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.

making it clean and simple – Nexcel

Castrol has developed a cartridge system to make changing the oil an filter in a car a simpler task that could be carried out by anyone, without specialist facilities or knowledge. The cartridge, known as Nexcel, contains an oil filter and all of the lubricating oil necessary for the engine of the vehicle to which it is fitted. The owner simply removes the old cartridge and replaces this with a new one which, according to Castrol, takes a total of 90 seconds.

nexcel cartridge

This product has the potential to revolutionise one of the most important service items required to keep an internal combustion engine running efficiently and also to maximise the like of engine. As well as enabling quick and easy servicing, this system has the potential to provide a solution to the issue of collecting used oil for reprocessing.

This approach could be applied to other aspects of product maintenance, designing-in accessible components which could help to manage complex and difficult service tasks, allowing users to take good care of their possessions.

It is important to examine the full impact of any solution that claims to offer significant environmental benefits. Whilst this system would make reprocessing easier and more likely, it may demand a greater level of technical complexity than existing solutions. This has the potential to negate the environmental benefits as more parts demand more resources. However, when considered from an enabling perspective alone, this system is likely to encourage non-expert owners to engage with servicing their own vehicles.

easy access – gogoro

The Gogoro is an electric scooter and infrastructure project initially launched in Taiwan. I was fortunate to visit Taipei in November and came across the showroom for the bikes.

There are many interesting aspects to the vehicle and the service that supports it, but the two most relevant that relate to this project are the technical simplicity and the simple, quick access to servicable parts afforded by the design of the scooter.


The rear of the scooter lifts up to allow quick and easy access to the power-train section. Here, fluids can be topped up, belts tightened and other regular adjustments made with real ease. This aspect is designed in from the outset and adds enables the maintenance that will keep the scooter running reliably and efficiently. Once the rear of the bike is open, and servicable parts are clearly identified.

gogoro rear wheel

The rear wheel nut is another example of a feature that enables quick and simple maintenance. Whilst it does require a specialist tool, it does allow for a simple, reliable and fast attention to the rear tyre and brakes. It is not unusual for ‘specialist tools’ to be restricted to authorised service agents. It has not been possible to ascertain if this tool is supplied with the scooter, but the regular stops needed to exchange batteries would provide and opportunity to make tools available to users.

6-all-parts-gogoro-smartscooter-all-parts-on-white Electric propulsion can be significantly simpler than combustion engines as there is often no need for a separate gearbox as electric motors deliver maximum torque from zero revs. The mechanical simplicity contributes to the ease of maintenance as there are less parts to take care of and much less mechanical wear.

The Gogoro represents a product where ease of maintenance has been considered as an integral aspect of the design. This approach is not generally seen even in  much more complex vehicles requiring more comprehensive servicing. As a consequence these more demanding vehicles require expensive and inaccessible equipment to keep them in good working order and to ensure a long life for the product.