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034 COMMENT


DESIGNED FOR DISPOSAL


Designer Thomas Wensma makes an impassioned plea for a sea-change in product manufacture and design across all industries, and calls on companies to embrace genuine quality and durability.


“Planned obsolescence... companies delib- erately design products with a limited life, so you have to buy the same thing again.” This is an excerpt from a video by Vitsoe, a design driven furniture company that has the ethos ‘Living better, with less, that lasts longer’.


It is in our human psychology to have the desire to own products that are new, dif- ferent, more in the style of the moment and just a little bit newer. It is the ethos of the marketing and sales departments at most companies. It might even be the ethos for company objectives in general. Obso- lescence plays into a human psychological ‘weakness’ and companies are very good at making use of it in order to sell more products. These are new products we don’t really need and are not genuinely better than the ‘old’ products we are replacing. Short time satisfaction that leaves us with a lot of stuff we don’t need or should have. It simply leaves us with a lot of waste. Far from being sustainable, I might add. The problem is that planned obsolescence works so well in selling more products. It enables companies to do the single most


important thing on their agenda: sell more products, and thus generate higher profits. A clear example is IKEA. We all know them, and many of us buy products from them. Their products are relatively cheap, come in many (style) options and every year or so there is a new collection. This time just a little newer, different looking, more shiny and with a funky new colour. It is the same principle of planned obsolescence. IKEA themselves call it; ‘democratic design’ or ‘design for everyone’. “While keeping great quality,” they add.


There are a few problems with all of this. The first being dishonesty. They use the word ‘design’ to add so called value. In reality, they just add to the inflation of the word design. That does not have anything to do with good design. They call it democrat- ic, because they sell products for a price many can afford. While that may be true to some degree, as a designer I believe this to be totally the wrong approach. Good design needs to be about better products that, as Vitsoe says, ‘last longer’. In other words, it needs to be sustainable. IKEA products are very attainable at its low retail price.


To say it has high quality is just dishonest. It simply isn’t top quality. It is made of low quality materials. It is so simplistic we as ‘consumers’ can even assemble it. Most will say all of that does not matter as they want to buy new versions in one, three or maybe five years anyway. And that makes sense. At that moment it is either broken, damaged or consumers are simply tired of the look and feel of it. So we go back to IKEA and buy new stuff; planned obsolescence. All the ‘old stuff’ ends up on top of the big pile of waste. But most consumers don’t really notice that so don’t care, right? The whole design and business approach of IKEA (and many others) is one of non-sus- tainability, wastefulness, fashionable and superficial aims. It has nothing to do with simplicity but everything with simplistic. The big problem lies within the focus of most of these companies. Design for them is so often about sales opportunities, market- ing objectives, competitiveness and doing something new that is in the latest style. The design of so many products is deter- mined by profitability in the short term. Knowing people will get bored or fed up


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