Apple

Planned Obsolescence

Planned obsolescence has been around for almost 100 years. The environmental damage and questionable ethics involved became clear soon after it was first implemented and the method has been under serious criticism in recent years. This is why I am so disappointed that Apple, who claim to be a forward- thinking, environmentally conscious company, are so guilty of planned obsolescence.

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Apple have been releasing a new iPhone every year for most of my lifetime. The hype over the release has been getting more and more intense with rumours about the new model circulating months in advance. This annual event is intended to encourage consumers to buy a new phone every 2/3 years or even on a yearly basis.

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The stylistic obsolescence involved is very obvious and Apple doesn’t shy away from this. A big feature of any of their new products is the sleek aesthetic which they happily show off through flashy advertisements. Apple have created a unique brand with their clean, user friendly and quite frankly beautiful products. This has enticed many people, including myself, to pay significantly higher prices than you would for their competitor’s products. People buy into the Apple brand. I don’t actually have an issue with this, I understand that branding has a big influence over which product you buy. However if you are paying a high sum for a new iPhone or MacBook pro you would expect its lifespan to reflect this.

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This is where I start to question Apple’s motives. Anyone who has owned an iPhone will be familiar with it slowing down as it gets old. When this happens we will find ourselves in the Apple store chatting to someone in a blue t-shirt and next thing you know you’ve spent £600 on the new iPhone. Fast forward a few years and it’s like deja vu – your new iPhone is now ‘old’ and you find yourself once again splashing the cash on a new one. We have just accepted it as a way of life. But why does our iPhone get slower? And why does this always seem to coincide with a new iPhone being released? This doesn’t happen just by chance… the product cycle you find yourself in is all part of Apple’s strategy.

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Apple have been using their forced upgrade tactic for years. It started with a very simple alteration. In 2009, Apple started to use a five-point ‘security’ screw on some of their products. This screw fitting was unique to Apple so you couldn’t use a standard screw head to loosen it. As a result, consumers weren’t able to get inside their product. This caused a big issue in terms of battery replacements because you had to go directly to Apple to get a new battery. Apple offered battery replacements for a ridiculously high cost, in fact to replace the iPod shuffle battery cost the same as buying a new one. It often seemed like a more financially sound decision to just buy a brand new device rather than paying to repair the old one. Of course eventually people just made custom five-point screw heads and other companies offered to replace batteries for significantly cheaper. However this was not the end of Apple’s strategy, it was only the beginning.

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In recent years there has been an accusation that Apple is using software updates to slow down your iPhone to the extent that it becomes obsolete. Apple customers across the globe have been finding that their older devices actually operate slower after a new update. This forced them to give up on their old device and buy the newest version – following the Apple product cycle.

Initially this was just a theory that sceptics came up with but the suspicion slowly spread and in December 2017 Apple was forced to admit that they actually were deliberately slowing down ageing iPhone models. However they pushed that this was carried out in the interest of increasing the devices lifespan. This seems counter-intuitive, but Apple say they were slowing down the operating system of iPhones to prolong battery life. I have to say I am not convinced by this. It seems too convenient that this strategy will also encourage people to just buy a new iPhone. Consumers are impatient and will quickly get fed up of using a slow responding phone.

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Apple have apologised for this and have promised to be more transparent in future. They say that they take their customer’s trust very seriously which I struggle to comprehend when they are still denying any implementation of planned obsolescence. I am not the only one not sold on their excuses for making their phones have a shorter lifespan. There have been a number of law suits against Apple for their involvement with planned obsolescence. Last year, French prosecutors launched an investigation into planned obsolescence in Apple products. In France it is a crime to intentionally shorten the lifespan of a product and this is the first time the accusation is actually considered a criminal offence.

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Apple are definitely trying to shake off their association with planned obsolescence. The environmental section of their website is certainly making them appear to be conscious and actively improving their environmental impact. They really push recycling at all stages of the product cycle. They are now using 100% recycled aluminium for the casing of the new MacBook Air and Mac Mini and recycled tin for the circuit boards in the new iPhones. Recycling of old devices is strongly encouraged and Apple actually offer discounts on new products in the exchange of old ones.

This is a step in the right direction, however it’s worth remembering that we should reduce, reuse and THEN recycle. Recycling should be treated as a last resort. The Apple website also claims that their products are “built to last as long as humanly possible”. That is a big statement and I’m not convinced that it is entirely true. Yes they have produced products that have impressive impact and water resistance but their short battery life is still a big issue and stylistic obsolescence is still in full swing.

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As one of the biggest companies in the world, it is frustrating how much planned obsolescence is built into Apple’s products. How are we meant to fight planned obsolescence if a company with such high influence is involved in it. The sad fact is Apple’s entire financial system is built on planned obsolescence. They RELY on people constantly buying new devices. In order for Apple to reduce their environmental impact they would need to adjust their entire approach. This is a big ask and with the current climate crisis we can only hope they will make the right decision before it’s too late.

 

 

Tights

Planned Obsolescence

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When it comes to planned obsolescence, there is one particular case that really infuriates me. I wear tights most days and I’m all too familiar with ladders forming in them. This can happen on the first time wearing them and even if I try to minimise the damage by coating the edge of the ladder with clear nail polish (if you’re not familiar this is a handy technique for stalling the growth of ladders), inevitably I will find myself having to throw them out. Being too young to know any better, I have been under the impression that this is just the way tights are, the thin material means that they are susceptible to tears and there’s nothing you can do about it.

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However, after some research, I discovered to my horror that this is not the case. In 1940, the french manufacturers Dupont invented a revolutionary fibre. Nylon. This was a game changer for woman around the world. This new, flexible and STRONG material was perfect for stockings. These nylon stockings were in fact so strong that they could tow cars! I would love to see someone attempt to tow a car with the tights available on the market today. These stockings were simply too good and stocking manufacturers started to panic. If these tights were so durable then no one would be back to buy replacements any time soon. 

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Now this is where the shocking part comes. Dupont actually sent their scientists back to the lab to adjust the chemicals in the nylon so that they would become weaker. This would make them more susceptible to tears and ladders and therefore force woman to keep buying new stockings when their old ones became unwearable. I think this is utterly ridiculous. It’s such blatant planned obsolescence. 

Also to save money, tight manufactures make tights in the form of tubes, not considering the actual shape of a human leg. This makes them much less ergonomic and more likely to rip when putting them on.

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The french association Halte a l’Obsolescence Programmee (“Stop Built-In Obsolescence”) recently carried out a study which found that 72% of woman said that their tights would break on average after only 6 uses. The study blamed this lack of durability on 2 factors: the low quality fabric and the use of additives that make the fabric weaker. It accused companies of soaking the tights in chemically-treated water, which they claimed made the tights softer, when in fact this also makes them more fragile, significantly reducing their durability. I think this is so unethical and should be banned. The idea that manufacturers can manipulate the chemicals to ensure their tights will break sooner is outrageous.

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In recent years, there has finally been some uproar about planned obsolescence, with tights being one of the products put under the spotlight. In France, which is a leader in fighting planned obsolescence, a new government initiative is being put into place from 2020 which introduces a voluntary label, indicating the expected lifespan of a product. Hopefully this will make companies increase the durability of their product as no one is going to buy a product that says it’s likely to break after only a couple of uses. I think this is a great idea but it is not enough. In order for companies to be forced into changing their ways this needs to be made compulsory. 

Tights are just one of an extensive number of products that have been altered to be less durable. In fact I would argue that most mass produced products have been tainted by planned obsolescence to some extent. The time has come for more governments to tackle this injustice and put in place legislation that ensures the consumer isn’t being cheated when buying a product.

 

‘Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence’

Planned Obsolescence

You may be wondering when and why the concept of planned obsolescence emerged. In 1929, the Wall Street crash happened in America, signalling the beginning of a 12 year economic depression, known as The Great Depression. Unemployment rates skyrocketed and people stopped buying things. This had a devastating effect on the manufacturers as there was little demand for new products. The introduction of modern technology was significantly increasing the productivity of factories but this wasn’t being exploited due to the lack of active consumers. People were desperate to find a solution to this economic disaster.

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In 1932, Bernard London, a Jewish-American real estate broker, wrote the paper “Ending the depression through planned obsolescence” to push forward his ‘solution’ for the economic depression. He is considered to be responsible for coining the term ‘Planned Obsolescence’. I have read this paper and I am astonished at his perspective on consumerism. I strongly disagree with his proposal but did find it very eye-opening to hear such an opposing point of view. His paper was rather controversial back then but reading it now I was shocked by how oblivious he was to the environmental concerns associated with planned obsolescence. 

When introducing his idea he emphasises how fields and factories are ready to produce “unlimited quantities”. His disregard for the fact that the planet has finite resources is quite clear and highlights the lack of awareness of some people had back in the 1930’s. He goes on to accuse people of “disobeying the law of obsolescence” as during the Great Depression people were trying to make their belongings last longer in order to save money. I find it very frustrating that the fact people were maintaining and repairing products is considered negative. It is clear to me early on in the paper that London was a very profit driven man. 

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London then summarises his plan, that he claims would put America on “the road to recovery”, saying we should assign an expiry date to every good at the time of its production. The idea is that the the goods should only be used up until their expiry date, after which they would be declared “legally dead”. Once an object has ‘died’, the owner should return it to a government agency who will exchange the product for a receipt indicating the value of the object. The owner can then use this receipt to subsidise the cost of the new replacement product. London claims this will ensure a constant production of new products which will keep “the wheels of industry” going. The government will use the money collected from a sales tax to pay the consumers motivating the public to get rid of old and buy new products.

The worst part of this proposed system is that people were to be fined for continuing to use ‘dead’ goods. Consequently people would be forced into constantly buying new products even if what they currently owned was working effectively. Now don’t get me wrong, I am aware of the obvious economic benefit to this plan. If people are forced to constantly buy new products then there will always be a demand for new goods which would  provide secure employment in these industries. However, there are two big issues with this proposal that highlight how it is ethically wrong. Firstly, although there would be more people employed even those with a job wouldn’t be able to afford to buy the new products. They would be  be stuck with their “dead” belongings for which they would be endlessly fined. They would be caught in a vicious circle of debt. Then there is the obvious environmental issue. 

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London talks about the “abundant supplies of raw materials” that we have. That is simply not true. I’m sure you are well aware of the serious issues we are facing with our finite resources like fossil fuels. A big elephant in the room is what happens to all of the goods once they are declared “legally dead”. Throughout his paper, London uses the word “destroy” multiple times to describe how we will get rid of these “dead” goods. This vague description shows London’s naivety, or blatant lack of interest, in how they would dispose of this constant stream of goods. He takes this one step further when he talks about obsolete buildings and machines simply ‘disappearing’. This disregard and lack of responsibility for the disposal of his legally “dead” objects is bewildering to me. His referral to things being thrown into a “junk pile” has a depressing likeness to how we deal with our obsolete goods today. We have all seen the pictures of landfill sites that are growing at an unmanageable rate across the globe.

The idea of making planned obsolescence a legal requirement thankfully did not take off. Bernard London’s proposal was rejected, which does give me some faith in humanity. However this was not the end of planned obsolescence. 20 years later, in the 1950’s, it resurfaced. This time the concept was widely accepted due to one vital difference. Consumers were not forced to buy new things under law, instead they were seduced. Clever marketing and advertisements lead to the emergence of a consumer based society. People were sucked into the idea of buying new things even though they didn’t need them. This is still the case today, we are all victims of planned obsolescence, even if we don’t realise it.

The Lightbulb Conspiracy

Planned Obsolescence

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Glowing in the heart of fire department in the city of Livermore, California, the oldest working incandescent lightbulb in the world stands strong. Known as the ‘Centennial Light’, this lightbulb has been burning for 118 years. So the obvious question, which I’m sure you are thinking too, is why don’t all lightbulbs last this long? We often have to deal with the hassle, and financial burden, of replacing our lightbulbs on a fairly regular basis. So why do our lightbulbs break when there is evidence that they could last beyond our lifetime?

The lightbulb was the very first victim of planned obsolescence. In 1881, Thomas Edison produced the first commercial incandescent lightbulb which had a lifetime of around 1500 hours. This continued to improve and by the 1920’s lightbulbs were advertised to last up to 2500 hours. You would assume that increasing the lifetime of the lightbulb could only be a positive thing, however this improvement was not welcomed by all. If lightbulbs were lasting longer, people would buy replacements less frequently. This had a very negative impact on lightbulb manufacturers as the demand for their products had reduced, resulting in a serious loss of profit.

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In 1924, a group electric businesses across the globe formed the first world-wide cartel. They were known as the Phoebus Cartel. The aim of the cartel was to take control of the longevity of lightbulbs to ensure that they could continue to make profits. In 1925, the ‘1000 hours life committee’ formed. Their job was to adjust the technical design of lightbulb so that it would fail after 1000 hours of operation. The cartel actually took it so far that they imposed fines on members whose lightbulb’s average lifespan exceeded 1000 hours. This forced planned obsolescence did translate into increased sales for the lightbulb manufacturers however the negative environmental impact is hard to ignore.

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Reducing the lifetime of a product has lead to the throw away culture we find ourselves in today. The fact that such a universal, everyday object has been affected by planned obsolescence is very disheartening. However, all hope is not lost. In the 1980’s, the Compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) was made available, you’ll probably know it as an ‘energy-saving lightbulb’. Not only does it use significantly less energy, but the lifespan is also well above the 1000 hours of its incandescent equivalent. CFL’s claim to have a lifespan ranging from 6000 – 15000 hours. That’s almost 2 years compared to 41 days of traditional lightbulbs. In recent years, LED’s have trumped the lifetime claims of CFL’s. Lasting for at least 40 years under average use, these lightbulbs are fighting against the Phoebus Cartel’s planned obsolescence policy. 

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Although improvements are being made, planned obsolescence is no longer limited to the lightbulb. The influence of the Phoebus Cartel’s ideology has impacted the way products are made and sold today. Throughout history, lightbulbs have been a symbol of ideas and innovation. Ironically it turns out the lightbulb was the pioneer of planned obsolescence, something that I believe contradicts contemporary design.

Stylistic Obsolescence

Design & Technology, Planned Obsolescence

When shopping for a new household appliance, the aesthetics of the product is often the deciding factor. For example, a modern, sleek looking microwave will  give us the impression that it is more technologically advanced than the more basic model sitting beside it on the shelf. However if you actually opened up both the products, you will often find very little or even no difference in the actual functional capabilities. This illusion is the result of stylistic obsolescence.

 

This approach to product design has been used since the early 1920s, however it was first applied to the household appliance industry in 1934 by French-American designer Raymond Loewy. Loewy is often considered to be the creator of western consumer culture. He was one of the first designers to become a ‘celebrity’, often featuring on the cover of Life magazine. His design of the Coldspot refrigerator is a great example of style over substance, a distinguishing feature of the stylistic obsolescence approach.

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The fridge has a very futuristic appearance, enticing consumers to buy into the idea of the newest, on trend product. The design prioritised appealing to emotions over the actual ergonomics and function of the product. Each new version of the refrigerator gave the impression of a completely transformed model from the last, however the technology inside often remained the same. The outer shell was constantly changed to keep up to date with the current trends and as a result people felt the need to keep buying a new fridge in order to stay cool.

 

The Coldspot refrigerator was the first household appliance that soled solely on its appearance rather than its function and this continues to be a strong selling point today. This idea of using appearance to trick consumers into thinking they need to buy the newest version of a product really annoys me. Modern aesthetics make the consumer think that they are buying something that has the newest technology and will therefore operate better than their current appliance. In many cases this is not true. 

You may be wondering why the idea of stylistic obsolescence formed in the first place. The Great Depression was the main reason why designers decided to start to design products to deliberately go out of style. In order to boost the economy, it was important that consumers bought more stuff. Therefore they were encouraged to buy products that they didn’t necessarily need. Obviously this would be a hard selling point so they needed to trick consumers into thinking that they actually did need these products. This is where stylistic obsolescence came into play. People were convinced that they needed to keep buying the newest version of a product and as a result the economy started to recover.

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So if you look at to from a financial perspective, stylistic obsolescence is a great thing, especially for ensuring continuous profits for a business. However, I would argue that the disadvantages seriously outweigh the benefits in this case. Firstly I believe this approach is unethical as it manipulates consumers into spending their well earned money unnecessarily for the financial gain of big corporations. My biggest concern however, is the detrimental impact it is having on the environment. Have we considered what happens to the old, rejected products that are discarded when we buy new ones? That was something that was seriously over-looked when stylistic obsolescence was introduced. The problem is when this ideology was developed, people were very naive about the strain we were putting on our environment. There was little to no concern over how our actions would impact the climate. That is no excuse though, we are now well aware of the current climate disaster we have on our hands. Now that we are more informed we need to change our approach to consumerism entirely. We cannot continue living in this consumer culture built on stylistic obsolescence, it’s simply not sustainable.

 

Less, but Better

Design & Technology, Planned Obsolescence

Dieter Rams’ ten principles of good design are like the ten commandments of the design world. They have influenced the work of many young designers and are still as relevant as they were 50 years ago. The 10th principle arguably represents Rams’ design philosophy the most. “Good design is as little design as possible”. Unobtrusive design is something that Rams’ believes is very important. A product should simply disappear into the background and only have the necessary components for it to serve its purpose. Some people have described Rams’ work as ‘no design’ and although that may seem offensive, Rams takes pride in it. His products have an aesthetic sensibility that makes them very easy to understand. If you look at the Braun RT20 radio, designed by Rams in the 1960s, you can tell what the function of the product is instantly. You often don’t need to look at an instructions manual to be able to operate one of these products. I think this approach to design is brilliant as it leads to universal products that everyone can use. 

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The idea of ‘no design’ is a hard concept to comprehend as a designer. Although Rams’ pushes forward this idea of as little design as possible, this doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been a lot of hard work and consideration into each of his products. Rams’ is the definition of a perfectionist and every detail in his designs has been meticulously studied and adjusted until they are ‘just right’. It is a well known fact that it is much more difficult to take away from design that to add to it. So the simple, minimalist designs that Rams’ has created may look effortless but in reality they are the results of endless hours of tenuous work.

Following his 10th principle, Dieter Rams often uses the phrase “less, but better” to describe his design philosophy. This ideology can be seen in the 606 universal shelving system he designed for Vitsoe. He described this system as “good english butter”, it’s always available but not intrusive. The idea of creating products that are reliable and long lasting but happily sit in the background just serving their function is something Rams strives for in his designs. This “no fuss” attitude has lead to his designs being timeless as the era that they were designed in have not managed to make a mark on his products.

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I have mixed views on this minimalist approach. I feel that Rams designs can lack personality and have quite a utilitarian aesthetic. Some products should be unobtrusive and belong in the background, but I would argue that it is also important to have products that have a story to them and celebrate their history. However from an environmental point of view, the timeless aesthetic of Rams’ designs has its benefits. The constant changes in styles and trends don’t have an effect on his designs and this prevents people from throwing away his products as they never go out out fashion.

Beyond Rams’ simple aesthetic choices, I couldn’t agree more with his design philosophy, especially when it comes to his views on sustainability. He is very passionate about designing products to last a lifetime and this is very clearly put across in Vitsoe. Although the price tag associated with his work can be exceptionally high, these products are intended to be passed on through generations. They are all designed to be easily repaired and individual parts can be replaced if they wear out.

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As I said before, Dieter Rams has had a huge influence over the design industry. Apple is arguably the biggest impact Rams’ aesthetic style has had in the modern day. There is an undeniable similarity in the aesthetic between Rams’ work and Apple products, especially their earlier work. For example, the iPod is clearly inspired from the 1958 T3 radio Rams’ designed at Braun. Jony Ive, the chief design officer at Apple, has been very open about Dieter Rams being his inspiration for many design decisions. What’s interesting is although Rams’ has said he takes this influence as a compliment, there is an unspoken tension. As a modern technology company, Apple has built its success on the reliance of planned obsolescence. This fundamentally contradicts Rams’ principles of good design. This could be considered rather controversial as Ram has unintentionally encouraged a company to use his aesthetic choices to make a huge profit, solely based on their products not being long-lasting.

Rams makes his thoughts on consumerism very clear. He recently declared that “”If I had to do it over again, I would not want to be a designer.” I think Rams is fearing that his initial intentions have been lost in our consumerism based society. He worries that he has indirectly inspired this materialistic approach and lack of consideration for sustainability. This is a concern I often have myself as a young designer. I don’t want to get caught into this idea of designing products to break in order to make money. I really do sympathise with Rams’ dilemma, he didn’t intend to encourage consumerism. It is very difficult to be a designer today without being tainted by the profit driven industry that has been established.

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.

 

Patagonia

Design & Technology, Planned Obsolescence

The desire for well made products has grown as we realise that our current lifestyle, built on consumerism, is not sustainable and is having a detrimental impact on our environment.  Modern businesses promote the concept of a product being designed to be durable as if this is a new approach and you will often find yourself paying a premium for a ‘lifetime’ product. Ironically, in the past it would have been considered absurd to develop a product with any intention other than to make it last as long as possible.

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It is surprising how few companies actually run their business with the intent to create these ‘lifetime’ products. Patagonia is a great example, creating high quality products using sustainable materials and manufacturing techniques. The founder, Yvon Chouinard, set up the company in 1974 with the mission statement: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Patagonia was considered to embrace the green movement well before it was considered of great importance to most other businesses. The company has 4 core values: Quality, Integrity, Environmentalism and Not Bound by Convention. I think the fact they have managed to stick to these core values over the years is responsible for Patagonia’s great success.

Patagonia are involved in a number of environmental initiatives. One of their biggest initiatives is supporting the organisation called 1% for the Planet where they donate 1% of their revenue to environmental causes. Patagonia really push for product repair and recycling. Their Common Threads initiative was inspired by their determination to close the loop on the lifecycle of their products and embrace the cradle to cradle ideology. They offer to repair any clothing at a fair price and actively encourage their customers to sell or donate their clothing if it is no longer needed. If the product is worn beyond repair then Patagonia will recycle the clothing for you.

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It is often considered that making more environmentally conscious business decisions can have a negative affect on the financial success of a company. Patagonia have proven that to be an incorrect assumption. The clothing brand is thriving while maintaining its integrity and often breaking convention from a marketing point of view. Patagonia’s anti-consumerism, anti-growth and anti-materialistic views have resulted in some unusual business moves in the past. For example, their “Don’t buy this jacket” advertisement in 2011 consisted of an image of their best selling, R2 fleece sweater and the environmental cost of making it. This was a very risky move, they were asking consumers to think twice before buying their products. One would assume this would have a negative impact on sales but in contrary the ad had the opposite effect and sales increased dramatically. Some say this is because the ad attracted an environmentally conscious target market who were happy to support this anti-consumerism approach.

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The success of the ad in 2011 leads us on to the debate about growth and how the expansion of Patagonia as a business may contradict their fundamental beliefs. Although the individual environmental impact of each product is minimised, the overall footprint of the company is increasing as they grow. This is a serious dilemma that Patagonia faces. However it can be argued that although there are some negative environmental implications associated with the expansion of a business, a new wider audience can be reached to pass on their environmental message and inspire consumers to think about what they are buying.

If you are environmentally conscious and have been enticed by Patagonia’s core values for their brand, you may find yourself on their website with the intention of purchasing one of these lifetime products. However it quickly becomes apparent that you need to have access to a large amount of money. These quality products don’t come cheap, a standard coat comes at around £200, with some of the more luxurious coats reaching £750. This raises the issue that your income can prevent you from making environmentally conscious choices when purchasing a product.

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Patagonia follows some great core values and as a result has blossomed into an ethical, environmentally conscious business where many people would choose to shop to access high quality, eco-friendly products that could last generations. However, their wholesome intentions are potentially being tainted by their reliance on making a profit. This could put them at risk of losing sight of the initial beliefs that the business was built on. It is disappointing that many common people are unable to join this sustainable approach to consumerism simply because they cannot afford to do so.