Repair Up Front

Repair Up Front

In this world where planned obsolescence reigns supreme, people don’t often opt for the repair option. We have been trained to love the newest model and if something breaks it gives us an excuse to get the shiny latest.

 Even people that want to wring usefulness out of an item longer than is fashionable have difficulty finding someone able to fix things – partly because there isn’t a big demand for repair services and party because, even if you wanted to, many products are difficult or even impossible to repair.

 It seems like no matter where I start in considering how to make less waste, I always end up at the designer’s table. The design decisions are the most important in the entire product life cycle – they determine how long the product lasts, how easy it is to repair, how much energy or other inputs the product will use in its lifetime, how easy it is to recycle … everything!

 I ran across an interesting idea recently in a Ted talk on simplifying work. The speaker discussed reparability as a new design element for auto manufacturers whose longer warranties require vehicles be more reparable to keep warranty costs down. One way to make this into a real consideration (as opposed to one of 25 other things designers have to think about) is by ‘extending the shadow of the future’ – the auto company told the designers that in three years, they would be in charge of the warranty department budget and therefore responsible for the consequences of their current design decisions. Boom! Reparable vehicles!

 This is one of the principles behind Extended Producer Responsibility – there’s an underlying assumption (read—hope) that companies who are required to be responsible for their products at end of life will be motivated to improve the design of those products. Has it worked? Not really. There are new recycling systems, but so far, no massive improvements in products or packages as a result of the programs.

 So now I’m thinking … what kind of changes in product & package design would there be if the exact same people who created the products had to operate recycling processing facilities or repair departments for the products they had designed? I’d like to see that…