© 2022 by Bastian Reichhardt | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Master Thesis,
Delft University of Technology

Behavior Design, Sustainability,
Design Research


Exnovation Toolkit

The exnovation toolkit is the outcome of a design research study how designers can use their practice to deliberately reduce or remove unsustainable products. It provides 8 strategies to persuade and involve consumers.
Traditional design practices have long been underestimating social, ethical and ecological consequences of product innovation and therefore become a substantial contributor to many environmental problems we face. Although more and more eco-friendly products are being produced, they often fill niche markets, simply add to choice or offset environmental gains due to increased demand. The most effective way to fight the environmental crisis, however, is designing less and reducing the amount of unsustainable products.

In design practice the deliberate reduction or elimination of unsustainable products is rarely considered, although it can unlock new possibilities in reaching sustainability goals. There is a distinct need for research and practical solutions as well as knowledge, methods and tools that guide in approaching the domain.

This project investigates exnovation efforts in the context of design. Exnovation refers to the reverse process to innovation, i.e. taking things (products, artifacts, technologies etc.) out of the system or from the market. Exnovation may not only take enforced forms of bans and prohibitions, but should come from conviction of individuals for lasting impact. The final outcome is a toolkit with design strategies that help incentivize, prompt and persuade people to accept an exnovation by making it simple, interesting and desirable.

The Process

This project followed the research through design method to achieve a successful transfer from theory to practice.

Through RtD I was able to materialize and pressure test research knowledge within formative design interventions. These in turn provided substantial real-life learnings that informed the theoretical model for the final toolkit.

Literature Review

Sustainability and Human Factors


Design Interventions
User Interviews and Testing

Exnovation Model

Theoretical Framework


Toolkit Design
Usability Testing

Researching the Domain

Synthesizing relevant knowledge from design practice, sustainability and human factors to generate first exnovation approaches.

In the first phase I researched theory under the umbrella of exnovation by conducting a literature review of present knowledge, methods and applications. It resulted in a compilation of approaches how designers could tackle the removal or reduction of products and artifacts.
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Formative Design Interventions

Initial research approaches were put into practice in a test case on the removal of iPhone charging adapters from shipping packages.

After studying the removal of the charging adapter from the iPhone box, I intervened in the purchase process of iPhones to test if customer experience regarding the removel can be increased. With 6 different prototypes, I tested various incentives and prompts for exnovation.

User Testing & Interviews

Testing the interventions proved the added value of deliberate design activity and helped concretizing exnovation strategies.

The formative design interventions were tested with iPhone 12 users to gain insights for the feasibility of design for exnovation efforts. Participants were introduced to each prototype, asked to give qualitative feedback and rank them according to their preference.
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Toolkit Usability Testing

The toolkit was iteratively developed in 3 loops of designing, testing with designers and adjusting.

Within three loops, the toolkit was tested by designers using products they have developed for a cognitive walkthrough of exnovation. Qualitative as well as quantitative feedback was captured. The results led to adjustments that were implemented and tested in the following loop.
The Framework

Exnovation Model

To persuade people of an exnovation we need to know two things:

What is their motivation?

Designing for personal values and beliefs make persuasion easier. The model comprises 4 groups with different motivational backgrounds.

Are they able for exnovation?

There might be significant hurdles that hinder people to give up on a product. In the model 3 generic factors are considered.
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What motivates people to accept the exnovation?

The first variable considers the consumer as a non-rational human driven by emotions, beliefs, experiences etc. If a person is averse to sustainability or afraid of change, the motivation towards exnovation is low. It requires the designer to give cues that respond to their personal values.

The Tolerant

People that are open to change and care about humanity and nature.

The Tolerant

People of this group value freedom of thought, action and choice. They seek for social justice, equality and are generally liberal. They are very likely to be ecologically aware and prepared for change. This fact offers great potential for motivation towards the exnovation. Design efforts should deliberately encourage sustainable behavior and promote the exnovation as a desirable, beneficial and creative lifestyle by which they protect the freedom of all people.

The Decent

People that value continuity and care about wellbeing of their close circle.

The Decent

The welfare of family, friends and people in close contact is important to this group. They are restraint of actions that violate social expectations or norms and value traditional culture or religion. For decents sustainability might seem to farfetched and is not taking the highest position. It primarily gets into focus if the lives of people in their closer circle are affected. In order to increase their motivation for the exnovation, design efforts should deliberately address advantages for the in-group and must be attached to respect and commitment.

The Self-Seeker

People that are open to change and seek for personal advantages.

The Self-Seeker

People from this group like to be stimulated by challenges and novel things, and strive for an exciting life. Personal pleasure as well as sensuous gratification are in the foreground. Sustainability is of minor importance and not a convincing argument to them. If the exnovation comes with personal advantages, however, they might be open to it. Design efforts should emphasize newness through exnovation and offer clearly evident gratification for oneself.

The Reluctant

People that strive for the stability of society and put their own wealth first.

The Reluctant

Safety and stability of society, relationships and self have importance to the reluctants. They value social status and prestige. Also control over people and resources seems worthwhile. There is a high probability that exnovation of established products for the sake of sustainability is against the values people of this group hold up. In order to motivate them, it is indispensable to match their beliefs by connecting the exnovation to means of security and benefits that imply personal gains.
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What hinders people to accept the exnovation?

The second variable determines if a person is able to give up on a product. There are many reasons why a person is not . This can range from being dependent on its functionality to attributing significant emotional value to it.


Exnovation might fail if the product has crucial functions.


If the product has certain unique features that cannot be compensated or substituted by other available means, the functionality would not be given after the exnovation. People are unlikely to discontinue the use of a product when it restricts a crucial function or purpose. Thus, losing functionality is the largest obstacle in the exnovation of a product. For this reason, it should be ensured that the desired functionality is maintained even after the product has been exnovated.


Exnovation might fail if people are used to the product.


When people get used to the existence of established products, they tend to approach it in a habitual manner. This can be a subconscious way of using, interacting, or thinking of the product. People are naturally hooked to these habits and the exnovation would break them. Breaking habits, however, should be avoided in any case. Hence, it is important to plan in advance how the consequences can be preempted or mitigated. Best is to change old or foster new habits with rewards in the situation when a person is affected by the exnovation.


Exnovation might fail if the product is valued by people.


Valuation describes the way people attribute special values to the product. This can be the case, when it is perceived as being precious, rare or stands for quality and refinement. So the product means more to them than just its function. It is therefore advisable to compensate for these values with targeted incentives. The product should be made undesirable and its abandonment more appealing.
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How can designers exnovate taking ability
and motivation into account?

There are 8 strategies depending on the target group and potential hurdles in their relation to the product. They provide generic starting points with tailored incentives, prompts and rewards for the successful persuasion of people. The goal is to make it simple, interesting and desirable to accept an exnovation.


Give actionable information and means so people can commit to exnovation.

Personal Spark

Design an exnovation value that puts benefits for individuals first.

In-Group Spark

Design an exnovation value that benefits people's close circle.


Design a motivational element that assures fixed and foreseeable outcomes.

Implicit Reward

Stimulate and reward a new habit with exciting, unusual character.

Explicit Reward

Stimulate and reward a new habit with resemblant, familiar character.


Substitute the product by an intervention that ensures the functional needs.


Design a direct and unambiguous replacement that is less harmful.
The Toolkit
  1. In the beginning, users are introduced to the general theme and educated about the purpose.
  2. The target group, their motivations and abilities can be identified by use of simple questionnaires.
  3. Finally, the most suitable exnovation strategies are calculated and proposed based on their input.
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Simple questionnaires help identifying the relation between target group and the exnovated product.

The user can assess the target group's motivations and abilities with 4 forms of multiple statements. After completing a form, interim results are instantly shown at the end of the page. The final outcome is displayed in the last section, where the suitability of all strategies is given in percentage.
The toolkit is a functioning prototype made in Axure RP.

By the use of Axure RP I was able to program the backend so that user input could be evaluated and captured across multiple sub pages. For remote usability testings, the prototype was hosted on the software’s cloud representing an interactive website.

This is not the end.

PLATE Conference 2023

The research will be continued and presented under the theme 'Exnovation - on Designing for Less' on the 5th Product Lifetimes and the Environment Conference 2023 in Aalto, Finland.

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