Dieter Rams’ 606 Universal Shelving System © Vitsoe
Words by Gerard McGuickin
Modern Design: The concept of Planned Obsolescence
Ostensibly, it was a simple task. As a coffee connoisseur, the descaling of my coffee machine is something I tend to carry out every four to six months. The descaling operation went as planned, except on completion I could not de-activate the coffee machine’s descaling mode. No matter what I tried, it was stubbornly stuck in a persistent and rapid blinking of lights. Despite a number of phone calls and the endeavours of several customer care personnel to find solutions to my machine’s meltdown, it was apparent that I could do no more. The customer service team diagnosed the issue to be an electrical fault (although I had already figured this out myself) and as such I had two options: 1. have the machine taken away to be fixed; 2. buy a new one. With the machine out of warranty, I decided on option 2.
I was left wondering to what extent my coffee machine was designed with the added feature of planned obsolescence. That after a certain period of time, notably outside of the warranty term, it would no longer function. I am contented that the machine’s breakdown was not as a result of my actions. Yet it is an actuality that companies will deliberately design products with a limited lifespan, thereby ensuring individuals will have to buy the same thing again.
Modern Design: ideals of longevity
We are all too aware that for many consumer products, the notion of their becoming obsolete is an inescapable reality. It may be that they are now unfashionable, outdated or no longer functional after a certain period of time. I favour those companies who continually strive to build on their collections, adding pieces that have fundamental elements based on longevity and design value. Companies who make a consciously considered choice to design and manufacture products that last a lifetime are thereby standing against planned obsolescence.
Yet these companies have a battle on their hands. Rampant consumerism, particularly in the UK, is rife. Shoppers want items to be affordable – clothes, electronic goods, furniture – owing to the fact that they will carelessly dispose of such items when the latest trend comes along. Many people are unconcerned by the notion of planned obsolescence and are blissfully unaware that large corporations feed upon this very shortcoming.
Modern Design: Standing against ‘throwawayism’
As consumers, we need to fight against our throwaway culture and champion those companies that are standing against planned obsolescence. Finnish company Iittala makes essential everyday objects. Its design philosophy is based on the concept of “lasting everyday design against throwawayism”. Their products might initially cost more, yet this pays off over time as they do not need to be replaced – the design itself remains relevant in the long term. At Vitsœ, Dieter Rams’ 606 Universal Shelving System, designed in 1960, has been made by the company ever since. The system is timeless, and one to which additions are always possible.
Design past its sell-by-date is never truly worth consideration. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to good design to make a concerted effort and reject all forms of planned obsolescence. Businesses take heed!
Read more from Gerard in his blog, Walnut Grey Zine
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