Abstract

This paper explores the implications for design theory and practice of recent public policy initiatives that aim to promote longer lasting products. Public concern relating to product lifetimes and, specifically, a perception that manufacturers of certain consumer durables are responsible for planned obsolescence, is long established. Academic engagement in this area has latterly increased and governments have taken interest in product longevity as a means of increasing resource efficiency and reducing waste. One of the driving forces is the revised EU Waste Framework Directive, which requires Member States to develop waste prevention programmes and highlights product life extension as a means of reducing waste. A subsequent Government review of waste policy in the United Kingdom indicated an intention to promote ‘resource efficient product design’, of which one element would be ‘design for longer life, upgrading, reuse or repair’. A range of possible implications for designers of this emerging public policy are considered in this paper, which questions the feasibility of increased product longevity in the light of the demands of market-oriented and growth-driven economies in Western Europe and addresses the potential role of designers in achieving such change. Drawing upon data from a series of semi-structured interviews with design practitioners, it considers how able and how motivated designers are to respond to the challenge of increasing product lifetimes and how they might utilise any power they have to affect change. The paper relates these findings to the UK Government’s pledge to work with businesses to ‘design and manufacture goods that are more efficient, durable, repairable and recyclable’. Unless businesses see the prospect of commercial gain, they will not specify such products. The paper concludes that a mix of regulatory and market-based instruments will need to be adopted by government if increased product longevity is to be regarded by business as a credible strategy.

Keywords

product lifetimes, planned obsolescence, public policy, design for longevity, sustainable design

COinS
 
Jul 1st, 12:00 AM

Design for Longevity: Obstacles and opportunities posed by new public policy developments

This paper explores the implications for design theory and practice of recent public policy initiatives that aim to promote longer lasting products. Public concern relating to product lifetimes and, specifically, a perception that manufacturers of certain consumer durables are responsible for planned obsolescence, is long established. Academic engagement in this area has latterly increased and governments have taken interest in product longevity as a means of increasing resource efficiency and reducing waste. One of the driving forces is the revised EU Waste Framework Directive, which requires Member States to develop waste prevention programmes and highlights product life extension as a means of reducing waste. A subsequent Government review of waste policy in the United Kingdom indicated an intention to promote ‘resource efficient product design’, of which one element would be ‘design for longer life, upgrading, reuse or repair’. A range of possible implications for designers of this emerging public policy are considered in this paper, which questions the feasibility of increased product longevity in the light of the demands of market-oriented and growth-driven economies in Western Europe and addresses the potential role of designers in achieving such change. Drawing upon data from a series of semi-structured interviews with design practitioners, it considers how able and how motivated designers are to respond to the challenge of increasing product lifetimes and how they might utilise any power they have to affect change. The paper relates these findings to the UK Government’s pledge to work with businesses to ‘design and manufacture goods that are more efficient, durable, repairable and recyclable’. Unless businesses see the prospect of commercial gain, they will not specify such products. The paper concludes that a mix of regulatory and market-based instruments will need to be adopted by government if increased product longevity is to be regarded by business as a credible strategy.

 

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