Selling something is a promise. Reliability and quality are a top priority, from the design-concept phase to the delivery of goods. A Designed for Life product aims to last at least for the lifetime of the consumer – and a guarantee to that effect puts the onus on the organization to ensure their design lives up to this high standard.

Selling something is a promise. Reliability and quality are a top priority, from the design-concept phase to the delivery of goods. A Designed for Life product aims to last at least for the lifetime of the consumer – and a guarantee to that effect puts the onus on the organization to ensure their design lives up to this high standard.

The second principle of the DFL framework, and perhaps the most obvious tenet under Built to Last, is Durable. If you want a product to last for a long time, it should be strong and reliable enough to last. If not, the other benefits delivered by Designed for Life products become irrelevant. As a baseline for our Durable tenet, Designed for Life products must be made with high-quality materials and expert construction, but exactly how you determine what “high quality” means can vary widely across products and categories. Brands will make claims about their products’ performance that are factual and said in a way that sounds like the consumer should care about them, while simultaneously hiding systemic quality issues. Do I care that this blender can cut wood into sawdust if the motor is going to blow out in under a year?

So, how can a consumer know if a product is truly durable? Firstly, we can look at the industry standards for testing durability and safety that have been developed over decades. There’s already great expertise in the technical aspects and industry specifics built into these regulations. The problem with such regulatory tests, however, is they are often either developed or heavily influenced by key players in the industries themselves, resulting in targets that are low enough to be achieved easily. A perfect example is car companies lobbying against seat belt requirements because they felt requiring a safety apparatus would make cars seem unsafe. We often see in technology today how proper laws and regulations can lag behind the invention of new technologies, especially around the internet. But the same is true for new materials and products, it’s just not as well known. Because of these factors, we believe DFL products should at least meet existing standards and, more appropriately, exceed them.

Image source Furnitest

In the furniture industry, there isn’t actually a durability standard referencing couches for home use. But there is an industrial standard called BIFMA. The certification involves many tests, like pulling and pushing on different parts of the couch or cycling heavy weights looking for signs of wear or breakages. The test was developed to try to mimic the type of use a couch in an environment like a hotel lobby or a public library would receive over many years. Sactionals pass this test, and even pass with double the number of cycles for some of these tests. We honestly haven’t been able to test to the limit—running out of weight or capacity in the testing processes. But the fact that Sactionals pass does not mean we have superior quality, it means we have the bare minimum for an industry standard timeframe. There is also a lot of research and education a consumer needs to do before understanding these tests for each industry. Most people who aren’t in the furniture industry have not heard of BIFMA. Moreover, consumers shouldn’t have to go down a research rabbit hole on regulatory standards before buying the various products in their homes.

Because of the gaps in some of these existing testing frameworks, we think a better measure for durability is to simply see the company stand behind the products they offer. If a product is truly of higher quality, the company should be able to offer a longer warranty on that product. This puts the onus on the company, who should be well versed in the durability standards in their industry, as well as how to improve upon them. Ideally, companies should strive for a lifetime guarantee, if that is not possible, at least getting creative with design to offer something longer than competitors.

We do offer a lifetime guarantee for the Sactionals Seat Frame and Side Inserts, but it is not possible for all of our products. Our Cushions only have a 3-year warranty. The nature of foam as a material is that it breaks down over time, making the cushions feel softer or it could possibly sag. We did, however, go to the extra expense of building an extra foam core into our cushions to prevent the sagging as long as possible. By changing the construction, we pushed above the industry standard for cushions, but we’re not able to offer a true lifetime guarantee. There are a lot of products out there today with “lifetime” guarantees, but it’s a tricky word because “lifetime” is not actually a specific time period, and often it’s not until you study the fine print that you see it’s the lifetime of the product, not the user…which is an obvious paradox. This mattress has a lifetime guarantee, and some industry leader has determined that mattresses have a 10-year lifespan. When we say a goal of a lifetime guarantee, we mean the lifetime for the user.

A Lovesac Side Insert

The Durable tenet is of course key to the DFL philosophy, but at the same time, it’s made more potent when combined with the rest of the tenets. This is one of the interesting and fun characteristics of the DFL framework. Each tenet builds on the next, and together they offer the holistic approach that makes DFL a unique product design framework with very high standards. Imaging having a product that brings no emotions to customers, and it’s produced with non-sustainable materials and processes. How would a “lifetime” guarantee for such a product be truly beneficial for the customer or the world we live in?

On the other hand, if we had sustainable, loveable, and maintainable products that the company cannot stand behind from a durability perspective, then we are stuck in the same overconsuming pattern we currently live in. We’d simply switch relying on replacement parts, or low-quality core products, resulting in more underused products in our life and more waste in our environment. This outcome is not uncommon at all today. From automobiles to appliances, our pursuit of low-cost products has led to a landscape full of products that we expect, even as we buy them, to break down, need service, or rapid replacement.

“Durable” is the promise of quality and a long product lifecycle that a brand makes to its customers. It’s Is the commitment to high-quality products and reliability for its services. It is likely that many Designed for Life products will not be able to offer a lifetime guarantee when they are first developed. However, a firm’s commitment to DFL captures the intention of a company to constantly evolve its products and services to improve the user experience over their lifetime relationship with that brand. We acknowledge that it is not an easy task for a company to guarantee its products for a lifetime. This is why our approach encourages brands to not only have a plan to improve their product platforms over time in relation to the DFL framework, but to see those plans through to fruition.

Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

Lovesac has made improvements on the Sactionals platform over the years. Nearly every screw has been placed, joint reinforced, and staples lengthened based on return and warranty defects. We’ve reduced packaging to be more sustainable, strengthened packaging to reduce wasteful returns, transitioned all upholstery fabric to a construction made of 100% recycled plastic water bottles, and a dozen more improvements to the product over the years. Yet today’s Sactionals mate up with Sactionals from a decade ago with no issue. However, there are many more improvements to come. In our search, we have found some cushion materials that would be able to withstand use over a lifetime, but they are currently 3 to 10 times more expensive than our existing cushions. At the end of the day, we’re still a business and this radical increase to the product quality is not yet justified by the cost. However, technology will continue to evolve, and new alternatives will become available. We will continue to track these materials to see if, as scale grows, prices go down. And we’ll continue looking for other alternatives as well. We do this because a good DFL company is committed to evolving and improving over time. Our goal is to someday offer a complete lifetime guarantee on all components of our products.

This willingness for companies to commit to future growth around the quality of their products and sustainable approach is one of the differentiation points of the DFL framework. Our approach is holistic in reach yet modular in form, allowing designers and companies to build their own strategy on how they might approach each tenet or improve over time. We emphasize the interdependence of our six tenets but at the same time we understand the business reality that evolution takes time. As long as companies decide to invest in creating products that follow our two fundamental design principles, Built to Last and Designed to Evolve, and commit to relentless, ongoing improvement, the rest will fall into place.

Shawn

About Shawn

Founder & CEO of Lovesac, a Designed for Life furniture company. I have a goal of building products that are truly sustainable. Would you believe, I won a $1 million investment on Fox’s “Rebel Billionaire” show in 2005 and became President of Virgin Worldwide with Richard Branson’s companies for a time. Since then, I'm growing Lovesac to a 65+ store chain, recognized in Furniture Today as America’s fastest growing furniture retailer. I'm becoming known for my invention of Sactionals® Lovesac’s industry-disruptive sofa invention. Check out my vlog on YouTube! Get Off The Couch, with Shawn Nelson of Lovesac

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