Positive planned obsolescence

I first heard of design obsolescence in “Design and Technology” class at school in the late 1980s. It is a concept that has stuck in my mind since – design products that are planned to fail after a certain time. It stuck in my mind because at the age of 16 I couldn’t understand the desire to design something that would purposely fail?

It didn’t sit very well with me then and is still a conscious belief that we should do, say and design with integrity – in an engineering definition of integrity “designed and made to meet its appropriate and intended requirements” – No time limits mentioned. To me at that age and still now it means putting a time limit on integrity and that didn’t seem right.

Couple that lack of design integrity with the now current focus on sustainability (it wasn’t taught to us in the UK in the 80s) and planned obsolescence brings up excessive waste, unnecessary use of natural resources, increased energy consumption. More recently products are designed and manufactured to not be able to be repaired or if you do repair live in fear of litigation for infringements of patents, trademarks and copyright.

But what if planned obsolescence could now be turned into a positive? What if products were designed and more importantly communicated at point of purchase to reach their end of life within time frames of a newer more efficient product? What if manufacturers bought back the product at the end of its life and recycled 100% of its materials and components? What if you leased a product for life from the manufacturer – aka natural capitalism from the Lovins?

What if the obsolescence of products were designed to suit the timeframe of their intended use? Would less material be used? Would less waste be generated? Take office fitouts as an example – typical office fitout life is 10 years, do products used in fitouts need to last longer than 10 years if all the products and materials used are taken back by the manufacturers?

What would a positive planned obsolescence product look like in your company or in the every day products you use?

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