Life changes, and the products that support our lives should change along with us. A DFL product is designed with interchangeable, adaptable, or modular components that enable customers to alter its shape, change its aesthetic, or add functionality that the customer may not have even considered at the outset. To achieve this, designers must ensure products and accessories are designed to be both forward and reverse compatible, allowing for product innovations over time.
As the first tenet for the “Designed to Evolve” principle, we have the most obvious way a product can evolve, it can adapt and change. Adapt can mean a lot of things, it’s a purposefully ambiguous term meant to cover a wide range of potential changes designed into the product platform.
This could be mean the functionality of the product all the way to its aesthetic that might become relevant as the user’s life changes.
When designing a product platform from scratch, considerations should be taken that allow it to grow. Including elements like modularity, simple and standardized connection points, or just space for potential adaptable elements imagined and not yet imagined.
Products should be flexible enough to meet a user’s needs, even as those needs shift over time. Our lives are constantly changing, some of the changes are big, others incremental, but life certainly doesn’t stay still. In the last two decades of my adult life, I have moved across the country twice, had four children, and nurtured a company from start-up to becoming publicly traded with over 110 retail showrooms nationwide. Most of my product needs over that time have evolved but haven’t completely changed. I still need tools to cook, clothing, cars, hygiene products, and furniture for my living space.
Unfortunately, many of the products I need didn’t last over this long period of time. At each new stage of my life, we had to replace each of these products with new ones.
What if these things were specifically designed to evolve with us over time?
The coffee table could go from long and skinny to square to fit a new room, or even change colors? What if I wouldn’t need to buy as much new stuff as my life changed, but the great products I invested in could change, grow, or otherwise adapt with me over time?
How might a product expand, contract, and change shape? Well, our Sactionals couch does this through modularity. The Seats can be moved from an end piece to a center piece, to an ottoman; Sides are also used as backs giving users flexibility in how they use the pieces they own, and they always fit with each other like Lego. Of the Sactionals in my living room today, half of them were manufactured 13 years ago, and they are mated with newer ones made last year. This is due to the standardized connection system and modularity. The actual construction of the product has improved many times over the years…but the outer dimensions and points of connection have remained the same. Standardization of key measurements and elements allows users to do amazing things. I once met a couple who had both owned Sactionals before they met, and when they got married, they were able to mix the pieces together and make one big couch. I’ve heard families sending part of their couch off to school with their kids. And I know plenty of people, even within Lovesac, who are often re-arranging their living rooms for holidays, parties, or just overnight guests.
Superior and flexible functionality is a primary hallmark of a DFL product. But style and aesthetics cannot be ignored. Market trends are real and affect people’s eye for style. If a perfectly useful product is in their home, but it’s a neon-colored, 80’s-floral monstrosity, it’s not likely to stay forever. For products to truly last, they need to be able to evolve with the times. In the Loveable tenet, we talk about trends being incorporated in transient elements only. For Sacs and Sactionals, that’s our Covers; today about one third of the (roughly 20) quick-ship covers we offer are grey, but in another 10 or 15 years the predominant color might be blue or green as style swings. There are still more than 200 “custom Covers” offered to address people’s individuality and whims, without the burden of carrying inventory or creating wasteful clearance products. The point is, because this aesthetic component is separate from the bulk of the product’s useful structure, users are able to see the product meet their style needs in 10 or 20, or maybe 30 years, without throwing away most of their investment—or placing all of that wood, foam, and fabric in a landfill.
The third major piece of the Adaptable tenet addresses upgrades. We, as the Designed-For-Life Group, want to be very careful when we talk about upgrades; we’re not talking about creating products that are on the upgrade hamster-wheel-of-waste where new products are intentionally introduced every year or two with slightly better features (larger screens and better cameras—we’re looking at you, Apple!) that force customers to move to the next model because they also don’t support the newest software on the older models.
We’re talking about adding true functionality to the platform, for the benefit of the user. New functionality can be added by making new versions of the same product, or by adding an accessory that integrates into the existing platform. Let me give you some examples, from Sactionals, of a change to an existing product that added functionality.
LOVESAC introduced the Storage Seat in 2019, which is the same shape as a regular Sactionals Seat, except the frame has a closed bottom and a lid in the top. It still connects with all the existing Sactionals pieces in the market the same as the original Seat, but it has the added utility to the user of storing blanks, gaming controllers, kids toys or whatever the user has cluttering their living space.
The easier way to add functionality is through accessories.
But they did design an access point to the motor in the head of the mixer so it could be used by a variety of attachments. This allowed the designers of the future the room to design the spiralizer attachment.
In my own life, I now have Storage Seat Sactionals, the Power Hub charging station, and many other new accessory additions to the platform that were invented many years after those first Sactionals pieces joined my family. And they’re all integrated into this couch that is still at the heart of our home. It is more useful and better looking now (wearing its seventh set of Covers) than it ever was, and it has seen all of our kids grow up eating, sometimes sleeping, and jumping on them daily.
Upgradeable is really where the DFL approach requires a design team to be forward-thinking. From the outset, effort must be made to imagine at least some of the possibilities that may be useful to the platform, beyond the original product design. In the Storage Seat, for example, we intentionally left two holes in the bottom panel of the Seat.
We don’t even know what those holes are for yet, but now our designers will have access to this storage space if they need it for future innovations, perhaps electrical cords, cooling fans, vents—who knows….but the Storage Seats being sold today will hopefully be able to incorporate some new accessory or add-on because of these access points. Firms that embrace the DFLs vision for upgradability try to increase the value of the product to the user, even after they’ve taken the product home. Investing in upgradability demonstrates that a brand cares for its craft, and its customers. It’s easy to understand why a product being able to expand, reconfigure or aesthetically change, and gain functionality over time would be desirable for the consumer. But why should a company go to the trouble to live up to these challenging criteria? Doesn’t the DFL approach just make products more complex and perhaps even more costly?
The answer to all of these questions is YES.
It is more difficult and more costly to develop a product under this paradigm. It takes more creativity and forward-thinking. It is more expensive to build a product with Velcro, magnetic strips, or fasteners instead of adhesives, screws, or paint. Ultimately, better products cost more to produce. But should the stuff we buy ever have even become so cheap? Is the current make-and-consume-more-at-all-costs paradigm good for society, the Earth, or even our own health? Some will argue it has been good for business, but as we’re proving with our own success at Lovesac, people will pay more for real value. Maybe that means they go without in some other category for a time…but maybe that’s okay.
There are at least two reasons it also makes good business sense for companies to invest the time and capital in this DFL approach. Firstly, they will bring superior value to the customer which will drive growth, word of mouth advertising, and loyalty. Secondly, by offering changeable and expandable components, that customer who has made the initial investment in the platform is likely to come back to the brand again and again for upgrades, accessories, and parts that help the product expand or change color or offer new functionality.
As long as customers keep their products in their lives, brands have an amazing opportunity to develop a relationship with them, by offering platform expansions, resulting in more revenue for the company and more satisfied customers. This is lifetime value that may become a lifetime relationship between a brand a customer.