products

The way we purchase many products is changing

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Changes to how we live and purchase products create new opportunities and challenges for designers. Preparing for Christmas, Stephen Holmes considers these shifts and wonders how they will impact our gift-giving habits


The season of comfort and joy is upon us. At the time of writing, people everywhere are already cursing Black Friday and swearing that the Christmas adverts started even earlier this year.

According to most of these commercials, Christmas is made up of visiting family and friends, squeezing around a table to eat, filling up every available space in the living room with presents, and cramming bodies and luggage into public or private transport.

Scalability and flexibility are things we all struggle with, and not just when it comes to divvying up a turkey once a year, or bemoaning the lack of luggage space on a creaking train en route to the in-laws.

Speaking with Casio for this issue of DEVELOP3D, these were major themes in the conversation, given the company’s commitment to redesigning the piano to fit modern living spaces.

Japan, as a nation, has a history of cleverly scaling down designs to fit compact urban living environments. So the thought that Casio’s designers headed to Europe to research this latest product grabbed my attention. London is now a city battling for space, with every inch of real estate being fought over, built on and monetised. Apartment blocks have sprung up everywhere, and continue to do so, impacting how millions of people live.

The design created by Casio is not only shaped to fit into a tight space and blend into the existing surroundings, but also to be pulled into the centre of a room, so that others can gather around it. Christmas carols, anyone?

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Expand and accommodate

This led me to think about other products and how we might benefit from more flexible design thinking.

For some products, the flexibility to extend, expand and accommodate is already possible, from antique dining tables that can add an extra leaf to seat more people, to futuristic Samsung televisions that roll away into a housing.

Another option is scalability. January is prime marketing time for the selling of new sofas, adverts for which roam relentlessly across our TV and computer screens like bison across the plains. Increasingly, new companies are approaching this product category from a compartmentalised, selfassembled angle, allowing the customer to add more seats or arrange them in a configuration that better suits the space.

Renting rather than owning is no longer seen as a signifier of low income, but a more sustainable shortcut to experiencing a product

And then there is the growing trend of ‘product as a service’. Now that we’re all comfortable with Netflix and Spotify, we are increasingly targeted with contract leases and lifecycles for physical products, too — not just tech and cars, but clothing and jewellery are also available for hire.

Renting rather than owning is no longer seen as a signifier of low income, but a more sustainable shortcut to experiencing a product. It’s a model pioneered by software vendors with cloud-based products, a trend that increasingly applies to CAD and that more designers will need to consider in 2023 and beyond.

Changes ahead

As ever, the changing living spaces and purchasing habits of consumers raise challenges for product designers. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is the potential for products to have a set rental lifespan, or the ability to accommodate future configurations and updates.

With flexibility in mind, do internal QA requirements and external legislation need to change? Could products built with an end-of-life in mind be better designed for recycling or repurposing?

Another question is how much of this will consumers accept or demand. At what point does not owning a product outright begin to impact purchasing decisions, or will added flexibility increase a product’s appeal?

(For more on this point, google the Ship of Theseus theory, a thought experiment that asks whether an object that has had all of its original components replaced remains the same object? It’s also known to some as the ‘Trigger’s Broom’ paradox, thanks to an episode of UK comedy ‘Only Fools and Horses’, where street sweeper Trigger boasted he’d had the same broom for 20 years, but that the broom had had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in that time.)

Either way, I hope you get what you want this year, be it scalable, flexible — or at the very least, edible.