The Repairability Index: A golden opportunity for designers

The Repairability Index: A golden opportunity for designers

After several attempts to repair my poor little coffee machine, it gave up the ghost. This anecdote raises a pressing question that a lot of people face in today's world: repair or buy new? If we look at the statistics, the trash is always our first choice, with repairing and recycling far behind. However, in France a new law has introduced a coloured sticker on some household appliances and cell phones, indicating its repairability. To this I say "it's about time!"

The gist of it

For five categories of products (washing machines, televisions, smartphones, laptops and lawnmowers), this new grade indicates, transparently, the ability to repair a device alone or have it repaired by a professional.

However, making a product repairable implies various requirements. First of all, understandable and accessible documentation and single parts that are available at an affordable cost. And above all, to be repairable the device must be easy to dismantle.

This action plan makes it possible to give users reliable information regarding the life cycle of their product, and forces manufacturers to review their economic models, which—until now— often greatly favoured new products. 

The new challenge of the circular economy

The French household goods market is very large, with 15 million goods sold each year. It's also quite impactful in terms of waste, with 20kg of household goods wasted each year per individual—the equivalent of 147 Eiffel Towers. Also notable, today only 40% of broken electrical appliances are repaired in France, and one-third of these appliances are declared non-repairable.

So how do we shift things more towards a circular economy? On one hand, market players will have to be more efficient in maintaining the life cycles of their products in order to retain their customers. On the other hand, we as consumers will be able to orient our purchases according to the repairability and the life cycle of the object. 

What does this mean for designers?

As designers, we are now facing a fundamental paradigm shift. Our linear models of produce/use/discard must be replaced by efficient, sustainable, and therefore much more engaging solutions.

Our primary mission is to make the systemic vision clear and to transmit it clearly in order to forcefully inscribe it in our design and production methods. Hence, the need to involve designers in strategic decisions. Indeed, our first challenge is to convince and engage our stakeholders, our employees, and the decision-makers in this common objective of the circular model.

Often, it's a matter of bringing together different professions and encouraging the sharing of information so that fundamental decisions and innovation emerge. In this respect, co-construction workshops are very effective in establishing a unified vision and communicating it to all project stakeholders

Secondly, this new type of regulation encourages a profound rethinking of the design processes behind a product or service. Being part of the circular economy model implies understanding how our productions fit into the bigger picture, thereby better defining how to repair, recycle and reuse them. This must be the basis of the design process. We need to work upstream towards the design of a circular vision to address the environmental and systemic issue at the beginning of iteration cycles, not at the end.

The design approach—through the processes of research, creation, testing, iteration and prototyping—is essential for making both environmental and business-minded structuring choices, and developing the keys to understanding and identifying levers of change. Co-constructing methodologies through dedicated design frameworks (e.g. circular mapping, causal loops, the systemic wheel) can be very effective in addressing systems and inherent experiences as a whole.

We are facing great challenges, that's for certain! But these challenges generate a tremendous amount of economic, environmental and social innovation.

This index is an important step for the consumer because it asserts his or her power in decision-making, while also giving all the information necessary for more controlled consumption, new model reconciling ecology, purchasing power and job creation. 

Interested in learning more about the repairability index and how we can implement impact design into our everyday work? Check out our recent workshop at the ChangeNOW Summit on the subject of circular design. Or, give us a shout anytime.

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