Live Fast, Die Young: Strategies to slow obsolescence in Technology Sectors

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The short lifespans of consumer electronics products remains a relatively unattended problem compared to the many other environmental and social pressures that are highlighted in society today. Climate change, poverty and natural resource depletion and contamination are three in particular that require urgent action. However, the volume and speed in which consumer electronics are produced, consumed and made obsolete remains unprecedented. Since the advent of the mass-produced microprocessor and low-cost manufacturing, along with increasing affluence and aspiring ownership for more material goods, the consumption of consumer electronics has escalated dramatically. What were formerly described as ‘consumer durables’, are now often regarded as ‘consumables’. The lifespan for many of these products, notably personal computers and mobile phones, is getting shorter, with many still in functional order when disposed of. Product design, technological change, expanding digital infrastructure, replacement verses repair costs, the migration of electronics into new product sectors, in addition to our seemingly insatiable appetite for new and novel goods all contribute to reducing product lifespans. This research investigates the potential of Industrial Design to confront obsolescence in the consumer electronics sector. It is argued that design practice can occur both formally and informally. Designers often establish the circumstances within a product that can lead to obsolescence, while it is the user who often decides actual product life. However, if a product can be adaptable to changing circumstances then it is better able to avoid obsolescence. Three particular design strategies are investigated to explore this proposition - piggybacking, reassignment and scripting. Each strategy is described and presented as a case study - as applied to three design projects. These three strategies offer a new direction and opportunity for product innovation to tackle escalating obsolescence in technological product sectors.
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Park, Miles Barwick
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