Design for space

I came across this section of a manual published by NASA that gives guidelines for the design of spacecraft. As you  would expect, it appears that there are some demanding standards to be met when considering the design and engineering of such craft. This section of the manual is specifically focussed on Design for Maintainability and lists a number of very specific considerations and requirements to ensure that spacecraft can be maintained effectively on the Earth and in orbit.

The general principles outlined in this document look to offer some simple and sensible considerations and design requirements that could be applied elsewhere.

Often, insight derived in extreme conditions can make highlight the smallest of issues that might normally get missed under normal conditions. This manual is based on experience gained from many space flights and experiments conducted on orbiting space stations.


The photograph above shows the improvisation that saved the crew members of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. During an emergency return to Earth, the crew needed to replace the saturated filters from the air scrubbers used to removed CO2 from the air. The only replacements available were from a different part of the spacecraft and would not integrate with the equipment that needed to be maintained. This blog gives considerable detail of the emergency procedure that was rapidly developed on Earth to help the astronauts.

This is an example of a valuable lesson learned. The design of future craft would ensure that parts were interchangeable and I’m certain that this incident contributed to the motivation to produce the standards document mentioned above.

Publishing some form of ‘Design Guidelines’ that both encourage designers to consider maintenance as a fundamental aspect of the design process and also aid them in doing so could prove to be a useful tool.


IFIXIT is an online resource that provides information and access to parts the allow for non-expert repairs to a multitude of products. Originally focussed around the proliferation of electronic devices that suffer from battery degradation, damaged screens, broken buttons etc., it has grown to provide advice and instructions on how to repair all kinds of things.

The site is interesting in that it is has an open ‘community’ approach as stated:

iFixit is a wiki-based site that teaches people how to fix almost anything. Anyone can create a repair manual for a device, and anyone can also edit the existing set of manuals to improve them. Our site empowers individuals to share their technical knowledge with the rest of the world.

So what are you waiting for?

Start a new guide or improve an existing one!

 There is a wealth of information available on the site. The ‘Teardown’ section is where videos of new products being disassembled are posted. The aim is to examine the internal components and assess the product for repair. I watched an Apple Pencil ‘Teardown’ film and at the end the presenter gave a ‘repairability score’ for the product based on the ease of access to the internal parts. The Apple Pencil received a score of 1 out of 10 for this as there was no way to access the components without destroying the product in the process.
The repair guides that are produced by the IFIXIT team are excellent. The are clear, incredibly well illustrated and allow users to comment on each step making suggestions or offering advice.
ifixit iphone 6
part of iPhone 6 battery replacement tutorial

There is also a forum where users can discuss issues and ask for advice.

Below is an example of a user generated guide. The team at IFIXIT produce comprehensive guides to the most common repairs with mass market products. They also encourage the general public to contribute to the site and to produce repair guides themselves. There is comprehensive advice and instruction on how to create a good guide on the site and in interesting section that allows the community to ‘upgrade’ the quality of these user developed repair guides.

ifixit user cont

This is an incredible resource that is free at point of use as a repair guide, but also supports an organisation that aims to change the way in which companies design their products to make them repairable by the owners. Their manifesto can be accessed here.


This site is exciting in that it offers an alternative to the ‘no user serviceable parts’ attitude of many mass produced electronic/electrical products. The site is well structured, contains excellent instructional material and makes use of a crowd sourcing to help cover the almost infinite number of products.

The guides on the site are developed using open source software called omanual, the name is derived from the term ‘open format manual’, allowing for rich media content and non-linear linking of sections. They claim that this is great resource for creating any form of manual, not just for repair and may be worth exploring further.

This approach to sharing knowledge and advice, especially the crowd sourcing/community contributor model is potentially a very powerful concept. It may be that this approach could extend to caring and maintenance as a means of sharing good practice, tips and advice. Perhaps an alternative version called ILOOKAFTERIT could be a viable proposition. Whether the motivation to maintain a product in peak condition is as strong as of that  repair a damaged one is yet to be discovered.


It seems that as western society becomes more risk averse (not sure if this is true, will need to find evidence), consumers are becoming increasingly advised ‘NOT’ to maintain there own possessions. I found the following section in an owners manual for bicycles published by Raleigh America and supplied with new bicycles.

Raleigh Warnings

The warnings given are unequivocal, informing the consumer that ‘serious injury or death’ may come as a consequence of attempting to look after your bicycle! This may be genuine advice, but it may also be a means of avoiding litigation should someone injure themselves from using a badly maintained machine. It used to be common for owners to service their own vehicles, but increasingly it seems the advice given by manufacturers is to pay someone to do the work for you. This could have significant consequences in that owners may neglect maintenance due to the inconvenience or cost. This in turn could mean that some devices may become dangerous, inefficient or suffer from a reduced lifespan.

Perhaps a way forward for this work would be to consider a means of providing good advice and information to encourage consumer maintenance.

It is not at all unusual to see examples of the following labels on consumer goods. It is certain that, with electrical products, that there is some risk associated with opening the product, however there must be ways in which the design of the product can go some way to protecting the user when engaging in maintenance or servicing.


Designing products to allow ‘user servicing’ that will facilitate safe and easy maintenance may also provide a possible direction.

Good Advice

I have been taking a look at the advice that is given in the product manuals and instruction booklets that have traditionally been supplied with products when they are sold.

There are website that offer catalogues of manuals for everything from washing machines to remote controls. I have only just begun this work, but there are some interesting things to note from the few that I have examined so far.


I have found an online copy of the Eastman Kodak manual for a No. 2 Brownie camera from the 1920s. It was supplied with the camera and is written in the most fantastic language. The manual provides lots of advice and information on using the camera and taking good photographs. The product was very simple and needed little maintenance, even so there was a small section in the book relating to caring for the device.


This is simple advice that would help keep the camera in good working order. It is interesting that there are illustrations that show the impact on the users photographs of not following the instructions.

At the beginning of the manual there was an offer for a free magazine that would be sent to owners who sent in a card ‘promptly’ and ‘properly filled out’. This publication offers advice on photography an could be seen as the equivalent to a modern day website that serves the same function.


Examining the development of the care instructions over time might give an insight into the development of products (do they require more or less maintenance?) and the nature of the advice that is given. There is such a wealth of material and so many different product categories to explore, I feel I need to develop a strategy to tackle this efficiently.

field kit – cultural probe

Having read about Cultural Probes as a means of providing insight and inspiration for a design project I have decided to put together 5 kits and ask 5 different people to use them.

IMG_3238For the kit I have chosen:

  • A single use camera
  • Postcards
  • Graph Paper
  • Journal
  • Pen and Pencil

I will package all of this in some form of case and label each item with some simple instructions help the subjects use the kit effectively. The aim of this exercise is gain some insight into the maintenance practice and rituals of people who take good care of their possessions.

Whilst the single use camera feels like an outdated technology, it is an appropriate choice for this exercise as it is relatively inexpensive and is instantly accessible for the user. I want the participants to feel at ease completing the exercise, in their own environment and without interruption from a nosey researcher.

The use of the post cards, which are currently blank but I may print on them, also sets the user at ease as the post card was traditionally used for a quick and casual message. I’m hoping that, as in the experience of Gaver et al. , this will lead to the participant noting observations without thinking to much about what the write. The aim is to gain information in an informal manner.

I will ask them to use the Graph Paper to draw a plan/map of their environment and to identify where any tools or equipment is stored, where they conduct the maintenance and where the product that they are maintaining is kept.

The journal will be used as a diary to note activity over time and to record anything that may trigger the maintenance activity.

I am quite excited to be producing these items, but some technical issues have slowed down the process. I will post again in the near future to show progress with this aspect of the project.


Toyota Setsuna Designed to be an Heirloom Collectible

via Toyota Setsuna Designed to be an Heirloom Collectible.

A concept from Toyota that shows how car designers and manufacturers use ‘Concept Vehicles’ to speculate about alternative directions for their products, but also to introduce ideas to the public. These concept cars are manifestations of design thinking and sometimes abstract concepts. In this case the most interesting aspect of this article is the statement that the materials will last for a long time if cared for. The notion of products ageing well is not new and has been explored more thoroughly in other areas of design but the idea that this work, in conjunction with pro-active caring and maintenance, supports the notion of design that encourages or makes accessible this practice of caring.

Democratised Maintenance

Teenage Engineering produce synthesisers that are designed to make music making accessible. Their products feature an exciting aesthetic that is both simple and technical. I am particularly enthralled by the exposed electronics of the PO series of products. I enjoy the paired back nature of the design and the fact that this lays the technical components bare allowing the informed owner an understanding of the operation of the device and the opportunity to replace parts that become worn or damaged.

The company offers a free down load service where owners can access free files to allow 3D printing of parts to replace worn elements. They also offer software updates which will extend the function of the products and can be seen as a form of digital maintenance.

Most of the files  3D files are for the PO-10 series which has many buttons and switches, all of which are designed to be replaced when worn.

OP-1 Series, Teenage Engineering
cad files
CAD Files for 3D Printing replacement parts.

Offering maintenance items in a digital form is an interesting concept, both this and the design that exposes/makes accessible the technical parts of the product can be seen as democratising maintenance.

Maintain vs Repair

Image: Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times, 1936

The title of this post is a little misleading, but is there to make a point. Whilst considering how users can maintain there possessions in peak condition and extended the useful life of a product it is important to delineate between maintenance and repair.

In simple terms, looking to the definition of the words, each is defined as follows:


verb (used with object)

  • 1. to restore to a good or sound condition after decay or damage
verb (used with object)
  • 1. to keep in existence or continuance; preserve; retain
  • 2. to keep in an appropriate condition, operation, or force; keep unimpaired

In general use, it can be considered that for something to be repaid, it must first be damaged or broken. This can be as a consequence of mechanical or material failure or as a consequence of wear through use or age. Maintenance aims to slow or prevent wear, extend the period between the failure of parts and, in doing so, extend the life of a product. There is a blurred boundary between the two when we consider the replacement of components due to wear and tear. This can be seen as both repair and maintenance, it seems that repair is a form of maintenance on the understanding that the repair is undertaken before the object in question fails.

There are instances where parts of products are replaced before they fail so as to prevent failure and this replacement is a form of maintenance.



The Evolution of Design Theory

In Beyond Design Ethnography, Lysianne Léchot Hirt writes about “Users in Design” and includes a interesting analysis of how the discipline of design has evolved from a focus on the object, to the user, to the actor. This is commonly referred to as the Bremmen Scale after where a symposium to place and this model was first proposed by Alain Findeli and Rabah Bousbaci. Léchot Hirt states that:

This evolution clearly shows a progressive shift from the aesthetic understandings and analysis of design (from the Renaissance to the early Modern movement) to a methodological-technical one (around the 1950s) to a contemporary model centred on psychological and social values (from 1990s onwards).  Léchot Hirt, L. (2014)

The Bremen Scale (Findell, 2005)

The notion that contemporary design is centred on psychological and social values links with the theory of design having agency.

It is important to note that it is acknowledged that even though the discipline is continuously evolving, the evolution of a new focus does not remove the older ideas. They remain valid and important, but can be seen as enabling a new way of thinking.

How Sociologists Define Human Agency


Through the work of The Agency of Design I have become interested the the concept of agency as defined in social science. The definition below expresses this clearly in terms of Human Agency, as that is the concern of social scientists, The Agency of Design apply the same concept to the ability of design (as an agent) to impact on society.

Mustafa Emirbayer and Ann Mische write in the American Journal of Sociology:

Theoretically, our central contribution is to begin to reconceptualize human agency as a temporally embedded process of social engagement, informed by the past (in its habitual aspect), but also oriented toward the future (as a capacity to imagine alternative possibilities) and towards the present (as a capacity to contextualize past habits and future projects within the contingencies of the moment).

Aspects of this chime with one of the stated theories that rationalise the work  of Dunne and Raby who believe that speculative design can not only help society to imagine alternative futures, but by doing so, it becomes easier for these alternatives to become a reality.

Dunne and Raby contend that if we speculate more—about everything—reality will become more malleable. The ideas freed by speculative design increase the odds of achieving desirable futures. (Dunne & Raby, 2013)

The notion that Design can have agency is fairly straightforward and there are many examples through recent history of designers using there ideas and skills to effect positive change in the world. Beyond this, it is exciting to consider that design can have the agency to change society through speculative by broadening the perspective  of the audience to imagine alternative lives, rather than as a pragmatic problem solving tool.