How many tech companies today can claim they produce products and services that don’t become outdated and obsolete within a year or two?

by Alexander Wastney on February 2, 2014

When I think back at the devices I’ve purchased over the last 7 years it scares me to count the products I have been through – 4 cameras, 3 speaker systems, 3 computers, 4 laptops, 5 portable music players, 3 gaming consoles and 5 cell phones! And I’m not even that “into” tech or gadgets!

The reason your closet shelf has boxes full of redundant, dusty electronics is that they were designed that way. The competition between the tech giants is fierce and technological innovation is sped up to dizzying speeds as each pushes the other towards the next new feature. Tech innovation in its essence is a marvelous thing for society but one of the draw backs in the periodic release of innovation is that most products become obsolete within a few software updates. Companies in this space know their products wont be used for very long so they use low quality materials and finishes causing the product to break down and degrade quickly. In the same way the majority of these products have no cost efficient method of being repaired and are usually replaced rather than fixed.

B&O_5

As consumers of these short-lived tech products we have developed an insatiable appetite for new and novel items which it seems can never be satisfied. It’s becoming increasingly difficult as a designer to create a product with functional and aesthetic integrity as the almost fashionable, seasonal consumption of what we create makes the form and function date so quickly.

Fortunately there are amazing designers and businesses persistently creating products with longevity and heritage in their DNA. One of the companies we can learn from is Bang & Olufsen. From Denmark the international design icon has become a global symbol of audio & visual excellence.

Heres a few reasons why I think they’re a stand out brand who have nailed design longevity on the head:

1. Functional Relevance. B&O audio products from over 30 years ago are still being used today in homes around the world. They still produce excellent, quality sound and most are still compatible with the newer systems.

2. Durability. B&O products are exhaustively mechanically tested before they are released for production, to ensure high-quality throughout their lifetime. They are tested to ensure they can withstand cold, heat, vibrations, sunlight, dust, etc. The materials used are quality and chosen for strength and longevity.

3. Aesthetic. The reason B&O is so successful is that they have a design heritage built on functional beauty. Each item is a unique expression of the products function becoming like a piece of art in your home. Their products are not designed to compete with current trends but belong in their own category.

4. Repairability. B&O are built to last 10-15 years without any degradation in visual or audio quality. They take exhaustive measures to ensure each element of the product can be repaired.

5. Emotional Bond. The brand’s offerings are very expensive, but work so well for so long that they are more of an investment than a splurge. Emotional connection comes from the continuous pleasure found in a product that surprises the user with its function and form over and over again.

About the author:
As an Industrial Designer I spend a lot of time working on how the product functions and looks and not nearly enough time on its purpose, longevity and life-cycle. I want to challenge all creators and consumers to think more holistically about the material objects we create, purchase and throw away. I see designers as having a huge responsibility, with the power to change consumer behavior and the culture of consumerism. Alexander Wastney is an Industrial Designer working in Manhattan, NY.
For more info please check out: http://designergeneration.wordpress.com

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Roy Schuchmann February 24, 2014 at 9:45 pm

Hi Alexander, I loved your post and I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately the economy dictates different trends 🙁

IMHO what you describe above, happens because many manufacturers know that product life-span (especially for electronic products) is rather short these days, they know they have to give less attention to details – why spend a lot of time in designing a timeless piece? Why spend lots of resources in researching for long lasting materials? People are increasingly looking for new designs/innovations and having the latest gadget is a must for the hyped person. for that constantly supplying new products is imperative for most companies.

There is also the thing with agility – a company saves time (=money) by bringing a fairly good product to the market and improving it over time. It is very costly and time consuming to come up with a “perfect” product in the first release. People evolve products and evolution works best over time.

In addition, buying new products and ditching the old ones is what makes our economy run. This is the basis for the capitalistic economy.

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