Since Vance Packard popularized the term ‘planned obsolescence’ in the 1960s, interest in the lifespans of manufactured objects has become a central constituent of contemporary design discourse. Yet thus far, the creative methodologies addressing design for durability have attended almost exclusively to the cosmetic, material survival of manufactured objects. In these superficial scenarios durability is distinguished simply by a product’s physical endurance, whether cherished or discarded. Chapman asserts that the rampant consumption and waste of natural resources so prevalent in the developed world is a legacy of modern times, born largely from the inappropriate marriage of excessive material durability with fleeting product life spans. These core themes in Chapman’s work are now being shaped through his PhD to form the basis of a research paper to be presented at the Design & Emotion Society Conference in September 2006, Sweden.
Jonathan’s Design Council presentation developed several themes alluded to in his recent article for Blueprint (‘Modern Life is Rubbish’, April 2006), in which he argues that forthcoming environmental legislation such as the EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive (WEEE) creates new and unprecedented opportunities for the creative industries. He claims that at present, products designed for take-back, are geared mostly toward cost effective recycling and disassembly at end of life. However, designing new genres of electronic objects with durable meanings and values, could be a commercially viable destiny that facilitates compliance with legislation, whilst enabling the generation of further turnover through after sales servicing, upgrade and repair?
Amidst the frantic scramble to comply with forthcoming environmental legislation such as WEEE, the root causes of the ecological crisis we face are frequently overlooked; meanwhile the inefficient consumer machine surges wastefully forth, but now it does so with recycled materials instead of virgin ones.
The results of this Network on Product Life Spans project (developed by Tim Cooper at Sheffield Hallam University) will be published as a book, to which Jonathan Chapman has contributed a chapter.