Designing to Fail? What Planned Obsolescence Has Taught Us

Designing to Fail? What Planned Obsolescence Has Taught Us

By Kate Wildrick, Co-Founder / Paradigm Shifter of Ingenuity Innovation Center

There comes a time for every household where something breaks.  What follows next is the typical debate over fixing’ versus ‘replacing’ becomes a hot topic.  Then, there is the decision point that usually involves the frustration around, ‘why can’t we just build these things to last’ and ‘there has to be a better way.’  Here at Ingenuity Innovation Center, our last qualm about this discussion unfurled itself through a printer.  The printer we had been using for years all of a sudden started to reject brand new ink cartridges.  The chip inside the cartridges was informing the printer that the ink was no longer good. Through the school of YouTube, we learned about all sorts of innovative ways to hack the problem so that your printer could use the ink.  In addition, we also learned that most ink cartridges when purchased have a fraction of the ink well filled.   Sadly, after we had hacked the problem, the printer failed.  We had to end up replacing it.  We made our decision like most other people do.  How much in regard to time, money and effort to repair this printer is it going to take versus purchasing a new one?  We chose to get a new printer due to issues around time and the immediate need for a functioning printer.

It is not a surprise that many of the everyday products and systems we interact with have purposely built in things that fail (also known as planned obsolescence). Why?  Because in order to generate sales and funding for the manufacturer’s and/or service company’s existence, we have to create a need for the service or product.  This is not just limited to products and services.

This is a Mindset

When looking at the big picture, we have observed that it is much more than just making money.  It really comes down to having a purpose.  If you don’t have a purpose, you don’t have value.  In our western world, we often equivocate value with a monetary amount. For instance, we can see it clearly demonstrated in our own personal relationships.  Consider that many of us choose a partner based on what they do (a form of purpose) and their financial stability (a form of value).  This mindset has deep implications of how we choose to show up and create in this world.  Often times, we choose a purpose to meet a need so we can have value.  This usually is not done with long-term planning and consideration if this is what is really needed and how it may impact people and the environment.

It Comes with A Huge Cost

Creating needs so we can have value has some significant impacts. From an environmental perspective, we are becoming more painfully aware of the damaging destruction of mining for precious metals and resources so we can create products that will most likely end up in landfills.  The pollution and by-products generated from industries to manufacture, transport and support these companies and services are directly supported by the choices we make when we go to the store or choose to work there.

From an individual perspective, there is another devastating cost that is not always clearly seen. Our own personal value is minimized.  Worth is translated again to what we do (work) and how much we make (value).  Our gifts and talents that can help make this world a better place regularly get disregarded as meaningless and irrelevant because they directly conflict with this destructive mindset that values planned obsolescence.  Choosing to conform means that innovation often gets stifled.  Creativity does not prevail because it challenges the status-quo.  Ultimately, it limits us from designing ways that we can build new systems that are sustainable and bring benefit to all versus a few.

When it Comes to Solutions, Everything is Interconnected

The more we have started to pay attention to this trend, the more we have begun to ask how can we design for sustainability?  Part of the solution exists in changing our own mindset around what we consider to be valuable.  Going back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we know that every living being requires air, food and water.  When these basics are compromised, no one thrives, as every living ecosystem is interconnected.

The next step in designing for sustainability comes down to reclaiming our power.  By recognizing how our choices directly shape and influence our world, we can choose where to shift our own personal attention to nurturing and developing a new outcome.  Part of the key here is being mindful about your actions while not getting wrapped up in other’s choices that do not align with your own. The clearer you can get about what you want versus don’t want will be essential in helping develop discernment around what is effective and creating benefit for all.

So coming back to our story about the printer, we are actively looking for a socially responsible company that creates a printer that actually does last a lifetime (90 years, if not longer) and has a way for you to make your own inks that are safe and can be easily replaced using cartridges do not get thrown away or recycled.  Parts and pieces that need to be replaced over time are done so in a way where great care and thought go into the process where access to everyday materials can help solve the issue.  We realize that something like this may not exist now, but we are keeping an eye out for it.  After all, we believe we are not the only ones seeking a real solution that moves us one step closer in the right direction.