Planned Obsolescence

»» Sign up for the next #DesignInTech briefing.


A disturbing piece on this topic is from 1932 entitled, “Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence,” by Bernard London.

Factories, warehouses, and fields are still intact and are ready to produce in unlimited quantities, but the urge to go ahead has been paralyzed by a decline in buying power. The existing troubles are man-made, and the remedies must be man-conceived and man-executed.

In the present inadequate economic organization of society, far too much is staked on the unpredictable whims and caprices of the consumer. Changing habits of consumption have destroyed property values and opportunities for employment. The welfare of society has been left to pure chance and accident.

In a word, people generally, in a frightened and hysterical mood, are using everything that they own longer than was their custom before the depression. In the earlier period of prosperity, the American people did not wait until the last possible bit of use had been extracted from every commodity. They replaced old articles with new for reasons of fashion and up-to-dateness. They gave up old homes and old automobiles long before they were worn out, merely because they were obsolete. All business, transportation, and labor had adjusted themselves to the prevailing habits of the American people. Perhaps, prior to the panic, people were too extravagant; if so, they have now gone to the other extreme and have become retrenchment-mad.

which speaks to how companies generally don’t like it when consumers get too thrifty or clever …


Segue to a piece on Alfred Sloan by Glenn Myers:

“With the end of World War II, other automobile industry insiders soon found the notion of planning new products around obsolete ones to be a palpable business model.”

And describes planned obsolescence in two ways, with the latter being the more disturbing one.

“The changes in the new model should be so novel and attractive as to create demand . . . and a certain amount of dissatisfaction with past models as compared with the new one.”

Alfred P. Sloan

“Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.”

Brooks Stevens

There’s a whole dissertation on the topic of planned obsolescence that lays out five kinds:

  1. Planned obsolescence
  2. Functional obsolescence
  3. Technical obsolescence
  4. Style obsolescence
  5. Postponement obsolescence
via Daniel Keeble

Leave a Reply