Have you noticed that the products we buy are just not as durable as they used to be?
In recent years, there has been a growing feeling that the products we buy are just a little bit worse than they were 10 years ago. From clothing and accessories, to coffee machines, phones, computers, and even sweaters, they all seem to tear, break, or fall apart much sooner than they used to.
This phenomenon has led many people to wonder what’s going on and whether there is a way to escape this pile of consumer trash. In this article, we will take a deep dive into the world of consumer products, starting with the design process, to understand why this is happening.
The Design Process:
When a company is designing a product, such as a jacket, it has to take into consideration a number of important factors to ensure that the final product is both effective and appealing. Three of the most critical aspects to consider are functionality, appearance, and manufacturability.
It is essential to find a balance between all three, as each one plays a crucial role in determining the overall success of the product. However, in recent times, the design process has become somewhat unbalanced, with a growing focus on low-cost production and fast-paced trend cycles.
This has made it increasingly challenging to create products that are not only functional, aesthetically pleasing, and cost-effective to produce, but also able to stand the test of time and maintain their relevance in a rapidly changing marketplace.
The Legacy of Consumer Engineering
The idea of planned obsolescence (the process of becoming obsolete or outdated and no longer used) was first written about by Earnest Elmo Calkins in the 1930s during the Great Depression. This means that products are designed to wear out or become outdated after a certain amount of time, so that people will have to buy new ones.
This has become a part of our daily lives, where we are always seeing new fashion trends and the latest technology. This leads us to replace our things more often.
A survey conducted in 2021 found that 40% of UK consumers buy clothing once a month, while the UN reports that between 2000 and 2014, the average person purchased 60% more clothing, keeping each item for half as long.
The Demand for Low-Cost Products
The pressure to deliver low-cost products to consumers has led companies to take shortcuts in their manufacturing processes. In order to reduce costs, they may opt to increase their workforce, alter the production methods, or use substandard materials.
However, this approach of prioritising affordability over quality can have consequences, and consumers are likely to end up with products that are not built to last.
For instance, a company that used to manufacture jackets with high-quality materials may now switch to using cheaper alternatives in order to sell the product at a lower price.
Similarly, a company may choose to manufacture their products in a different country with lower labor costs, but the workers in this new location may not be trained to the same high standards as their previous workforce. As a result, the products made in the new location may not be of the same quality as those produced in the past.
Why Our Washing Machines Suck
The answer lies in technology. When computers first became part of our daily lives, it made sense to upgrade devices quite often. There were big differences between devices that were two years old and those that were brand new. This fueled the replacement cycle because you really did get something better in terms of functionality.
For example, when the iPhone was first made, it was a major breakthrough. Subsequent phones up to a point responded to major technological leaps. There was a big difference between the 3GS and the 4. The iPhone 4 had a way better resolution and a front-facing camera.
For a while, these major leaps between models were the norm for technology. But we’re not making the same leaps anymore. Nowadays, the differences between models are much more incremental. This means that the upgrade cycle has slowed down, and people are keeping their devices for longer.
So what does this mean for the washing machine?
The same thing. If people are keeping their devices for longer, they’re also keeping their washing machines for longer. This means that companies have to find a way to make washing machines that last longer, rather than just focusing on the latest and greatest features.
The solution is simple, yet difficult to implement: companies need to put more effort into making products that are durable and long-lasting.
This means using better materials and making products that are built to last. The result will be products that are better for the environment and better for consumers, who will be able to keep their products for longer without having to constantly replace them.