Design for Obsolescence


The most comprehensive study to look at design for obsolescence is currently being led by Umwelt Bundesamt in Germany. Initial results confirm that the duration for which ‘consumers’ (users) retain their products during the use phase is reducing, the quality of goods is decreasing, with time to failure also shortening.

A separate paper I recently reviewed, exploring the value of design for remanufacturing, encourages that ‘optimum life’ be communicated to consumers (users) through ‘functional obsolescence’.

Here, the term ‘optimum life’ is reappropriated and design for remanufacturing is a strategy for ‘design for obsolescence’? Similar contradictions in the ecodesign/sustainable design/circular product design literature are rife.

In my experience, over-emphasis of circular practices can negatively impact on the upfront investment in durable products, meaning, that the need for circularity overrides the initial need to develop products for longevity. ‘Linear, then Circular’ communicates this need to design long-life, reliable and emotionally durable products firstly, with design invested to facilitate multiple life cycles beyond this.

Image Credits: Flickr Image courtesy of Maurizio Pesce: CC BY 2.0