donut in mind, we prioritize solutions that minimize harm to the planet and promote social justice and well-being.

Promoting Urgent Design Priorities

Climate change, poverty, inequality, and other critical issues demand immediate attention. Donut-Centered Design compels us to focus on projects that tackle these challenges head-on. For instance, a sustainable technology solution may reduce carbon emissions while simultaneously making it more accessible to disadvantaged communities. We can ensure that our work serves ethical UX by aligning our design goals with the donut’s ecological and social boundaries.

Nurturing Innovation and Growth

Contrary to the misconception that sustainability limits growth, Donut-Centered Design encourages innovation that thrives within the donut’s boundaries. This approach invites designers and businesses to rethink traditional models, explore alternative materials and methods, and develop planet-friendly and socially inclusive products and services. Embracing this mindset can lead to new business opportunities, increased market relevance, and stronger connections with socially conscious consumers.

The Role of AI in Donut-Centered Design

As technology continues to advance, we cannot overlook the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in shaping the future of design. In a workshop facilitated by Frank Spillers, CEO of Experience Dynamics, participants will explore how AI can frame potential solutions for DCD. AI has the capacity to analyze vast amounts of data, identify patterns, and generate insights that can inform sustainable and inclusive design decisions.


Donut-Centered Design is a holistic and forward-thinking approach that acknowledges the interconnectedness of environmental sustainability and social inclusivity. By designing for the donut, we take responsibility for our actions as creators, ensuring that our work contributes to a thriving planet and enhances the lives of all individuals within it. Embracing a donut-centered approach paves the way for innovation that aligns with urgent global priorities. This way, we can demonstrate that sustainable and inclusive design positively can address SDG’s.

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