Informing design decisions

When developing new technologies, designers have to evaluate and consider a wide range of issues whether it is the aesthetic appeal to the consumer, the safety of the product or how it will be manufactured. As part of this development, there are wider issues that are growing in importance due to their value to the customer. Wider issues to be considered are ethics, the environment and how a product can be enhanced.

Ethics

Consumers’ choices can be influenced by their own moral or ethical values; therefore, it can be worth considering appealing to these. This could relate to the sourcing of materials, testing on animals or the treatment of workers. The packaging of products will often include labels or information to show these points.

Fair trade

Fair trade is a trading partnership that ensures workers in developing countries are given suitable working conditions and are paid a fair wage. It is not a legal obligation for companies to follow, but it has become more popular over time as it represents a growing belief that workers who produce products should be treated well. This has encouraged companies to fair trade endorse some of their products to support their sales.

Environment

Products can be designed with consideration given to their impact upon the environment, and how negative impact can be kept to a minimum.

Environmental design

Environmental design is something designers are increasingly considering by:

  • making products from renewable materials, such as paper straws instead of plastic, to create less waste material
  • transporting materials in a more efficient way to cut down on emissions of greenhouse gases
  • cutting down the use of finite resources for use in production and for energy supply; improving the overall environmental impact of a product
A collection of colourful paper straws displayed in two clear jars and on a wooden table.
Paper straws

Design for maintenance

Design for maintenance is a term used when designing products that are more durable and have spare parts available to mend and maintain them. This is only possible with low-tech or modular products that don’t require a great deal of skill to repair. For example, a push bike can be regularly maintained, with parts such as pedals and chains being replaced when they are damaged.

A disassembled bike with its parts neatly laid out on a wooden table.

Design for disassembly

Design for disassembly is a concept that when a product has reached the end of its life it can be taken apart and parts reused or recycled. For instance, a stool could be unscrewed to allow the plastic seat and steel legs to be recycled.

Planned obsolescence

Planned obsolescence is the practice of designing products that will have a limited lifecycle and that will become obsolete and require to be replaced, such as disposable razors. Modern mobile phones are a good example as they need continual software upgrades and they are soon replaced by new better-performing models. Planned obsolescence is generally bad for the environment as it creates more waste.

Product enhancement

Product enhancement is any change or enhancement to a product that improves its performance beyond its original capabilities. Product enhancement is often seen in computers, where upgrades to software or programmes can be installed to improve performance. It is also seen in cars, where seating can be upgraded for superior comfort, or in spectacles, where further treatments can be made to the lenses to improve the customer’s experience.

Product enhancement maintains the life of the product and allows for further customisation and upgrading as technologies develop. However, it can create confusion, as consumers are given greater choice, and designers need to develop a range of possibilities for one specific product, which increases investment costs.

Move on to Video
next