Built For Breakdown
The increasing disposability of consumer electronics and appliances is troubling environmentally, and socially. But it is not going un-addressed in the design world.
Major consumer electronics companies -- from Panasonic to Phillips -- are re-vamping their lines to make disassembly for recycling, and the remaining disposal as easy, cheap, and safe as possible. Features like low or no-lead solder, modular electronics boards, snap-fit rather than glued joints, and included instructions for disassembly make it easier for the dead product to have a new life. Whether as a repaired item with an easily replaced piece, a consumer disassembled and recycled piece, or one that can easily be scrapped out by more professional disassemblers, either locally, or in Asia. Design for disassembly is hot, and definitely needed.
And it's not just electronics companies who are in on the action; Steelcases's new Think chair is a paragon of fixability and re-recyclability, with nearly 100 percent of the chair composed of easy to recycle or replace single-material pieces. There are all kinds of opportunities for this preemptive strike on waste, and not just in the assembly of the products. Steelcase set up three different factories around the world so that each of its markets could be served locally in order to cut transport costs, and support local economies.
It's important for designers to keep these ideals in mind. Because, for every Steelcase working on these more wide-minded concepts, there are a dozen designers who are focused purely on the momentary titillation of the consumer. Yes, design is about evoking emotion, and making life exciting. But it should first be about enabling life in the first place, and loosing sight of the wide-view issues will eventually come back to bite us.
Design with forethought about these complex issues is the real challenge and purpose of designers; Emotional visuals and form are important, but they're just a part of every solution.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team