Why everything should be like a Weber grill

June 14, 2019

A few years back, I spent a few months with my friend Matthias Walz musing about how the design process for products could be improved to eradicate planned obsolesence and provide everlasting products for happy customers. It seemed obvious as a solution to reduced resource consumption. Today, I had an a-ha moment.

For our wedding in 2002, my wife Laura made me a present - a top of the line Weber grill. It was pricey, but rugged. It has served us at every BBQ, every Kindergarten christmas market, every block party. The investment had already exceeded my expectations. But at some point, between fire and water, the elements will wear anything down, so the grill became unsave to use. Instead of following the usual paths of replacing it with a current model, I was excited to find out that I could easily order any spare part for a 17 year old product online and repair it in literally 10 minutes. That simple.

So I took it apart, cleaned it thoroughly (yuck!) and replaced what was needed. Done and good as new.

Everlasting product.

Now, why am I telling you this? I am frustrated with the product design when it comes to durability and repairability. From power adapters not fitting more than one appliance to easily breaking plastic knobs on everything. From the kids CD player dying after 6 months (my first CD player from the 80s still runs fine by the way) to zippers on kids jackets tearing out. From impossible to install ceiling lamps to screws breaking off when opening a casing. It is not by accident, but fully designed to be that way. I hate it.

Every product should comply to the following minimum design principles:

  • build in the most modular way possible so individual parts can easily be replaced.
  • make disassembly easy. even for recycling it better if it dies.
  • don't add unnecessary bells and whistles that just shorten useful life. KISS.
  • offer easy-to-find, clearly labeled spare parts for all your products for decades.
  • provide simple instructions on how to replace parts or service the product.
  • possibly even open source specs for 3D printing parts.

This list is short and obviously incomplete, but almost no consumer product even gets close. By the way, for professional tools this clearly exists because no contractor would buy a power drill or chainsaw if it wasn't fully serivceable and repairable. It is just that consumers are treated as, well, consumers, but not users.

We should all demand to be treated as professional users. And require (almost) everlasting products. We need much fewer things that are much simpler and last much longer.

#everlastingproduct #sdg12 #circulareconomy

Ralf Schroeder

Looking for ways to align my portfolio with my values and beliefs.