Household products are purchased, used, and disposed of nearly everyday. Consumer demands and trends such as “fast fashion” have lead to accelerated product cycles that fulfill the wants, and sometimes needs, of the American marketplace. The result has been an economy based on the consumer thought process of “take, make, and dispose” where natural resources are continually being used up to make cheap, short-lived products which are often quickly turned over to the landfill once they break or consumers no longer find them useful or desirable to keep.
The overall purpose of this thesis was to explore some of the small steps that could be taken today, or in the near future, to lead society as a whole to be less wasteful by keeping products in use longer. Because it will take time and effort to make drastic changes within the product design industry (which involves business, manufacturing, marketing, etc.), this study focuses on what regular people are doing, or could do, in their everyday lives to achieve this. The overall outcome sought to develop design implications related to product qualities as well as service and/or system opportunities relating to household products.
To identify these design implications, the primary research was designed to answer the questions: Why are some things more likely to be kept or held onto for a longer periods of time? Why are other items more likely to be discarded after a shorter period of time, and how could those stay in use somehow? This was achieved through an exploratory and qualitative case study on kitchen products using a small number of participants, followed by an online survey to validate the preliminary findings with quantitative data. Through a three-phase research plan, which is described in Chapter 6, the participants, who are all from the Millennial Generation, were immersed in thinking about their individual kitchen items through the completion of multiple activities, including interviews, a workbook, and a final participatory sorting activity.
By understanding the experiences and emotions that these consumers have, as well as the decisions they make, regarding their current kitchen products, it is possible to seek future opportunities for more sustainable consumption of such products. In the final chapter, a framework for expanding the use of products is presented, as well as four design strategies that can help lead to better designed products and systems, including:
1. Design for a single user who will give the product a second life by using it in a new way.
2. Design for a single user to use the product for an extended period of time.
3. Design for multiple users, who may or may not be personally connected.
4. Design for recyclability, not just within the product but also the systems surrounding it.
Whether that “better” means products that are designed for longevity, for repair-ability, for share-ability, for reusability, or for recyclability, products and the ecosystem of services surrounding them need to be able to better fit the true needs of both current, and future, consumers.