Planned product obsolescence in a world with finite resources is absurd

Planned product obsolescence or built-in obsolescence is an industrial design strategy whereof the intention is a planned product with a limited lifespan. The most common form of product obsolescence is the fading out of product when new versions with major or brand new minor innovations, colours, etc. is replacing the current product line; however, planned product obsolescence is another story. Planned product obsolescence was an idea already thought in the 19th century and became a reality during the beginning of 1930’s great depression in America when manufactures to shorten the lifespan of products to increase demand and make consumers start buying products again. The most well-known product and the first representing planned obsolescence is the light bulb. In 1925 in Geneva, a few very powerful businesses representing the largest light bulb manufactures men launched a worldwide cartel (the Phoebus Kartel  was a cartel of, among others, Osram, Philips and General Electric) that in1924 made a decision to control the manufacture and sale of light bulbs. They set the limit in the lifetime of the light bulb to 1000 hours. However, already then the light bulb lasted for 2500 hrs., and a patent was filed for  100.000 hrs.

In 1940, another major product invention was launched by the huge chemical factory DuPont, a synthetic fabric called Nylon. Nylon stocking was soon loved by girls, nevertheless, the joy was short lasting. The stocking was so strong and strong that they actually could pull a car.  The problem was that the fibre was too durable and the stockings hardly needed to be replaced. Therefore, the management in DuPont briefed the fabric engineers to develop a less strong fibre to increase demand and sale. In 1950s, the idea of planned product obsolesced continued, Brooks Stevens  an American industrial designer the term in 1954, explaining it at an advertising conference as “instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.”

The way products become obsolete?

Product compatibility
In the consumer market products after a certain time stopped working or not function because new standards arrive whereof only newer versions of the same product are compatible, for example, computers; video, DVD, gaming console and often software are merely working with the newest versions.

The determined type of product materials
A product can be made of many types of materials and several grades of each. In a low-price  product strategy,  the materials used can be of a less durable quality but less expensive. A lot of products do not need a long lifespan because the technological progress is so fast that within a few years, the product will be outdated.

Expensive component
In many cases new technological, advanced parts and/or expansive in a product might only be the difference between earlier product versions or competitors, in these cases producers make these parts radically different from previous models, competitors or even within their own product lines. The printer’s ink cartridge is a good example. They are designed disposable, small and does not fit any other printer brand or model in the market. The ink cartridge is the most crucial part of the printer, and replacement is expensive; therefore, to stop and make it less desirable for another manufactures to effectively  mass-produce different versions are made. The millions of used cartridges make a huge environmental impact, often designed not to be recyclable (recyclable use a lot of energy to recover).

Perceived obsolescence
Advertising and marketing has created a consumer culture  whereof hunting and owning the newest and most fashionable product is the key to success. Perceived obsolescence is a powerful psychological  tool; even when new technology is replacing old, products in most cases still work as good, however, people are convinced to replace their items even before its necessary. People often buy replacement and brand new products when just minor upgrade is made or new colours  arrive. Fashion is a good example of products we buy because of the new colours or style. By its very nature, the fashion industry, for example, is built around the consumer demand for new and different styles not the durability of individual garments. However, even here, turnover is becoming faster and new models are often designed to make their predecessors look ugly or out-of-date.

Expensive and difficult to repair
Most products today are not made to be repaired, or the critical parts are too expensive. The price difference between repair and purchase a brand new is in most cases in favour of the last option. This is a huge problem because a whole generation has forgotten how to repair, sew and maintain products and the craftsmanship disappeared. We automatically buy a new with the insensitive from manufacturers whom a unused product is better, which often last shorter than the old one.

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