Friday, November 25, 2011

Planned Obsolescence: Designing Products to Break

The concept of planned obsolescence has been with us for over a century. Basically, the idea is to drive consumer demand, not by making great products that people want then making even better versions that they want to upgrade to, but to intentionally design products to fail and force consumers to buy newer versions.

The reasons behind this practice are many. But the most common reason cited is that, if you designed products that lived forever, nobody would ever upgrade and the economy would grind to a halt. Obviously, this isn't true. Consumers will always want better versions of the stuff they have and companies who innovate will never find themselves short of customers. In reality, there's no justification for designing a product to break. Yet companies have been doing it since shortly after the design of the electric light bulb.

The documentary above, called "The Light Bulb Conspiracy" looks at the practice of planned obsolescence and discusses how prevalent and widespread the practice is throughout product design. From consumer electronics down to automobile makers, almost every product you own is intentionally designed to fail for absolutely no other reason than to make you buy a new one.

If you've never heard of the concept, this film will shock you. If you've ever wondered if your suspicions about why products fail might be true, this film will leave you nodding your head. Definitely worth watching for anyone interested in sustainability.

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