It is critical for everyone to understand that designers have power to define the physical world we live in. Our constructed environments are the result of the decisions some designers made in a thoughtful, or not so thoughtful, way. Leading an organization that manufactures and ships thousands of products every year, as well as being part of the design process for all of our products, I came to the conclusion that there are two fundamental design principles that could contribute dramatically to the future of our physical surroundings.

It is critical for everyone to understand that designers have power to define the physical world we live in. Our constructed environments are the result of the decisions some designers made in a thoughtful, or not so thoughtful, way. Leading an organization that manufactures and ships thousands of products every year, as well as being part of the design process for all of our products, I came to the conclusion that there are two fundamental design principles that could contribute dramatically to the future of our physical surroundings.

These two values are: making products that are built to last a lifetime and that are designed to evolve. The importance of these two key principles is the fact they connect the design process with time. Fundamentally, the design process is like problem solving. Designers keep trying options that could solve a certain problem or satisfy a set of requirements and constraints. DFL challenges the current design process by incorporating time as a core parameter of any product design decision-making process. This means time both in the sense of longevity of a product as well as how the product might be used over the course of the user’s lifetime. Marketing departments, who tend to set the requirements and constraints for a product, have a very good idea of who their target consumers are. DFL challenges those marketers, as well as the designers, to not just think about who their target consumers are today – but how that person might change over time and how their interaction with the product might change as a result. Can we design products that evolve as our lives evolve and that are built to last for a long time, if not for a lifetime? If yes, how different would our world be?

It would change the way we interact with the products in our life and affect our overall consumer behavior. Through the lens of DFL principles, products can be perceived as an investment, instead of just an expense or outright cost. Every investment requires thoughtful consideration before buying in, same with every product purchase that follows the DFL values…and an “investment” should have the ability to increase in value or utility over time, not just decrease.

DFL manages to approach the many problems inherent in today’s marketplace from two sides, by offering guiding principles for designers and companies, but also asking consumers to reconsider their way of thinking about products. It creates a reinforcing loop with designers and consumers to be equally important stakeholders of the DFL system.

The two design principles are the super-structure for the 8 DFL tenets. There are 4 tenets under each fundamental principle, and all 8 together create the holistic approach for a sustainable product development process.

Photo by Justin Veenema on Unsplash

BUILT TO LAST

This principle consists of two verbs, “build” and “last.” The first one refers to the design process, the action that’s needed to create something out of nothing. The second one focuses on time, how this action performs over time. This value brings together designers and consumers. The building part of a product is mainly a designer’s responsibility and the lifecycle of a product impacts mainly the consumer. In other words, this value suggests that designers should create products by putting the user in the center of their design process. What does it mean to build a product that lasts for a lifetime? Is it just a matter of physical quality? We think it’s more than that.

We encourage designers and companies to build products that last for a very long time, if not for a lifetime. Of course, the physical quality of the product is the first way to achieve this. We live in an era that well-built product standards can be reached without necessarily increasing the cost of the products to a degree that makes them inaccessible for the majority of the consumers. Global supply chain opportunities, technological advances in material science and the expansion of internet, and the direct-to-consumers business model allow companies to launch high quality products while avoiding extreme expenses in development and distribution. These high standards in conjunction with customer-driven guarantee policies can overcome potential limitations of a product lifecycle and practically prolong the period of time that a customer keeps a product in use.

Another way of extending the life of a product is by investing in sustainable resources. In this way, we know that designers and companies can develop operations that can last longer. Sustainable solutions reduce risk exposure for the company and make sure that no changes will be needed in the future for the production of certain goods. A long-term consistency of products can be achieved by adding a sense of reliability to the company.

Finally, from a consumer’s point of view “Built to Last” offers satisfaction and safety that a DFL product won’t need to be replaced soon. The more consumers start approaching their product purchases as investments that pay off over time the more the importance of this principle increases. We live in a world where everything has an expiration date, from the food we get to the phones and cars we use. Creating products based on this DFL value means that consumers can choose to participate in a new reality. A reality in which physical products are designed without (if possible) an expiration date. The moment companies start offering this option to consumers, a new consumer behavior will be developed. A behavior that will support the companies that took the risk of a new way of thinking. Innovation ultimately pushes things forward and the companies that adopt this new way of operating will be the pioneers of an innovative era.

DESIGNED TO EVOLVE

This principle connects, again, the responsibility of companies to design products as well as the experience of the consumers over time. This is the truly unique part about the DFL approach in general. Here, we challenge designers, not to design products that solve one very specific problem, but to design a product that can solve a moving target. This will continue to bring value to the consumer as their lives change over time.

A product that can evolve, adapts to the consumer’s changing needs over time, changes in living situations—both physical and co-habitants—changes in abilities, or even as mundane as changes in style. But also, to go beyond that, we imagine products that can be designed with room to evolve further than the original designer can imagine when they first design the product. New extensions or accessories should be designed in a reverse-compatible way so that they integrate with previous products already purchased and in-use. Technology is evolving rapidly today, more rapidly than it ever has before. A product that is truly designed to evolve will be able to include new functionalities as those functionalities are invented—or at least the capability to integrate them, should they be brought to market in the future. In this way, DFL products are both future-proof and obsolescent-proof. Designed to Evolve, in other words, acts an open-ended design decision. How can we design something today, allowing opportunities for potential future product attributes tomorrow?

Consumers may simply evolve past the use of the product, however. There are some things that we just outgrow, or our lifestyle changes so dramatically as to render a product irrelevant. Designers also need to take into account the final stages of a product evolution. Where will the product, or parts of the product, go when a consumer is done with it? First, can it be re-sold or traded? Next, can the product, or parts of the product, be upcycled and evolved into something better? Can they be repurposed into other products to evolve again with new consumers? Designers need to think about the most environmentally friendly way to end the products life so the consumers (and themselves) can continue to enjoy the environment.

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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