Only those that evolve survive.
This has become an observable scientific truth for more than 200 years, since the brilliant Darwin published the Origin of the Species. We would argue it applies to all species of things—living and not. Only those that evolve survive. It is remarkable, then, that a concept so foundational has not been integrated into the design and creation of the artifacts and commercial practices that play an influential role in shaping the rhythms and character of our everyday modern lives. No other designers have utilized “designed to evolve” as a fundamental design principle in the way we at Designed For Life advocate. Our entire framework stands on these two basic pillars: things that are built to last, and designed to evolve.
It is this “evolutionary” aspect of the DFL framework that truly sets it apart from other approaches, and therefore it is this attribute that will make a Designed For Life product superior, in many respects, versus ordinary products they compete with. Like all evolutionary advantages, it is done in the name of competition and furthering the odds of success. Each of the six individual Designed For Life framework tenets can be observed within other products or schools of design, but collectively, the three listed on the right of our framework: Adaptable, Sustainable, and End-of-life-able, all roll up into the pillar we call “Designed to Evolve”.
Adaptable. It comes down to time. Time is the common denominator—the critical element typically neglected by most schools of design or companies that produce the things that adorn our lives. Yet time is not an unimportant concept to humans. Time is typically only represented in artifacts by the immediacy of whatever trends are guiding things “now” at the moment a product happens to be created. This panders to a shortsighted consumer, already desensitized by the effects of living for many decades with planned obsolescence as the driving force behind the proliferation of all types of consumer products. Time also plays a role in conceiving the various warranty schemes required to be competitive in a product category versus others. But that is all.
Under the umbrella of the Designed For Life approach, however, time is the score on which the music is written. A product can only be made “adaptable” with time in mind. What might the user encounter in their life? Where might they go? How might their experience change? How might their needs change? How might their tastes change—or the tastes of society around them? How might their life change over time, and how can this product be conceived to adapt, upgrade, and even improve over time to remain useful, beautiful, and relevant to that user over the long haul? If not, it is inevitable that even a well-made or beautiful product will fall out of favor with the user (and perhaps society broadly) over time, and is more likely to be discarded.
Sustainable. A firm or a designer can only justify the costly effort of seeking out the most sustainable inputs, from raw goods and materials, to labor, packaging, and delivery, in consideration of time. Unless we actually believe we truly are “borrowing this earth from our children,” and that future generations, decades and even centuries after us will be affected by our design decisions and those we make as individual consumers, then all costs, energy, and effort expended on more “sustainable” practices, is anti-capitalistic and unproductive. We must understand, cope with, and make the effort to design things sustainably. More than ever before, this movement is gaining real momentum, but “sustainability” is only one of six total tenets within the DFL framework. To achieve a product that can actually sustain, what we like to call a “sustain-able” product, requires a more concerted effort. That is the whole point of our more holistic Designed For Life framework.
End-of-life-able. This is the final, and in some ways the most demanding of the three “evolutionary” tenets within the DFL framework. Designing with the end in mind is not instinctive or natural for most firms, who have been rewarded for their relentless focus on increasing sales while lowering costs. Once again, a consideration for our future is requisite….back to the idea of time. By embedding solutions for the end-of-life of a product at the outset, whether it be raw input considerations such as natural or bio-degradable materials, or whether it be programmatic considerations like take-back, recycle, re-use, trade-in programs or some other solution, this ultimate tenet of the framework really demonstrates one’s commitment to the concept, which goes far deeper than simple “sustainability” as the world typically speaks of it.
“Designed to Evolve”, one of two pillars underpinning the Designed For Life approach, not only separates us philosophically amidst so many other voices within the vast worlds of design and sustainability, but more importantly, it delivers product solutions that can be longer lasting, more functional, useful, endearing, and ultimately just “better” than products designed utilizing a more traditional approach. It is a high bar to create truly sustain-able products, but the outcome is worth it—for the user, for the earth, and for the firm that embraces it.
Only those that evolve survive. Buy less. Buy better.