To maintain unit sales, General Motors head Alfred P. Sloan preferred the term "dynamic obsolescence". This strategy had far-reaching effects on the auto business, the field of product design, and eventually the American economy. The smaller players could not maintain the pace and expense of yearly re-styling.
Henry Ford did not like the model-year change because he clung to an engineer's notions of simplicity, economies of scale, and design integrity. GM surpassed Ford's sales in and became the dominant company in the industry thereafter.
The frequent design changes also made it necessary to use a body-on-frame rather than the lighter, but less easy to modify, unibody design used by most European automakers. Brooks Stevens[ edit ] However, the phrase was first popularized in by Brooks Stevens , an American industrial designer. Stevens was due to give a talk at an advertising conference in Minneapolis in Without giving it much thought, he used the term as the title of his talk.
From that point on, "planned obsolescence" became Stevens' catchphrase. By his definition, planned obsolescence was "Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary. By the late s, planned obsolescence had become a commonly used term for products designed to break easily or to quickly go out of style. In fact, the concept was so widely recognized that in Volkswagen mocked it in an advertising campaign.
While acknowledging the widespread use of planned obsolescence among automobile manufacturers, Volkswagen pitched itself as an alternative. Packard divided planned obsolescence into two sub categories: Packard quoted industrial designer George Nelson , who wrote: When no contribution is made or can be made, the only process available for giving the illusion of change is 'styling! Thus, it must be decided early in the design of a complex product how long it is designed to last so that each component can be made to those specifications.
Since all matter is subject to entropy , it is impossible for any designed object to retain its full function forever; all products will ultimately break down, no matter what steps are taken. While it is known that products are optimized to match their required lifespan, such designs are often chosen for cost or weight saving reasons. Limited lifespan is only a sign of planned obsolescence if the lifespan of the product is made artificially short by design.
The strategy of contrived durability is generally not prohibited by law, and manufacturers are free to set the durability level of their products. Using soft metal in screws and cheap plastic instead of metal in stress-bearing components will increase the speed at which a product will become inoperable through normal usage and make it prone to breakage from even minor forms of abnormal usage.
For example, small, brittle plastic gears in toys are extremely prone to damage if the toy is played with roughly, which can easily destroy key functions of the toy and force the purchase of a replacement. Such products are often designed to be impossible to service; for example, a cheap "throwaway" digital watch may have a casing which is simply sealed in the factory, with no designed ability for the user to access the interior without destroying the watch entirely.
The cost of this repair may exceed the residual value of the appliance, forcing it to be scrapped. In , Toshiba was criticized for issuing cease-and-desist letters to the owner of a website that hosted its copyrighted repair manuals, to the detriment of the independent and home repair market.
While such a design can help make the device thinner, it can also make it difficult to replace the battery without sending the entire device away for repairs or purchasing a replacement. Many products are primarily desirable for aesthetic rather than functional reasons.
An obvious example of such a product is clothing. Such products experience a cycle of desirability referred to as a "fashion cycle". By continually introducing new aesthetics, and retargeting or discontinuing older designs, a manufacturer can "ride the fashion cycle", allowing for constant sales despite the original products remaining fully functional.
Sneakers are popular fashion industry where this is prevalent - Nike 's Air Max line of running shoes is a prime example where a single model of shoe is often produced for years, but the color and material combination "colorway" is changed every few months, or different colorways are offered in different markets.
This has the upshot of ensuring constant demand for the product, even though it remains fundamentally the same. To a more limited extent this is also true of some consumer electronic products, where manufacturers will release slightly updated products at regular intervals and emphasize their value as status symbols.
Systemic obsolescence[ edit ] Planned systemic obsolescence is the deliberate attempt to make a product obsolete by altering the system in which it is used in such a way as to make its continued use difficult. Common examples of planned systemic obsolescence include not accommodating forward compatibility in software, or routinely changing screws or fasteners so that they cannot easily be operated on with existing tools.
Programmed obsolescence[ edit ] In some cases, notification may be combined with the deliberate disabling of a product to prevent it from working, thus requiring the buyer to purchase a replacement. For example, inkjet printer manufacturers employ smart chips in their ink cartridges to prevent them from being used after a certain threshold number of pages, time, etc. This constitutes "programmed obsolescence", in that there is no random component contributing to the decline in function.
In the Jackie Blennis v. HP class action suit, it was claimed that Hewlett Packard designed certain inkjet printers and cartridges to shut down on an undisclosed expiration date, and at this point consumers were prevented from using the ink that remained in the expired cartridge. There are some workarounds for users, for instance, that will more than double the life of the printer that has stopped with a message to replace the imaging drum.
Waste hierarchy Estimates of planned obsolescence can influence a company's decisions about product engineering. Therefore, the company can use the least expensive components that satisfy product lifetime projections. These products can be bought from the same manufacturer a replacement part or a newer model , or from a competitor who might also rely on planned obsolescence.
Especially in developed countries where many industries already face a saturated market , this technique is often necessary for producers to maintain their level of revenue.
While planned obsolescence is appealing to producers, it can also do significant harm to the society in the form of negative externalities. Continuously replacing products, rather than repairing them, creates more waste and pollution, uses more natural resources, and results in more consumer spending.
Planned obsolescence can thus have a negative impact on the environment in aggregate. Even when planned obsolescence might help to save scarce resources per unit produced, it tends to increase output in aggregate, since due to laws of supply and demand decreases in cost and price will eventually result in increases in demand and consumption. However, the negative environmental impacts of planned obsolescence are dependent also on the process of production.
Regulation[ edit ] In , as part of a larger movement against planned obsolescence across the European Union, France has passed legislation requiring that appliance manufacturers and vendors declare the intended product lifespans , and to inform consumers how long spare parts for a given product will be produced.
From , appliance manufacturers are required to repair or replace, free of charge, any defective product within two years from its original purchase date. This effectively creates a mandatory two-year warranty. Philip Kotler argues that: With psychological obsolescence, resources are used up making changes, often cosmetic changes, that are not of great value to the customer. Miles Park advocates new and collaborative approaches between the designer and the consumer to challenge obsolescence in fast-moving sectors such as consumer electronics.
As free software and open source software can always be updated and maintained by somebody else, the user is not at the sole mercy of a proprietary vendor. In academia[ edit ] Russell Jacoby , writing in the s, observes that intellectual production has succumbed to the same pattern of planned obsolescence used by manufacturing enterprises to generate ever-renewed demand for their products. The application of planned obsolescence to thought itself has the same merit as its application to consumer goods; the new is not only shoddier than the old, it fuels an obsolete social system that staves off its replacement by manufacturing the illusion that it is perpetually new.
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July Planned obsolescence has been assumed a necessity when it comes to stimulating consumption; however, this practice has come into question. In the French Parliament ruled and further established a fine of up to , euros and jail terms of up to two years for those manufacturers planning the death of their products in advance.
The rule is not only relevant because of the sanctions that it establishes but also because it is the first time that a legislature openly recognizes the existence of planned obsolescence. These techniques may include "a deliberate introduction of a flaw, a weakness, a scheduled stop, a technical limitation, incompatibility or other obstacles for repair", reads the text regarding what may be considered as planned obsolescence.
The European Union is also beginning to address this problem. It said replacing products that are designed to stop working within two or three years of their purchase was a waste of energy and resources and generated pollution.