Product Design

Finally, An Infographic We Can Endorse: Design for Product Lifetime

Sometimes we feel like a broken record, calling for repairable design. That’s why we created our Self-Repair Manifesto. Electronics should be made with modular parts. Screws, not glues. Quality, durable materials. Service documentation should be clear and freely available.

So we were thrilled to see this new “Design for Product Lifetime” infographic, from Makeshift Magazine and Autodesk. It makes some hard-hitting, unequivocal points about how the expansion of the electronics industry is unsustainable—and proposes repairable design as a solution. (Full disclaimer: it does mention our repair guides, so endorsing it makes me feel a bit like a professor who assigns her own book.)

Repairable design infographic from Autodesk and Makeshift Magazine

Infographics can be tough to get right, especially when it comes to the consequences of over-consumption. As we’ve argued before, e-waste infographics tend to gloss over complexity, and waste streams are notoriously messy and complicated. We don’t have solid data about how much e-waste is produced and exported, let alone what happens to it after it’s exported. The EPA’s most recent data is from 2009, and that’s a long time ago, especially given the very rapid rate of change in the electronics world.

Most of what we know about the informal repair industry in developing countries comes from ethnographic, qualitative case studies and documentaries like Fixers—the kind of research that doesn’t translate particularly well into the cut-and-dry, numbers-based, diagrammatic form of an infographic. That’s why we get excited by large-scale projects that might give us some more reliable numbers, such as the US International Trade Commission’s upcoming study on e-waste and InnoCentive and Popular Science’s e-waste tracking challenge.

But the basics of good, repairable design aren’t nearly as messy. And we don’t have to wait for solid e-waste data to make repairable design standard. So cheers to Makeshift and Autodesk for making the first infographic we’re proud to endorse.