Designing for Consumption

09 Jun 2015 8:00 PM | Anonymous

Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe

The King Gillette Company had a problem when they first introduced a truly disposable razor in the 1960s in that the disposable razors actually lasted as long (and in some cases longer) than more expensive razor types. A solution to this dilemma was to introduce a colored strip on the top of the blade casing as a means to signal when the blade required replacing. This allowed the company to increase consumption of the cheaper blades by encouraging replacement based on something other than the life of the blade itself.

There are several ways to increase consumption in a product. One way is to introduce a mechanism that signals a need for replacement at a particular time (an example being the “service engine” light signaling a need for servicing based on a certain number of miles or kilometers driven). A product can also be designed to last a certain amount of uses or time before requiring replacement (an auto manufacturer received bad press in the 1980s when it was discovered that the manufacturer designed automobiles to last a certain number of years before requiring replacement). Designing for consumption may provide short-term benefits but makes the organization vulnerable to perceived poor quality and competitors who may introduce products which may have the same or lower quality standards but a higher designed consumption level.

Designing for increased consumption also leaves an organization vulnerable to organizations that can use the tactic to either introduce a product with a longer life or advertise their products as higher quality. A manufacturer of printers made a conscious effort to increase consumption of their print cartridges by discontinuing older and larger cartridges and introducing smaller ones that printed fewer pages before requiring replacement. Their competitors responded in kind by advertising that their print cartridges actually lasted longer than theirs resulting in a poor perception by consumers that cost them loyal customers. In the case of the auto manufacturer that designed cars with a certain life expectance the organization earned the perception of having poor quality that allowed their competitors to take market share from them even though future models were shown to be of a higher quality.
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Frederick (Ken) Sexe is a lifelong learner currently wrapping up his PhD in Engineering Management and Organizational Psychology at Northcentral University. His hobbies include challenging prevailing patterns of thinking that discourage new ideas while developing new ways to do things. He is currently employed as a Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon where he is taking a career break from management to pursue his educational goals and focus on his family.

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