What happens when product design collides with sustainability ethics? Joe MacLeod, author of ‘Endineering’, explains how to do things better.
“Whatever they do, whatever they buy, I want consumers to ask a question,” says Joe Macleod: “I want them to ask how it ends.” For organizations making and marketing the products we consume, the question is slightly different: “I want them to ask how should this end?” These two questions, which form the thematic foundation of Macleod’s latest title, “Endineering”, focus on “how we can improve what we make, and how we can salvage materials and have better brand equity relationships so that we can get over the massive and unnecessary problems we have in consumerism today”.
Although he talks specifically about the life cycle of digital devices, these questions could apply to almost any consumer experience, says Macleod. He identified a deteriorating cycle from the life-affirming experience of opening the box of your new smartphone to that “feeling abandoned after your contract ended, drifting unsupported with outdated technology.” While the onboarding experience “is fantastic, and the setup wizards will get you started in minutes,” in the end, that warm fuzzy feeling turned into the cold, harsh language of metropolitan recycling programs.
“Endineering” is Macleod’s evangelistic attempt to make sense of a consumer cycle that begins with romantic poetry and ends with mistranslated prose from the instruction manual. He calls that end “the gap” and it’s where consumerism’s problems are piled up: hoarding, pollution, junk apps, obsolete data posing security risks, poorly sold financial products, and “e-waste that doesn’t than lying around in people’s drawers”.
Given that there are more unused mobile phones in the UK than there are people, this is a situation that offends the author. Not just because of the waste, but because compared to onboarding, there’s hardly any attention paid to the offboarding experience: “It’s like once they have your money, it’s is where it all ends.”
“Consumers are let down by the company that created the product”
Manufacturers should take greater responsibility for the environmental implications of end-of-life products, he says. And while much has been done in the area of compensation, “it doesn’t solve the problem, and it doesn’t explain why consumers have to figure it all out on their own.”
Part of the problem is the perception of the product. When consumers buy a smartphone “they know a lot about the product. They will know its value, what it can do, who makes it. The physical identity in the purchase transaction has a clear asset structure. We then use the product and engage with it. When we disembark, it enters the recycling process, and it loses all of its identity assets and is reduced to components at the end. Not only that, says Macleod, but all responsibility for what happens at the end of the product’s life cycle is now shifted entirely to the consumer.
We read it for you
A few years ago, veteran product developer Joe Macleod wrote a book called “Ends,” in which he describes how humans are often good at starting the life cycle of products, services, and lifestyle trends. , and yet obviously terrible at planning what happens at the end of the life cycle. In its sequel – “Endineering” – Macleod shifts its focus from what those endings look like to what can be done about them. And the key word here is ‘compensation’. How do we reconcile our ethical values and our personal wishes with the reality of the global economy? How do we build a sense of responsibility for the fate of all those products we plan, design, manufacture, market, support, and brand loyalty? In ‘Endineering’, Macleod takes us through each of these lifecycle stages, while pointing out opportunities for developers to rethink their approach to what happens when our gadgets die.
“Endineering” is about how product manufacturers can “engineer” better ends for the consumer. “There’s a deep sociological construct around ends,” Macleod says, “but it got mixed up in our industrial-commercial model. And I thought I should write a book about it. In fact, he has now written two: the first, simply titled ‘Ends’, highlighted “why we neglect ends for humans, products, services and digital”. In ‘Ends’ the author argued that over the centuries our changing relationship with death has influenced the way we consume everything: the end user lives in a guilt-free world and blames big business for everything , while society does not know where to identify responsibility for the inevitable waste that ensues.
After stating the problem, Macleod scoured the physical and digital worlds, spreading the word, listening to others’ reactions. Along the way, he began to realize that there could be a structured approach to providing the answers he was looking for. This led to “Endineering”, the fruit of a strong compulsion to record his thoughts on the decline of user experience in the digital world. “In other words: I’m dyslexic, so writing a book is not in my wheelhouse.
From an industry perspective, Macleod – whose background is in the design and manufacture of mobile phones – says there is a familiar pattern. “Organizations extract resources, ship them to manufacturing sites where engineers and designers develop new product concepts. As you start getting into new offerings, you start merging that with marketing, which is basically there to decide which existing product you’re going to replace.
At this point, the product transfers into the consumer experience, “buyers all thinking this is great because they need a new laptop, phone, printer… These people then take them home and use them for a set amount of time. What is happening here is a consumer-provider relationship of about 24 months, which is the usual length of a mobile phone contract.
This is when the breakdown of the relationship occurs and the consumer is essentially abandoned by the company that created the product. Unless, of course, you constantly engage with the company in buy-out behavior. At the end of this cycle, products and consumers end up in the aforementioned “gap”. “Nobody struggles with that at all. The offboarding experience should be equal to the onboarding experience: rewarding, collaborative and with salvaged materials.”
Macleod believes that offboarding should be connected to the entirety of the previous user experience, “through measurable and actionable emotional triggers by the user. It should identify and bind consumer and supplier in mutual accountability. Its objective should be to neutralize the negative consequences of consumption.
The obvious question is how to achieve this. “I’m a big believer in measuring things,” Macleod says. “Consumers should have a clear understanding of the impact of their consumption when offshoring. Furthermore, the consumer cannot be left to bear this responsibility alone. This must be done in partnership with the supplier, linked to the neutralization of assets.
Above all, he says, the manufacturer must take ownership of the entire product life cycle.
‘Endineering: Designing consumer lifecycles that end as well as they begin’ by Joe Macleod is from AndEnd Books, £16
Human activity that creates emissions can be measured and expressed in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Businesses or individuals can offset their emissions by purchasing carbon offsets of equal amounts. One tonne of carbon emissions equals one tonne of carbon offset purchased. The offset is linked to projects that absorb carbon: an example is the planting of trees.
Carbon offsets don’t just offset carbon dioxide. They also cover methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. They also have common characteristics that contribute to their legitimacy. The source of compensation refers to the project that makes the compensation possible. This could be, for example, a reforestation project in Ethiopia.
A certification system describes what and who approves the compensation. There are different companies that certify the compensation, thus giving some legitimacy to the system. Earlier systems lacked certification and thus undermined trust in the entire market. But recent improvements and greater focus on this method of reducing carbon emissions have helped restore confidence.
There are two types of carbon offsetting. First, a compliance market, where companies can offset the impact of their activities. Then there is a voluntary market, aimed at individuals and small businesses. For the compliance market, there are trading options all over the world. The European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is by far the most dominant.
The voluntary market is much more dynamic. Measurements of carbon use can vary widely from company to company, and prices to offset fluctuate just as widely. This has plagued the market.
Edited extract from ‘Endineering’ by Joe Macleod, reproduced with permission.
Sign up for the E&T News email to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.