Tiffany M. Rodgers Philosophy 4. 26. 2012 Doomed Design Although the revolutionary system of planned obsolescence is meant to stimulate demand and sales, its wasteful modern-day results damage the intellectual progress of the society by misleading consumers, manipulating the population’s view of real modern advancements and the reality of the production process, allowing industrial designers to become progressively unproductive and uneconomical.
Planned obsolescence, present in industrial design, is a policy of deliberately planning and manufacturing a product with a limited useful life so that after a certain period of time or wear it becomes obsolete or nonfunctional. Planned obsolescence is applied globally in every area of design and production. It is a tool used by companies to meet objectives and increase profit. Deriving from an economy depressed America, planned obsolescence has undoubtedly become the traditional norm of society.
Over the course of the twentieth century planned obsolescence has become an essential factor of production. Industrial design as a profession began in America during the 1930s which became possible as a result of applied styling and planned obsolescence. Associated originally with advertising and the development of consumer culture in America, the movement’s purpose was directed towards America buying its own way out of a deepening depression. Automotive company General Motors led the way by initiating annual design styles that included slight technical updates.
As the trend spread to all means of production in the 1950s the ever present mode of built-in obsolescence became clearly known. Perhaps firstly recognized by its current label, a 1955 Business Weekly edition referenced to the movement as a permanent edition to America’s culture; “planned obsolescence is here to stay in the auto industry and it is moving into more and more fields”(Harmer). Fashion, music, decor, architecture, educational tools and techniques, film, emerging technologies, and even food became products of planned obsolescence. The concept of seasonal trends is solely a result of this transition. As the presence of planned obsolescence became overtly obvious along with psychological and cultural trends of the 1970s, awareness sprouted the beginnings of negative overviews regarding the phenomenon. Environmental concerns were front running issues. Planned obsolescence persisted throughout the 1980s and 1990s as popularized and widely available technological advances continued down a fast paced route. However the OPEC oil crisis kept the environmental movement influential. Global-minded cognizance led to the examination of industrial design and production where social and environmental irresponsibility were found and scrutinized.
Victor Papanek wrote the book ‘Design for the Real World’ in 1985, the same year of the oil crisis, in which he accusing industries of “creating whole new species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink, designers have become a dangerous breed” (Harmer). As a designer himself he criticized the discipline as a whole; “When we design and plan things to be discarded we exercise insufficient care in design, in considering safety factors, or thinking about worker/user alienation from ephemeral trivia. (Harmer) The majority of modern day consumers have not experience a market unaffected by planned obsolescence. However, as a result of a recessive economy purchasers have become more educated, aware, and selective. The desire for durable, lasting, safe and healthy products has risen within a country torn by financial, environmental, and wartime impasse. This knowledgeable consciousness has formed new trends within production. Revolutions that still involve planned obsolescence but whose purposes are geared, once again, towards accelerating the economy with the consumers’ actual needs in mind.
Although this seems to be an improvement, in actuality it is simply another form of planned obsolescence. There are several forms of this revolutionary idea of planned obsolescence; technical or functional obsolescence, proprietary obsolescence, systematic obsolescence, and style obsolescence (Slade). A product may cease to function technically after a designated amount of uses or after a certain time frame. A product’s proprietor could choose to discontinue or create a newer version of some good or product.
Profitable software, entertainment, educational programs and systems are altered or updated systematically along with the harboring hardware. Also, daily use systems such as batteries, light bulbs, water filers, heating or cooling systems eventually and systematically need replenishment, repair or replacement; modernly and “conveniently” these systems now notify the user as directed or suggested. Finally styles, colors, patterns, and shapes are made popularly fashionable allowing producers to constantly create new aesthetically pleasing products (Slade). Wholly, the purpose of obsolescence is to promote and urge buyers to repurchase.
Firms who initialize this strategy calculate additional costs of research and development and opportunity cost profitability offset the existing product line cannibalization expense. These types of Obsolescence are used constantly and consciously by all producers. Latest versions of personal computers, notebooks, and mobile cellular devices are produced at an alarmingly frequent rate. However, most of these updates are simple alterations rather than practical genuine new technological advancements; prime current example and perhaps most popularly well-known are Apple Inc. ’s iPhones.
Soon to be the largest company in the world, Apple Inc. ’s Macintosh collection is undisputedly successful. It is widely known that through a hacking process known as ‘jail-breaking’, the 3rd generation of iPhone can allow users to video chat live and tether mobile 3G internet by replacing Apple’s restricting software with personalize-able programs. Other features like an advanced high quality screen and flash photography are built-in updates which, if manufactured, could have been available at the time of the 3GS release. However none of the aspects or features were endorsed or made available until the release of the iPhone 4. ; an entirely new line and style sold for a significantly higher price. A New York Times article addressing the latest planned obsolescent technological trends; “In today’s topsy-turvy world of personal computers, obsolescence is not only planned, it is extolled by marketers as the principal virtue of machines designed to save labor and entertain. And until recently there has been hardly a peep from consumers, who dutifully line up to buy each new generation of faster, more powerful machines, eager to embrace the promise of simpler, happier and more productive lives” (Markoff).
Because it has helped support and build the economy during one of America’s most devastating hardships and defining moments (the Great Depression), planned obsolescence and materialism has consequentially and seamlessly factored its way into the American culture. Designers have become innovatively lackadaisical. Rather than new, practical, and useful products, “ultimately, what is being sold is style and image, which is fleeting. Everyone wants to project the right image and that image needs constant updating” (Irwin).
On a sociological level this trend negatively affects the intellectual and productive progress. Industrial designers no longer depend on real, insightful, and swift invention. Newly designed and aesthetically appealing forms of existing technology are made with monetary profit in mind. Therefore, the production process is made to produce quickly and cheaply, massively tolling the environment. Victor Papanek advises his fellow designers;“become an innovative, highly creative, cross disciplinary tool responsive to the true needs of men.
It must be more research oriented, and we must stop defiling the earth itself with poorly designed objects and structures”(Harmer). Although Planned obsolescence began as an economy stimulator, the effects will dampen future endeavors. Clearly resources are wasted through the viciously rapid cycle of production to obsolescence. Also, sound and economically progressive forms of manufacturing are not being created or assembled due to a culture driven by fast paced trendiness. Planned Obsolescent driven trends result in spending which diminishes the economy’s saving power.
The power of saving and investment absolutely improves economic status. The largest waste is clearly natural resources which are used to manufacture products that are made and sold cheaply, then quickly become trash. A society must successfully advance technologically as compared to the rest of the world in order to progress globally. Because planned obsolescence blocks the ability to think, design, and produce innovatively on an intellectual, practical, progressive scale, if a society desires long-term success a transition must be made away from this old revolutionary idea.
The astounding impact of neglected design, resulting in trash, chemical landfill mountains and poorly made machine which pollute the air, land, and water, damages every aspect of the world in which we live. According to the creator of the film ‘Story of Stuff’ and international sustainability expert Annie Leonard’ “the amount of products that remain in use six months after purchase is a pitiful one per cent” (Kettles). Planned Obsolescence has certainly led to a disregard for environmental issues surrounding the human production process and the commodities which are produced. Power tools are a good example,’ explains John Thackara. “’The average consumer power tool is used for 10 minutes in its entire life – but it takes hundreds of times its own weight to manufacture such an object” (Kettles). Methods and mind-sets can be initiated to prevent such wastefulness. Strategies to improve recycling methods, trash disposal, and economical production must be taken in order to advance as a society. It is impractical to cease production or ban certain products because, in-fact, no manufactured or transported good is truly ‘green’.
Michael Braungart addresses this by saying, “The notion of sustainability is boring and bland; it’s about good design, and design is not good when it’s toxic or it stinks. There’s no such thing as green design; it’s either good or bad” (Kettles). Everything begins with design. Therefore, it is this initial step which critically needs adjustment requiring intelligent and mind-full research and development. Planned Obsolesce has revolutionized American culture and influences the entire world. Built-in product obsolescence initially led to a stimulated economy, but its long-term results negatively affect the environment and progressive-thinking.
Planned Obsolescence begins with design therefore, “by applying so-called ‘design thinking’ -which, unlike critical thinking, provides a process for ‘practical, creative resolution of problems or issues’ – designers can help address strategic social and economic challenges, and not just for the developed world of monied consumers” (Kettles). Resourcefulness, recycling, and global awareness must become priorities within the consumer population. The economy will profit while organic resources and financial expenses are saved.
Planned obsolescence has become, in itself, obsolete.
Works Cited Harmer, K. A. “ORGANIZED WASTE – THE HISTORY OF PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE FROM THE 1930’s TO THE PRESENT DAY. ” Waste: The Social Context (2005): pg. 257-60 Kettles, Nick and Irwin Terry. “Designing for Destruction. ” Ecologist 38. 6 (2008): 47-51. Slade, Giles. “Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America. ” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (2006): 336. Markoff, Kohn. “Ideas & Trends; Is Planned Obsolescence Obsolete? ” New York Times (2010)