Broken phone

Design for reparability (I) – Introduction

The need of a more responsible use of the resources and disposal of the leftovers that we generate is nowadays undoubtful. Our economy is linear (we take the resources that we need to transform them into objects that will be thrown away in few years) with a series of resources that are limited, and therefore won’t be able to sustain itself indefinitely. In the last three decades, a third of the natural resources has been consumed [1].

Wasteland
Photo by Emmet from Pexels

And that is the reason why now, finally, we are starting to create a circular economy (where the end of the life cycle of a product is the start for another one), where the 3R (reduce, reuse, recycle) have become 6, adding 3 new Rs (re-concept, redesign, re-process) to encourage designers and producers to take responsibility about the environment [2].

Sadly, the planned obsolescence is a common practice that plans or shortens the life expectancy of a product since their design phase. The concept was createdby Bernard London in the 1932 in the leaflet “Ending the depression through Planned Obsolescence” [3]. Another kind of obsolescence is the one that we, as user, perceive when a shirt is out of fashion or a phone has a new and faster model and we stop using it to get the newer version, even though the old one is still working perfectly [1].

Gadgets
Photo by Karol D from Pexels

Even if planned obsolescence helped to fight the depression and increase sales when it was conceived, nowadays we know that this lifestyle isn’t going to help us in the long run due to its impact in the environment. Fortunately, companies are starting to develop more durable, customizable e innovative products to generate consumers’ loyalty [4]. We, as consumers, can also decide to be more conscious when we decide to buy new products, checking if we need them or if it is something that will end up in a shelf in few weeks. Another option is to learn to repair our own precious belongings to expand their life. In occasions, it is important to be reminded that objects are just tools or ways to allow us to reach our goals. Even if they are old, they might still fulfil their purpose perfectly.

In these series of blogs “Design for reparability” we want to bring you the social context, evaluate the potential benefits and the requirements for this new way of thinking new products. The benefits for the user are obvious, because it can delay the need to buy a new product by repairing the one that they already have. At the same time, it can help alleviating the load on the environment because repairing a product requires less parts and energy than fabricating a brand-new product. This way of producing can also be beneficial for companies, who can facilitate manuals with their products. Just this good will can create loyal users and canalize future sales and being recommended to friends and family [5]. Also, companies such as Apple, Samsung, Xerox, Hp or Dell already sell used products that have been repaired to be new or better than new and are resold as remanufactured products. These products have their own warranties and can be acquired for, normally, less than the original product [6].

European Citizen
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What do the Europeans think about this topic? Are we actually willing to repair our products? These were some of the questions that were asked in a 2014 research [7] and these were some of the findings:

  • A 77% of the Europeans says that they would prefer to try to repair their own goods before buying a new one. This answer was leaded by Portugal (92%), Spain (89%), Latvia (82%) and the Netherlands (82%).
  • 41% of the Europeans think that is the responsibility of the producer to reduce waste and not the consumers.
  • 39% of the Europeans throw away objects that are difficult or expensive to repair.
  • 35% of the Europeans have bough a remanufactured product.

In the 2017, the European parliament published the report “On a longer lifetime for products: benefits for consumer and companies” in which they encourage:

  • Circular economy.
  • The need to solve durability and recyclability problems.
  • The need to find a balance between the product life expectancy, research and development.
  • The need to promote a longer life spam and abandon program obsolescence.
  • Incentivize the repair sector with many micro, small and medium size companies that need support.
  • Re-use product.
  • The fabrication of reliable and durable products with the possibility of being repaired, improved, disassembled and recycled.
  • Repairs and parts should be more accessible.
  • Producers to create maintaining and repairing manuals.

At the same time, in the United States the movement “Right to Repair” is gaining force and wants to give the user the right to repair their own belongings. Now, 18 states are incorporating this right into their legislation, allowing consumers to repair their goods in a shop of their choice without needing to be a distribution point mandatorily. This movement was created by Kyle Wiens when, frustrated, he found out that he couldn’t repair his own computer even though he had all the required knowledge because he had worked in an Apple repair centre (and he even knew that there were manuals available) [8]. For that reason, he decided to create the webpage iFixit where you can share guides and repairing manuals for all kinds of devices. However, companies were concerned about this movement and started to include software (which is not the user’s property even if he owns the object) to create a virtual lock to avoid clandestine reparations. An example is the John Deere tractors, which contain this software which activates if the user tries to fix the tractor without an authorised centre and would go against the copyright legislation [9].

Another activist is Frank (www.frankshospitalworkshop.com), who facilitates repairing manuals for medical equipment in Tanzania, where bringing this kind of devices to authorised repairing centers is impossible [8]. At the same time across the world there are appearing organisations such as Fixit Clinics (USA), Fixer’s collective (New York), the Restart Project (London) and the Repair Café (Netherlands). These are pop up workshops where the participants can bring their own broken products. The trainers will help them dismounting them, looking for the problem and fixing them. Peter Mui, the creator of Fixit Clinic, explains that the experience that the users gain in this kind of events gives them the confidence to repair their own products by themselves without bringing them to the Fixit Clinic, and therefore, this is a positive experience that empowers the users [10].

Open Camera
Photo by Alex Andrews from Pexels

Finally, the non-profit organization One Laptop Per Child (http://one.laptop.org/) wants to provide every child with a low cost, low power, sturdy and connected laptop. The laptop, named XO, was designed to be repaired. OLPC claims that it is so easy to repair that the child should be able to do it safely. It doesn’t have moving parts, the number of connections is minimum and there are only two kinds of screw sizes (which are provided in the handle). This way, if something brakes, it is easy to repair and recover the full functionality.

Even though the possibility to repair our own goods can seem attractive, it might not be the best option in all the scenarios and that is why we developed a guide (next blogs) for designers, producers and creators to evaluate it a product can benefit for design for reparability.

Is there any repair group in your country or city? Do you know if there is any law that allows or forbids these repairs?



[1] B. A. Leonard, “Story Of Stuff , Referenced and Annotated Script,” Int. J., pp. 1–16, 2008.
[2] C. CH, L. YP, L. TC, and C. H, “Economical green product design based on simplified computer-aided product structure variation.,” Comput Ind, vol. 60, pp. 485–500, 2009.
[3] B. London, “Ending the Depression through Planned Obsolescence.” 1932.
[4] E. Cohen-Rosenthal, J. Korhonen, and D. Huisingh, “Making sense out of industrial ecology: A framework for analysis and action,” J. Clean. Prod., vol. 12, no. 8–10, pp. 1111–1123, 2004.
[5] M. Sabbaghi, B. Esmaeilian, W. Cade, K. Wiens, and S. Behdad, “Business outcomes of product repairability: A survey-based study of consumer repair experiences,” Resour. Conserv. Recycl., vol. 109, pp. 114–122, 2016.
[6] G. D. Hatcher, W. L. Ijomah, and J. F. C. Windmill, “Integrating design for remanufacture into the design process: The operational factors,” J. Clean. Prod., vol. 39, pp. 200–208, 2013.
[7] Eurobarometer, Attitudes Of Europeans Towards Waste Management And Resource Efficiency, no. June. 2014.
[8] E. Matchar, “The Fight for the ‘Right to Repair’ | Innovation | Smithsonian,” Smithsonian. 2016.
[9] K. Wiens, “The Right to Repair [Soapbox],” IEEE Consum. Electron. Mag., vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 123–125, 2015.
[10] D. K. Rosner and M. Ames, “Designing for repair? Infrastructures and materialities of breakdown,” Proc. 17th ACM Conf. Comput. Support. Coop. Work Soc. Comput. - CSCW ’14, pp. 319–331, 2014.

 

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