Managing Obsolescence & Increasing Product Lifespan

In previous blogs we have discussed managing obsolescence in product design and how to avoid it. In our last article on the topic we spoke about focus groups, social media polls, analytics, user forums and third party review tools such as Trustpilot – you can read that feature right here.

However, with such a strong focus on moving towards more sustainable living, we can also address the full lifecycle of the product. We can home in on the implications of the products successes, or indeed failures, on the environment as well as on your own business, and of course, the impact to the customer.

Bad Press for Planned Obsolescence

Whilst obsolescence of a product is most likely inevitable, planned obsolescence has had some pretty negative press historically.

A couple of prevalent examples include the lawsuit filed against Apple back in 2017 and again this year (2021), when it was alleged that the technology giant was purposefully slowing down older models of their product once a new release hit the market.

Hewlett Packard and a number of its competitors were also alleged to be guilty of planned obsolescence in 2017. It was reported that the hardware giants had programmed their printers to shut down after a determined length of time, regardless of whether or not the printer was still functioning, or still had ink!

Although these are classic cases of how planned obsolescence has been used to encourage customer retention through deception, planned obsolescence can in fact be used for good! In many cases the end of life for a product is unavoidable, and we are now seeing that sustainability savvy organisations are thinking and planning smarter in terms of how they handle the product at the end of its life.

Photo by Anton Maksimov juvnsky on Unsplash

Making Product Design Truly Sustainable

‘Cradle to grave’ product lifecycle is a hot topic. As a society as a whole (we can only hope) we are becoming far more conscious of the impact we have on our environment. We care far more now, about what we are leaving behind for our children and their children, as well as the state of the world we are living it in the meantime.

As little Skye, aged 5, puts the pressure on Waitrose to stop stocking kids magazines with single use plastic toys (find out more here), you can sure hope that grown up business people will start to be looking at sustainability before the product design journey even kicks off. (Incidentally – kudos to Skye – we want to be like you when we grow up!).

We’ve shared some fantastic examples of cradle to grave product design, over the last couple of years, and one very memorable piece was the Blond Designs Borrn baby bottle.  Not only was the bottle designed to be feeding friendly for a newborn baby, the system would grow with the child (or children), allowing you to switch out the lid for differing stages such as teats, sippy cups and lid free. They also focused on a neutral colour palette, encouraging repeat use as the family grows.

Image by Blond Design – Borrn, via Dezeen

Borrn even took it about ten steps further and committed to taking the product back once the family has had the use from it. The product would be deconstructed, and all elements recycled. Impact to environment? Almost zero! (Aside from the impact of production and shipping perhaps – but then we haven’t looked into how Borrn create their products – who knows, it could be pretty green!) Impact on family? They’ve saved a load of money on plastic that would have been discarded, they’ve had use of a great quality product for their child and they have a clean conscience to boot!

Give The Customer The Tools and You Can Furnish Him For Life

What about the products end of life? And when is that exactly? IKEA have stated that they will now be providing ‘deconstructions’ for their furniture, as we learned from this great piece over at Yanko Design. The Swedish leader in flat-pack furniture has been pretty proactive over the years, for example, if you ask IKEA to send you a spare set of nuts and bolts for a product, they will do so free of charge.

Image by IKEA, via Yanko Design

Why? Probably partly because it’s not worth the negative PR for you to rebuild something, only for it to collapse causing injury. So no doubt IKEA would rather ensure you have the right tools for the job to keep everyone safe, but this also ensures that their furniture isn’t going to landfill anytime soon, helping contribute to their sustainability goals.

However, further supporting reusing their furniture, IKEA have taken this one step further and have now committed to providing a guide to deconstructing their furniture. This will add further value to the furniture on the used market, but ultimately, help IKEA to do their bit for the environment too – good news for everyone involved!

The Product Lifecycle – Focusing on Product Rejuvenation

So what else can we do to reduce the chances of obsolescence? It is this rejuvenation part of the Product Lifecycle (see Product Lifecycle diagram below) that we need to pay extra attention to.

Image Credit:

Product rejuvenation is essential to retain your business and keep your product alive. Here are just a few of the ways in which you can go about the product rejuvenation part of the product lifecycle:

  1. Retain value for the user through improved or increased product functionality, perhaps releasing improved features through software upgrades (if indeed your product is driven by software)
  2. Retain your customer through encouraging repeat purchasing (think additional devices (Amazon’s Alexa is a great example here, or releasing upgrades that are irresistible to the user – think, predictably, iPhone!)
  3. Appeal to new markets through diversification (think marketing tablets to schools rather than just personal home users)
  4. Appeal to new demographics through diversification (think evolving a smart watch to be child-safe, extending the appeal to the junior market)
  5. Extend the life of an existing product by adding value with things like add-ons or accessories and any sort of personalization to increase consumer attachment to your product (think ear buds, skins, cases, apps, etc.)
  6. Continue the life of the product with the ability to trade-in, giving your product a value in its later life, possibly working on refurbishing and reselling, deconstruction and recycling, for example.

The concept of product rejuvenation tells us that whilst it’s great to have a cradle to grave plan for our product, if that is not possible from the get-go, there are other approaches to managing or preventing obsolescence – it’s never to late!

Don’t Forget – Customer Is King (Or Queen)!

And finally, possibly one of the most valuable actions you can take, is to ask your customer what they think of your product and use that information to evolve and improve your product in the for future iterations.

We cited these points in a previous article, but we’ll list them once again for those at the back;  Through the power of focus groups, social media polls and review platforms, we want to be asking the customer the following questions to aid our product evolution:

  • What did the user enjoy the most about the product?
  • What elements did the user find difficult to use?
  • What functionality would the user like integrated to make the product even more useful?
  • Does the user feel the product represents good value for money?
  • Would they buy the product again?

By taking into account what your customer really wants and needs, likes and dislikes, you have a much stronger chance of retaining your place in the market, improving customer retention and becoming established, reliable and possibly even the ‘go-to’ in your market.

To find out more about how we can work with you to prevent product obselesence, reach out to our team today, by dropping us a line.

You can reach us at – we’d love to hear from you!