Could the Right to Repair movement be more than just empowering consumers to repair their devices and extend product lifespans? Perhaps it's also an opportunity for savvy designers and brands to enhance the user experience, build brand loyalty, and drive innovation in product design. By embracing repairability, brands can create more value for customers and increase their loyalty, all while contributing to a more sustainable future. This movement challenges designers and brands to think outside the box, find new ways to innovate and differentiate their products, and ultimately create a more circular and responsible economy. So, are you ready to join the movement?
The Right to Repair movement is gaining momentum around the world, and it presents new opportunities for Industrial designers and brands. In essence, the Right to Repair is a movement that seeks to give consumers the ability to fix their own devices, rather than being forced to rely on manufacturers or authorized repair shops. It's a movement that has grown out of a long history of planned obsolescence, which has been perpetuated by manufacturers for decades.
The Problem with Planned Obsolescence.
Planned obsolescence is the practice of intentionally designing products to have a limited lifespan, in order to encourage consumers to purchase new products more frequently. The idea behind planned obsolescence is that it creates a cycle of consumption, which drives economic growth. In practice, however, it has led to a culture of waste, where perfectly functional products are thrown away simply because they are no longer supported by the manufacturer.
The history of planned obsolescence can be traced back to the 1920s, when the first light bulbs with intentionally limited lifespans were introduced. In the decades that followed, the practice became more widespread, as manufacturers began to design products with intentionally fragile components or proprietary technology that made repairs difficult or impossible. This trend continued through the latter half of the 20th century, as consumer electronics became more ubiquitous and manufacturers sought to maintain their market share by introducing new products at an ever-faster pace.
In recent years, however, the tide has begun to turn. Consumers have become increasingly frustrated with the limited lifespan of their devices, and the environmental impact of disposable electronics has become impossible to ignore. Governments around the world have responded to these concerns by passing legislation that seeks to give consumers greater control over their devices.
One of the most significant pieces of legislation in this regard is the Right to Repair law, which has been enacted in several US states and is being considered in others. The Right to Repair law requires manufacturers to make repair information, tools, and parts available to consumers and independent repair shops. This means that consumers will be able to fix their own devices, or take them to a third-party repair shop, rather than being forced to rely on the manufacturer.
The implementation of the Right to Repair law can be a game-changer for both industrial designers and brands. The law forces some brands, especially marketing and R&D teams, to create new business value and growth by innovating service design, subscriptions, and circular economic models. By doing so, they can not only reduce physical waste but also increase brand differentiation and customer loyalty by demonstrating their commitment to sustainability and consumer choice. With this opportunity, designers can play a crucial role in creating products that are more easily repairable, thus enhancing product longevity and reducing waste, which ultimately creates more value for both the brand and the environment.
There are several ways in which industrial designers can design products with repairability in mind. One approach is to use a modular design, which allows components to be easily replaced or upgraded. For example, a smartphone with a modular design might have a battery that can be easily replaced by the user, rather than being soldered onto the circuit board. This makes it easier for the consumer to extend the life of their device by replacing a worn-out component, rather than having to replace the entire device.
Another approach to enhance repairability and reduce waste is to design products with standardized components that are easy to replace. This encourages users to repair their devices instead of replacing them entirely and simplifies the repair process. Product Platformization, which involves designing for part commonality, can be an effective way for companies with large interconnected portfolios to achieve this. By doing so, development teams can focus on designing for "ease of repair," while manufacturers can do more with less, creating more value for both the brand and the consumer. For example, a laptop with a standardized RAM slot enables users to easily upgrade their device's memory instead of being restricted to the amount of memory built into the device at the time of purchase. This design approach not only promotes repairability but also demonstrates a commitment to sustainability and consumer choice.
Designers can also prioritize the use of durable materials, and design products with a high degree of serviceability. For example, a washing machine with a serviceable drum and easy-to-access components can be repaired more easily than one with a sealed drum and complex internal components.
The Right to Repair movement not only benefits the environment and society but also holds significant economic advantages for designers and brands. By designing products with repairability in mind, designers can create more desirable products that differentiate themselves from competitors. Brands that embrace the Right to Repair can foster brand loyalty by promoting transparency, trust, and accountability while also increasing customer satisfaction by providing greater control over their devices and extending the lifespan of their products. Although the right strategies may require a significant initial investment, this change presents an opportunity to gain or retain a wider customer base, ultimately leading to long-term cost savings. With a well-crafted approach, brands can create more value for both their business and the environment while also responding to consumers' demands for sustainable and responsible practices.
Strategic Product Planning.
Furthermore, designing products with repairability in mind can also lead to cost savings for both the manufacturer and the consumer. For example, by using standardized components and modular design, manufacturers can reduce the complexity of their supply chain and reduce the cost of manufacturing. This can result in cost savings that can be passed on to the consumer, making products more affordable and accessible.
However, there are also challenges that come with designing products with repairability in mind. For example, designing modular products requires concentrated engineering and design work, which can increase development costs. Additionally, catering for aftermarket customer engagement services such as making repair information, tools, and parts available to consumers and independent repair shops can be a complex and expensive process for manufacturers. Opportunity.
Many of these strategies are not new and were widely utilized before planned obsolescence became the norm. Do we need to pull some engineers and designers out of retirement to kick-start a new approach with these strategies?
To address these challenges, designers and manufacturers must work together to find new ways to create more repairable and sustainable products. One approach is to develop new business models that prioritize repair and refurbishment over disposeability. For example, some companies have begun offering repair services as part of their product offerings, while others have established partnerships with independent repair shops to provide repair services to customers.
Another approach is to leverage emerging technologies to create more sustainable products. For example, additive manufacturing technologies can be used to produce some replacement parts on demand, reducing the need for traditional supply chains and logistics. In the very near future, Augmented reality and remote diagnostics can also be used to help consumers diagnose and repair their own devices, reducing the need for costly and time-consuming repairs. Imagine the possibilities for brands to build trust with customers through curated/augmented experiences — think next-level Genius Bar (Apple).
Ultimately, the Right to Repair movement represents a significant opportunity for industrial designers and brands to create more sustainable and repairable products. By designing products with repairability in mind, designers can reduce waste and improve the longevity of products, while also differentiating themselves from competitors and building brand loyalty.
The quest for repairability in product design presents a profound opportunity for designers and manufacturers to create value for both brands and customers, while simultaneously contributing to ever-increasing ESG targets. To achieve this goal, designers and manufacturers must work together to overcome challenges and find innovative ways to design sustainable products that meet the needs of consumers and the environment. It's a goal that can be achieved through collaboration, creativity, and commitment to a better future, where products are designed with the ability to last and be repaired, reducing waste and contributing to a more sustainable world.