The worse, the better: planned obsolescence

Author: Gabriel Colomer

Products that do not last long stimulate consumption. Today this is widely accepted, but 60 years ago the pioneers of this economic strategy had to persuade people to revise their scale of values to introduce the new culture according to which it is better to manufacture objects which do not last.

If we have to make long-lasting products, consumption levels will not be enough to sustain the economy. Is there a pioneer out there who would like to take up the challenge?

It makes more sense to buy a new one

Hi, I’d like to get this sound system repaired. It stopped working a few days ago.

- I don’t think it’s worth your while. It’ll cost you almost as much as a new one and there’s probably no way to fix it. You can’t get spare parts for the internal components.

Many of us have had frustrating experiences like this and you have to be very persistent if you don’t want to contribute to increasing consumerism. Sometimes you begin to suspect that these products are designed to have a limited life and to be impossible to repair. And you would not be too far from the truth. Let’s take a look at the history of industrial design.

Planned obsolescence, RX for tired markets? This was the title of an article by M. Mayer published in 1959 in the journal Dun’s Review and Modern Industry, which pointed out that the more durable an article was, the more slowly it would be consumed, and proposed that products should be deliberately made to appear old.