One of the inescapable and indisputable points that has arisen over the past few years is that we are using up the natural resources of this amazing little planet at an unsustainable rate. As the industrial sleeping giants of the east awake, their residents are beginning to demand higher standards of living, complete with all the trappings of the western lifestyle. This is compounded by the fact that humanity is breeding like, well, rabbits and shows no sign of slowing down.
As the global consumer society continues to grow the natural resources of the planet will appear relatively smaller and smaller and this is where designers and manufacturers must demonstrate their capabilities and social conscience to meet the needs of the future.
Why then do we find that so many of the popular designs currently in the market place retain a built in obsolescence due to technological or stylistic developments. Is it time to look at this issue from a new perspective?
One thing that is clear is that society will always be interested in the ‘next big thing’ whether it is concerning technology or fashion and this is only natural for a progressive society as a whole. If you try to stifle these creative leaps then we all might as well give up now and go back to living in the trees and picking flees out of each other’s coats.
However, in an age where recycling is actively promoted doesn’t it feel frustrating when you have to throw away a printer for example purely because it is doesn’t have a suitable connection point for your new gleaming computer unit.
Doesn’t it also seem crazy that when you buy a television that it cannot be modified to adapt with the technological developments that are on the way? Isn’t it also frustrating to be lumbered with a design that has no way of having its appearance modified – the interior decoration of your home may evolve over the next few years but that large lump of black plastic will still be clinging to the wall with all the charm of a red wine stain on a white dress.
It would not be sensible to think that it is viable to future proof every piece of hardware to accommodate the technological developments of the years to come, but a fresh perspective on modularity could provide an interesting starting point.
Let’s take the TV as a good example to work with. Imagine if you will several large electronics and games manufacturers bringing together their brightest engineers, scientists, designers and let’s not forget the marketing people. If we get them to agree to work on a single concept that they will run with agreed specifications for the next 10 years then the corner stone for the project would be set in place. This project would run alongside their personal TV projects and be marketed to consumers as the long-life range that will appeal to the eco conscious consumer.
The television could be created in a truly modular format where the customer could spec their own individual TV using their favoured components. A basic frame would be able to house any of the various screen units, whether they are LCD, plasma or the like. The customer could then add the loudspeaker drive units that best suited their budget. With all the design talent on board from various manufacturers the frame could then be housed in a variety of stunning housings.
Now if the customer is interested in the latest fashion statement the following year for their living room then one of the latest collections of TV housings could quickly replace the original unit and this can then be sold on or recycled. The same would be true for the screen and other electronic components because they will have been created to be modular in the way that they fit into the unit and the latest upgrade could fit into the same position as the original.
There will no doubt be situations where several components will need to be replaced to prevent a ‘weakest link’ scenario, but surely this is better than throwing away the whole unit as the customer looks for the latest ‘must have’.
Imagine also if this development was used as a chance to remove some of the clutter around the TV area by integrating the latest cable or satellite PVR unit with an easy slide-in, slide out mechanism. Add into the design space for a modular gaming unit and suddenly the TV unit is looking like a fully integrated entertainment system, as it should be. If the customer decides to change TV supplier then the corresponding unit could be replaced and the same is true with the evolution of the latest games console.
Add somewhere to store a keyboard for internet access and gaming controllers and the room will never have looked so clutter free and be so incredibly functional.
The great thing here is that like Triggers broom (from Only fools and horses) the unit can last you for years and after a decade or so there may not be an original piece left inside – but it will have been better for the planet and for the pocket than replacing the whole unit several times over.
This enhanced modularity and cross company cooperation would create a system where the consumer could buy exactly what they wanted. Those interested in the latest technology but without interest in the aesthetics could incorporate the latest high end components in a standard housing. Those with more of an eye for the aesthetics and less interested in technology could select one of the designer housings to incorporate a standard set of internal components.
The aesthetics don’t just have to be purely fashion driven either. Companies such as Alessi have been creating classic designs for decades that have stood the test of time and become design icons. If you imagine companies such as Alessi using their latest young designers or established design gurus to create various housings for the TV concept then the television could achieve the design status along the lines of iconic designs for the home such as the Alvar Aalto vase by Iittala, or the Alessi bird kettle by Michael Graves.
Isn’t it time to look at the future differently, isn’t it time to work together and use this time to create something new and exciting that will be a benefit to everyone in the long run?
This sort of venture would require considerable investment and commitment by all involved but just think of what could be achieved – and why not consider a similar concept for the automotive industry, the mobile phone industry – the potential for such projects is vast and could be incredibly exciting for all concerned.