Mass Production

Design & Technology, Planned Obsolescence

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During the war, countless factories were built, and with advancing technologies, war machinery was able to be mass produced. Once the war had ended, these factories were quickly snatched up and converted to serve the consumer community. Products could now be mass produced and this was something that sparked the interest of a lot of designers, including the husband and wife team, Charles and Ray Eames. The couple had set up the Eames office in 1943 with the intention of working with a new material (plywood) to build chairs, but due to the war they started designing plywood leg splints instead. When the war had ended they could continue to develop their chairs, designing them to be easily mass produced. “We want to make the best for the most for the least.” was their mission statement and the result was their iconic chair design, something that has had a great influence over modern design for many decades, even to this day.

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The Eames chair was one of the first designer pieces of furniture that was affordable to the general population. This was because mass production allowed products to be produced cheaply which meant they could be sold at a lower price. This was a game-changer for designers as they now had the opportunity to make more of their products which could reach a much wider audience than before. Unfortunately this is not the only motivation for mass production. A big incentive was the amount of profit that could be made due to lower manufacturing costs.

The iconic Eames chair is a positive outcome from introduction of mass production, with the general population being able to access products that were originally unaffordable. Unfortunately the low cost of mass production was exploited by manufacturers and low quality, cheap throw away products started to fill the shelves.

The overall economy in America grew by 37% and the ‘make do and mend’ culture during the war was abandoned, replaced by a need for ‘new’ products and gadgets. People were making more money and as a result buying more things. This was great for the economy at first, the consumer was playing ball, buying into all the great (or not so great) products that were being released and promoted through advertisements. However eventually the amount of products being produced grew beyond the consumer demand leading to overproduction and an economic crisis. It was at this point that the method of planned obsolescence was put in place. This involved designing things with a limited lifetime which allowed manufacturers to manipulate the way the consumers were spending, making them replace or upgrade the same type of product frequently.

Obviously at this point I can’t help point out how bad an idea this was. The concept of designing to fail really triggers me. The birth of planned obsolescence after world war 2 has led to the throw away culture we have today. And I’m sure you are aware of the environmental issues associated with that. 

Mass production is something that most designers rely on today. It definitely has its benefits, as seen in the Eames case, as it is much easier to make mass produced products affordable. However, unfortunately it has also caught the eye of greedy manufacturers, who have seen the opportunity to make more and more money by forcing large quantities of unnecessary, short-lived products on the consumer. With an environmental crisis on our hands, maybe it’s time we reconsidered our throwaway culture. It isn’t environmentally or financially sound for us to be investing our money in products that are designed to fail.

 

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