As an industrial designer, functionality plays a great deal into what and why we design a product, car, electronic, softgood, etc. However, I never actually took into account the actual planning of planned obsolescence. I never accounted for the planning of a product dying. But it makes sense. Designers walk a fine line between functionality and complete and total disaster. If the product is designed to be functional forever, the company for which you are designing is not going to thrive or make a sustainable profit because consumers aren’t coming back for more (as often). Yet, if the product is designed to break fairly easily, or die after a couple of months (or whatever specific time frame the company sees fit) the consumer will find another company to buy from because they are no longer satisfied with the quality of the current product. So, if a product is designed to last too long, the company suffers but if the product is designed to fail too quickly the company suffers. If the designer isn’t purposeful about material, form, functionality and even the consumer market, the company is going to fail.
There are many examples of planned obsolescence with cars and consumer electronics being at the forefront of those examples. There are always new cars and a new iPhone and a new game system for the sole reason of accessorizing. Society today tells us that we must accessorize and these accessories are very much going to fade and die sooner than later and the industry has to keep up with their planned depletion. Cars, for example, are always being redesigned and re-modeled and remade. Every year, Ford comes out with a new Focus or Fusion. Why? “instead of sticking with hits and standardizing them over time (which would be better for the repair market) car companies retire popular models and bring out something new every few years, making it harder to repair older models.” So, not only are companies coming out with new models every couple of years but they’re also retiring old parts making it nearly impossible to be efficient (consuming wise) and own an older vehicle.
Planned Obsolescence from a design standpoint is a very complex issue that isn’t often thought about, yet is very present in the everyday lives of product designers. Walking the fine line for a company with the effects of consumer response is crucial in order to maintain a successful market and overall economy.