Design for hacking & repair; a practical experiment

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Resource usage and the resulting E-waste associated with consumer electronics is putting a strain on the natural environment. As someone who has been working within consumer electronics, I am interested in how I can challenge the disposability associated with today’s popular electronic devices. Consumer electronics are becoming more and more difficult to repair. In many product categories older products facilitated repair better and information was available from manufacturers on repair and maintenance procedure. Now the popular manufacturers are for the most part silent and unhelpful, however video sharing and content sharing platforms have connected people exchanging information on how to repair products. Consumers who modify and change their products have also connected with each other through numerous forums. The project started by looking to products which still have a repair and maintenance culture around them. Older products and machines are used as examples of repairability and both the literature concerning this and personal experience has been analysed. The practical component of the project is about creating a product that currently has widespread ubiquitous use, but where conscientious consumers are simply not being offered the opportunity of purchasing a repairable option. While this represents a relatively niche market opportunity, change is happening. Pressure from consumers and from European Union legislation is calling for repairable devices. Wireless headphones were selected for analysis and design as they are a common consumer electronics product where lifespan is now challenged by many of the same issues surrounding smart devices. An online survey was conducted to study what users expect from headphones in terms of functionality, expected lifespan and repair. A pair of wireless headphones were designed with the goal of facilitating repair and hacking. To this end the parts which house and support the electronics were designed to be 3d printable with the intention that the user could change the parts which are most likely to chemically degrade or become obsolete. The overall design was driven by stock components such as speaker drivers, batteries and audio modules aimed at the DIY audio market. It is not currently in manufacturers’ interests to design for repair as it seems that consumers no longer have high expectations for product lifetime, and it would require a change in business model for the enterprises. From a practical perspective it is possible to design repairable wireless headphones, and the immediate opportunity may lie in small manufacturers using crowd sourcing platforms targeting people who are already hacking and repairing headphones, hopefully going forward design for repair will eventually become more widespread based on consumer pressure and legislation.
Uusitalo, Severi
Thesis advisor
Uusitalo, Severi
product lifecycle, design for repair, hacking, fab labs, reparability, consumer electronics, DIY audio
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