Sustainable Product Design

Or are they a mere representation of our eagerness for consumption, our adoption and adaptation to the technological world, or our hunger and stride to have the latest, be the best, and the greatest?

Over the years, as technology has evolved, so have our perceptions or lack of, towards consumption. It is truly remarkable how electric devices were only adopted as “household” items a few decades back and now we can’t imagine ourselves without them.

By “household” items I mean television sets, refrigerators, washing machines, etc. Nowadays, these “household” items aren’t really even a topic of conversation for most. In fact since these invaded our home, things have become much more personal.

Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, to have a personal radio, or better yet, a personal cassette recorder was a remarkable achievement. The famous Walkman revolutionised the world of music in so many ways, although some might feel that the results were not always positive.

To own a camera was a luxury that only a select few could actually afford. Photographers were usually hired to take a few snaps of you and your family.

Telephone communications, likewise, transformed our world overnight. The days of payphones, borrowing your neighbours phone line to receive or make phone calls is, and will be forever buried in history, and in many ways, for some of us at least, so will all those awkward moments of trying to have a private conversation over the phone in somebody elses living room.

Nowadays, it is a very different story. We live in a different world. Technology changes and evolves on a weekly, daily, or even hourly basis. Things that we take for granted, like the fact that only two or three decades ago computers used to be the size of a small house, nowadays fit in our pockets!

We are not only dissatisfied with “dumb” mobile phones that do most things that computers, cameras, phones, and walkmans did in the late 80’s, our hunger has gotten stronger requiring only the best, the most immediate, the most accurate, the most intelligent, the most interactive, the most entertaining, and so it goes.

But how sustainable from a monetary, social and environmental perspective is this? How many house-sized computers, how many stereo systems, how many records and cassettes, how many cameras and phones have we had to go through in order to make it to this stage in our consumption history? Are genius designers and engineers not thinking beyond the next feature?

As designers and engineers, we must come up with ways to make technological devices reusable, repurposable, rechargeable, re-engineerable, redesignable, and as well as reconsumable. Like a restored antique rocking chair from the 60’s, a restored bicycle from the 70’s, a restored leather jacket from the 80’s. How many iPods, iPhones, iMacs, Laptops and Androids will we restore in 5 or 10 years time?

As consumers, we need to change this interchangeable habit that we’ve picked up over the years. We need to think about the products we consume. We all want the latest, most intelligent, accurate, interactive, and entertaining thing, but do we need to have it now, and what is the cost.

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