Incentives to Repair

Sweden incentivises repair This post covers proposals in Sweden to encourage repair.  Ironically, it can still be cheaper to replace a product with new than have it repaired. I wonder if this scheme could extend to maintenance contracts for domestic appliances or even vehicles.

User Serviceable Parts Inside

serviceable label

All to often users are excluded from engaging with the repair and maintenance of their own products as they are advised not to do so by the manuals and labelling on products. I have even come across examples of manuals supplied with children’s bicycles that advise the owners not to undertake any maintenance or adjustments.

printer access

This proposal could apply to many different products that encase their inner workings within a concealing body. The design principle that supports this concept encourages the development of products that allow easy and safe access to the inner workings and allow users to conduct regular servicing and maintenance.

printer sketches
concept development sketches

In this case, users can carefully apply oil to the roller bearings and are able to replace the drive belt once it becomes stretched of worn. Printers are an interesting subject as domestic users frequently replace ink cartridges which requires a level of access to the interior of the product.



Speculative Design Concepts

As a punctuation in this research, a small number of Speculative Design Concepts have been generated that are intended to articulate key issues identified from the work done to date.

These concepts are intentionally presented as a set of archetypes in an etherial washed out grey to emphasise the conceptual nature of each proposition.

Each example will be explored further, including creative development process, in further posts.

Car DialysisXRayprinter accessdiagnostic scopesmodular


service prompts

Today, by chance, the service warning indicator on my VW T5 van lit up on the dashboard. This indicator tells me that I need to service the vehicle in 2000 miles. This made me consider what it is that prompts users to conduct preventative maintenance and whether the warning lights actually serve to disconnect users from the actual systems that need regular care or attention.IMG_3241

The image shown at the top of this post contains a selection of the common warning (or witness) indicators that tell the driver of a car there is an issue that needs attention. I struck me that these indicators have always raised a level of alarm when I see one light up and see me searching through the owners manual to find out exactly what the warning means. As cars have become more complex and the electronic systems they contain have become more responsive, these notifications can be delivered with much more information.

325 warning lights 1
from a BMW owners manual

These are good examples of where technology is used to monitor the condition of certain service parts and provide an indicator to the user as to when an intervention is required. These indicators provide a convenient solution, but cannot cover all aspect s of the operation of a vehicle. There are also many examples of products where it would be inappropriate to provide so much technology simply to monitor the health of a product. There are other, simpler ways of checking the condition of many of these parts, but this requires some specialist knowledge. I suspect that most people have no idea how the vehicles that they own work, what the indicators mean or which part of the car they refer to. This seems to indicate that owners/users are far removed from the physical care of their own possessions and are unable, unwilling or simply not aware of how they can correctly maintain their own vehicles.

I started this post considering what it is that prompts someone to carry out maintenance and got distracted when thinking about the fact that the indicator lights removing the necessity to check parts of a vehicle could actually prevent people undertaking maintenance. There is more research to be done to help understand the relationship between owners and products that require some form of regular intervention.



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.


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.

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 Agency of Design

The Agency of Design is a London based studio founded by  multidisciplinary group of designers who state:

Having witnessed the unhappy ending of products, the studio was founded around the concept of human agency, we wanted to demonstrate that the agency of design was about the potential of design to create change in the world. It is from this ethos that we focus on design that creates a more desirable future.  (The Agency of Design 2016)

Their work ranges from commercially realist product design, digital/virtual solutions, guides and instructions through to provocative projects that stimulate debate.

the optomist - The Agency of Design
The Optimist Toaster – The Agency of Design


The example shown above is from a range of three toasters designed to illustrate potential future directions that designers could take simple domestic products to promote more sustainable consumption.

There are many other examples on their website of products aiming to create a better future. This includes more sustainable design, as seen with the ‘Design Out Waste‘ project, solutions to infection control in hospitals with the ‘PullClean Door Handle‘ and the ‘Digesting Science‘ project which culminated in a website used to explain Multiple Sclerosis to children whose parents have the condition.

PullClean Door Handle – The Agency of Design

I find their work both exciting and highly accessible, there is a real mix of pragmatic problem solving and speculative ‘critical design’.

Having been enthralled by the work of Dunne and Raby ,but finding their work in speculative design sometimes difficult to rationalise, it is refreshing to find a group whose work appeals to such an extent.