John Bullock Lighting Design
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Products That Last - Redux


What do I mean by Products That Last?

I’ve been having some interesting communication with Holland. Having finished my review of ‘Products That Last’ with a less-than-enthusiastic comment about the way that the book had veered away from the everyday and into the realm of near-future fantasy, I’ve been e-speaking with the book’s publisher, and its been an exciting exchange of views. And I said that I’d have a think about what Products That Last (the material, not the book) means to me – and write a coda to the book review.

Here it is:


The problem with discussing Sustainability issues, as I see it, is that it's a bit like deciding whether to join the Judean’s People’s Front, the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean Popular People’s Front or The Popular Front of Judea. All worthy, but effectively achieving nothing, because the Romans are still in charge.

My very own Sustainability People’s Front has focused on what happens at the beginning of the industrial process (extraction of materials and energy in the Making) and at the end (re-use of previously extracted materials but even more extraction of energy at the End-of-Life). The good people at Delft University, let’s call them The People’s Front for Sustainability, have been concentrating on the bit in the middle . . .  what happens while the product is in use and how we can extend that useful lifetime. This is the bit that I’ve been ignoring because I think it all comes wrapped in with the original deal. I may be wrong – or complacent.


Anyway: here’s a personal perception on Products That Last.

1. Nothing gets thrown away.
Once a product comes to the end of its ‘useful’ life (ie – doing what it says on the tin) the components, or the materials that make up the components, find themselves going round the production cycle again (and again, and again, and again), whether that be up-, down-, or re-cycling to other meaningful products.

2. Because Nothing gets extracted.
I’ve always felt that a utopian ideal should act as a decent waymarker. We may never get there, but at least we can see whether we’re headed towards it or away from it. So we aim for a Zero Extraction Policy on materials and make use of what we already have. It will come to this at some point; we may as well start the process now, while we’re still in some kind of control over our lives.

3. Products can be taken apart and repaired.
Everything can be broken and most things fail; the question is what happens next?

If we get back to a design consciousness that enables complex product to be assembled and disassembled, then we might find that consciousness expanding to the idea that its only the failed bits that need to be changed – not the whole beast (LED module designers and manufacturers, please note)

4. Products can be designed to last longer.
Like the ever-lasting light bulb that no one’s ever seen, science and technology can improve life terms in most things – but the current ideology requires failure and replacement as a major driver of our economic engine. I get grumpy when I hear about deliberate decisions to reduce the life of lighting components (LED module designers and manufacturers, please note)

5. Product life is relative to hours in use – obviously.
Because, eventually, everything fails, we can extend the actual life term by using things less. This is less about product design and technology and more about US and the way we choose to live our lives. Why drive 50,000 miles a year to visit clients and colleagues when web conferencing is so easily available. save the time; save the fuel; give the car a break and double its useful life to you and your business.

6. Products need to Last because Stuff is Running Out.
We have a choice; we either wait until its all gone and look around with a look of surprise on our collective face – or we plan our businesses to make everything last longer. This isn’t something that might/will happen sometime in the future when its only going to be our kids and grandkids wondering where everything’s gone – its happening now. We just choose not to see it.
This is foolishness.

7. Products That Last need to be Simple.
I’ve written recently about Planned Adolescence – the idea that societal drivers are either consciously or subconsciously encouraging an adolescent mindset (though I think I mean men when I write this. I can’t help feeling that there is some gender-specificity at play here).
What I mean by Adolescence is an immature view of the world that puts satisfaction of the individual’s desires first and last . . . because the world is mine and everyone is here to serve me.
The adolescent mind-set thinks that smart technology is Really Good because it usually means that the boring things in life are dealt with by computers and clever fridges – but there is no sense of the depth of complexity required in bringing that hi-tech reality into being.
Products That Last should not require nano-technology – they should use nuts and bolts and an evolutionary design process, not a disruptive design process.

There we go: seven ind

icators from my head about the hows and the whys ‘Products Should Last’.

Finally, for Products That Last - let's not the forget the bicycle.
Bicycle design is built around the concept that the core of the machine supports a replaceable infrastructure of cables, gears, wheels, handlesbars - all components that, regardless of how many times they are renewed, still leaves you with the simple truth: "And this is my bike".













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RIBA CPD in 2015

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