The Goods, Is Designed Obsolescence really a thing?

Tuesday August 14, The Goods radio show on FBi, 94.5 with Jess Miller.


  1. Is Designed Obsolescence really a thing? 

    Also known as Planned Obsolence, this morning we looked at whether this is actually a thing, or something that the slightly paranoid conspiracy theorists are fond of blaming when they yet again destroy their phone during a big night out or decide to queue out the front of Apple for six hours to be the first to own the new iPhone.

  2. 1932, Bernard London decides to solve the Great Depression and says that "“I propose that when a person continues to posses and use old clothing, automobiles and buildings, after they have passed their obsolescence date, as determined at the time they were created, he should be taxed for such continued use of what is legally ‘dead’.”  So not a fan of Rozelle markets right B?
  3. Most scholars trace the origin of the term to Bernard London’s 1932 pamphlet, “Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence”, in which London blames the global economic Depression on consumers who disobey “the law of obsolescence” by “using their old cars, their old tires, their old radios and their old clothing much longer than statisticians had expected”. London’s sinister solution was to propose a government agency that would determine the lifespan of each manufactured object whether it is a building, a ship, a comb or a shoe. Those frugal consumers who insisted on using their products past the expiration date would be penalized. London explained his plan simply: “I propose that when a person continues to posses and use old clothing, automobiles and buildings, after they have passed their obsolescence date, as determined at the time they were created, he should be taxed for such continued use of what is legally ‘dead’.” 
  4. So what is it?

    There are a few types:

    Technical or functional obsolescence

    Is when it's made to break.

    Think $5 from Cotton On, Supre, Top Shop or even Zara it will only last a few washes before it loses it's shape, colour or buttons.

    The cost or repairing something comparable to the cost of replacing something. If it costs $15 to have a button sewn on or a hem taken up on a $50 shirt, then it's not really worth it.

    Apple pioneered this when they decided to build devices with integrated batteries. Have you noticed that you get the upgrade itch when your phone only lasts a day without charge. The home button (the apple) lifeblood gets wonky, and your speaker jack no longer works.

    You have to buy a whole new edition of a uni text book.

    HP, Epson and other printer cartridges have also allegedly designed cartridges that cannot be re-used or refilled (the smart thing), and add smart chips that tell the user that the cartridge is dead after x amount of pages despite how much ink is left. Kinda interesting that programs like Planet Ark are about recycling and not re-use.

  5. Fixes

    Ipod batteries. You can look up on Youtube how to fix and replace them

    Light bulbs – some of Edison's original ones still glow. Check out the 

    Great excuse to buy fancy expensive stuff (provided you know it's good quality), Patagonia makes clothes and bags that you can take back and get a discount.

  6. How to replace the battery in an iPhone 4
  7. Pseduo-functional obsolescence:

    When you're made to think that something appears to be innovative but in reality it isn't – the example here is creating a new adaptor for something when the old one is perfectly good.

    Like when your old laptop charger cord doesn't fit the new computer.


    Would be easier to introduce an industry standard? Imagine if all the plugs in your house were different and so every time you moved house you had to buy a whole set of new appliances.

    Systemic Obsolescence::

    This one usually makes you the most cross. Because it means it's too hard or too expensive to fix something.

    Example: DVD players die because of the lasers in the DVD drive, most of these are soldered onto the circuit board without instructions making it really hard to fix.

    Although there may be people who try and make a business from fixing this stuff (called reverse engineering) manufacturers can make it so hard to find and expensive to buy replacement parts that it becomes economically prohibitive. SO rather than fix your old telly or shoes you buy a new one/pair. 

  8. Is it all the companies fault, can it be a good thing?

    So there is also an idea called induced or natural obsolescence.

    When people find a better way of doing something ir there is an advancement in a particular sector.

    For example, you wouldn't use the top quality materials to make a phone to last 20 years, when you know that things will change really quickly.

    So sometimes it can be a good thing to use light, less intensive materials that can late be adapted or reused, or cause less harm when thrown away.

    This leads us to the most interesting form of obsolescence:

    Style obsolescence:

    This is where marketing and advertising come in to play.

    It's all about riding a fashion cycle – so that you feel a bit like a pleb if you have still have the iPhone 4, or your car is a 2003 model, or you're not in the latest wedge-looking sneakers.

    Dr Frosch the father of industrial ecology (very smart guys said that the structure of the sales and advertising industry reflects this trend as its all about convincing people to buy new things to replace things that work ok. Leads to a 'disposable society' – plastic cups, we all know that it's crap, but why do we do it in the furst place?

    There's a great book called Fast Fashion by Lucy Siegel that talks about the economic thinking behind brands like Zara, Topshop, Supre and Cotton On.

    So not only do the clothes change so rapidly to keep up with what Miley Cyrus or Zooey Deschanel is wearing, but the pace of production means that functionally they are worse, and you're much more likely to chuck it out.


    Buy classic, quality pieces ideally made in Australia. Bloody good excuse to drop soe designer dosh. Check out the website Meet Your Maker for companies that do this like Cue, Ampersander, Biance Spender, Collette Dinnigan – go to Ethical Fashion Australia.

    Economists would refer to consequences of designed obsolescence as 'negative externalities' – designing stuff that is meant to break means more waste, more resources used, more water, and more consumer spending. 

  9. Lucy Siegle - To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?
  10. What do you do about it?

    Get creative.

    Agree that natural obsolescence will always happen and the best response is to limit the consequent damage or improve the efficiency and sustainability of production.

    Maybe some of the 3-d printing stuff will work like this.

    Maybe you can create a type of transformer product that changes throughout its life phases.

    Might perceived value-based consumerism be a  good thing? Can also lead to positive behaviour change like for example Fair Trade chocolate and products.

    Go to reverse garbage and 'Jury Rig', and old nautical term – make stuff out of discarded bits and pieces, for example there's a group called Milk Crate events that light everything using bike-powered milk crates.

  11. MacGyverism! 

    Tuesday August 13,  at Kudos Gallery in Paddington is The Whispering Gallery Images From Earth Opening and Exhibition by Lea Donnan.

    Tuesday August 13, Think Act Change, 6.30pm at 99 on York talking about Transforming Communities with Michael Mobbs, Daniel Kogoy (Sunday Streets/Greens Councillor) & Phil Stubbs who is coordinating Sydney's first Better Block. Costs $10.

    Wednesday August 14, from 11am, Lock the Gate have organised a rally at the NSW Supreme Courts 184 Phillip Street to stand up against the Coal Bullies. Support Bulga and other NSW communities being pushed around by the mining industry and O'Farrell government.

    Friday August 16, An Evening with Allan Savory, hosted by Milkwood Permaculture and RegenAG, about holistic management talking about how to reverse derertification, and climate change. It;s at the NSW Teachers Federation.

    Saturday Auguts, 24, The Green Living Centre 218 King Street in Newtown have workshops on: Mending and Darning on August 24, worm farming and composting on Saturday August 31. 


    Check out the Good Hood, and pin your bit of goodness on the map to win some very fancy dinners -

    The Good Design Awards have made a call for entries for people who have done really good service, design, community etc.

  13. Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change | Video on