On a trip abroad earlier this year, the LCD screen on my laptop was accidentally cracked. The screen was instantly undecipherable, with several RGB and black lines running across the screen and fading into a white glare. I investigated repairing the screen and to my dismay, the screen alone would set me back a couple hundred dollars. With decent performance notebooks now costing $500 or less, buying a new laptop seemed like a better option than band-aiding my already out-of-warranty laptop. My laptop was purchased five years ago and has served me well through many travels and a few drops. Though I have reinstalled the operating system a few times since its inception, overall, it has been quite a workhorse in its time. In fact, I've continued to use it connected to a desktop LCD screen since January when the crack occurred.
Alas, its days are limited because with frequent travel, carrying an LCD monitor requiring an outlet along with your laptop is quite impractical. But I wonder, why is it so difficult to upgrade or fix things?
In our quest for the new and exciting, companies come out with new models of products year after year, sometimes several times in a year. Occasionally, parts to fix models transition from generation to next generation, but in due course of redesign, many times the parts eventually retire. In our throw-away society, couldn't companies see the value of continuity? If companies were really producing great products, the new take should be, "If it breaks, you can fix it." Or "It'll never break."--a more ambitious slogan.
Castro's Cuba is a great example of how a society learns to fix, even without resources for support. Before the Cuban revolution and the ensuing trade embargo that is still in effect today, Cuba imported a good amount of American cars. These cars can still be seen in use all over the island, some in immaculate condition. Without access to spare parts, amazingly, people have just been able to "make-do" with the tools available to them.
But why don't people all over the world keep fixing things? I believe it is because of two main factors: cost and convenience. The value of improved performance of a new product spurs us to abandon our old products. Access to these products and their variations is widespread in developed nations. If you want to buy a vacuum cleaner, you have thousands of choices to fit your desired function and price. When we consider the amount of time to fix things, because someone else is offering a new product for an acceptable price, we jump to dump our old possessions simply because we are lazy. So shouldn't the challenge be for designers to design things that are easy and economical to fix or upgrade? Or maybe ito create timeless pieces that will last a lifetime?
Brikolor, a furniture design studio in Goteberg claims their furniture will last 300 years. According to an interview on Moco Loco, the concept of durability is their take on sustainability. Guaranteeing a product for 300 years is in theory impossible, but these designers feel that in making such a claim they are setting the stage for ultimate responsibility.
Isn't it time that all designers take responsibility for the ideas that they put out in the world? Instead of thinking of cost and convenience, could we think more about culture and consequence that is affected by what we offer in our designs?
Ivy Chuang is the founder and design director of Knoend, a San Francisco-based studio with sustainability and innovation at its core. She is a nomad, surfer, cook and occasional artist.