Repair not Replace through Repair, Graft, and Autotomy
The last century has brought us unprecedented product waste caused by excessive production disposability and overconsumption. These behaviors have become an integral part of contemporary life for all of us. Access to all of these goods hasn’t resulted in increased happiness for people. Instead, this modern lifestyle encouraging consumers to dump and replace has made consumers emotionally detached from products.
Do you remember how many phones you have bought? Do you keep and cherish them? If the answer is no, then you are already a ‘qualified’ citizen of this Throw-away society. The Throw-away Society we live in every second is not only generated by the needs of consumers but also well-planned by market-driven designers and brands. They, or we, did so well in capturing and utilizing the desirability of goods that consumers have been educated to perceive that “new is better than old.” We easily throw old things away instead of repairing them. There is even a fetish trend around discarding things to make our life simple. In this context, the lifespan of products has been deliberately shortened and emotional attachment between objects and humans has been weakened. People buying the new to replace the old doesn’t always mean they like the new model better than the one they have now. In many situations, people are forced to get the new version by the multiple well-planned tactics like the high cost of repairs, compatibility limitations, and short life spans of many goods.
'Is the new better than the old?'
To answer it, I would like to introduce Kintsugi, also known as kintsukuroi. It is a Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Directly translating to 'golden joinery' as a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to conceal. The historical traces also can be seen in our daily objects, like the patina on a watch and the year on a wine bottle, as the bonds between people and objects. Like badges won for commitment to practice, these markers accumulate over time and declare the object-subject relationship, sometimes even subject-subject relationship, with owners.
Kintsugi proposes that broken and old can be better than the new which resonates with the philosophy of the Repairing Society. In Repairing Society, people can keep and reuse old things by regularly repairing and repurposing. In this model brands and designers are required to consider, from the beginning of product development, how products can be easily repaired or repurposed, and how to make consumers attach to the designed products in a very short time. This book proposes the insights and design practices to integrate and begin the paradigm switch to a Repairing Society.
Manifesto: A 'Brake Pad' for the Throw-away Society
Repairing Society focuses on cultivating a stronger emotional attachment between objects and humans through building a 'Repair not Replace' environment. I believe this design practice could provide readers with insights to boldly speculate an alternative way of consumption and production that is opposed to the current Throw-away Society. By encouraging repairing things, it intends to create a longer relationship between objects and people and to revive our bonds with old things.
It is impractical to utterly overthrow the ingrained overconsumption and overproduction through design. And feelings that old things evoke through memory and positive interaction with owners are beyond the control of designers, but what I can do, through this design practice, is to plant seeds in people’s minds for a long-term change of both perception and action. Ideally, this kind of change, where we repair objects, also repairs us as a social body as it reimagines our relationship to the material world and the environment, as well as to our sense of capability.
Research: What is Throw-away Society
The ‘Throw-away Society’ is not so much about thoughtless plundering. It’s not just a confluence of carefree consumers with little or no concern for their own future or the future of the planet. It’s a society locked into perverse consumption practices by its own ineluctable logic.’
------------ Cooper, Tim. (2010 Published). Longer Lasting Products.
In the current Throw-away Society, everything is granted an artificially limited useful life by brands and designers to make them disposable almost as soon as the consumer has bought them. They are not made for owning and keeping while wrongly perceived as durable products through other cover-ups, like well-made packages, brand marketing, and undegradable materials. What is known as ‘consumer durables’ should more accurately be called ‘consumer disposables’ in today’s transient technology where yesterday’s news is today’s old.
There is no difference between consumer products and foods in some ways because both are made to consume and their end-of-life date has already been set before they are distributed by manufacturers, which means they are both disposable. In comparison, the foods sold in groceries are more honest about what they are. They use a straightforward mark indicating their production date and expiration date, nutrition, and ingredients on packages, and remind consumers how to store and consume for longer shelf life. In contrast, the consumer products in the Throw-away Society intend to conceal this information to make people believe that they can decide whether or when to dump and replace.
Planned obsolescence is the core strategy and philosophy for our consumer society. It means that products last only for a period of time before they become useless or outdated. It was created to stimulate consumption and satisfy the desirability of consumers. Planned obsolescence, as a Consumerism-Education or a dogma, educates people to replace not repair, and makes them believe the new is always better.
If planned obsolescence is an intentional and learned system, then brands function as the schools promoting these lessons and designers act as teachers responsible for planning and teaching.
The disposable cone-shaped paper cup was invented in 1908 by Lawrence Luellen, and in 1912 Luellen and Hugh Moore began marketing the Health Kup, another disposable paper cup.
To maintain unit sales when the American national automobile market began reaching saturation, General Motors suggested annual model-year design changes to convince car owners that they needed to buy a new replacement each year. GM surpassed Ford's sales in 1931 and became the dominant company in the industry after that.
Light bulb’s producers created the Phoebus Cartel, which fixed, amongst other things, the standardization of sockets, power, and brightness. Most importantly, it set the 'ideal' lifetime for the industries and not the consumer of the light bulbs to 1,000 hours, at a time in which it was already easy to produce 2,500 hours lasting ones.
The origins of the phrase planned obsolescence go back at least as far as 1932 with Bernard London's pamphlet: Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence.
In 1986, Fujifilm QuickSnap became the first mass-marketed disposable camera.
In 2001, the iPod’s dirty secret was exposed, Apple’s iPod has an Irreplaceable battery lasting only 300 charges.
Apple apologized to customers on December the 28th 2018 for intentionally slowing down the processors used in the iPhone 6, 7, and SE through iOS updates to address aging lithium-ion batteries. The change was meant to reduce random shutdowns by throttling the phone’s CPU, but that also led to slower performance.
Proposal: Repairing Society
The citizens born and living in this world are inevitably influenced by it while strongly supporting Green activities and realizing that changes are needed. If we could speculate a world which is opposite our Throw-away Society, it could help us imagine a way out of our current society. The Repairing Society is a parallel time and space in which GM doesn’t maintain the unit sales by frequently launching new models, light bulbs keep burning for 2,500 hours or more, and Apple provides repair-and-update services instead of encouraging buyers to replace a whole phone. How things are kept and evolving and how people perceive consumption in this imagined society are explored in my thesis work.
The differences between the Throw-away Society and the Repairing Society range from the perception of consumers, the business strategy of brands, product development and design, and many other aspects in our daily lives.
Replace the Old with the New
Believe that New is Better Than Old
Breakage as Disability
Make Profit by Launching New Models
Design/Made for Replacement
Shorten the Product’s Life
Broken for Replacement
Emotionally Detached to Objects
Similar and Same
Recycling is Important
Repair not Replace
Believe that Old is Better than New
Breakage as History
Make Profit by Providing Repair Service
Design/Made for Easily Repair and Repurpose
Make the Products Live Longer
Broken For the Second Life
Strong Emotional Bonds with Objects
Unique and Original
Recycling Doesn't Exist
Broken is Better than the New
In the Repairing Society, these traditional repair jobs are reviving, and more people are proud of being repairmen or apprentices of repairmen. It is valued by the culture, and we see that they repair goods, but they also repair our way of life. At the same time, new technologies, like 3d scanning, 3d printing, and memory materials, bring the evolution of repair techniques and the emergence of new repairmen. They are not limited to traditional repair work and are capable of repairing nearly anything.
Thanks to their repair work, old things enjoy more longevity through refreshing like the sharpened knife and polished boots. Broken pieces get their second life through repairing like rejoined ceramic cups and patched clothes. The prolonged life of things leaves an opportunity for their owners to cultivate intimate relationships with them.
Recombining for Repurpose
Graft is a horticultural technique whereby tissues of plants are joined to continue their growth together. When the newly grafted branch merges with the old trunk, the recombined plant is hard to recognize as old or new because it has elements of both.
The competition between old and new doesn’t happen in Graft. In Graft, they are collaborators. The new helps the old survive and makes it usable. Correspondingly, the old shares its emotional attachment with its owner to the new. This win-win situation reflects the advantage of Graft.
The concept of Graft can be used in the Repairing Society. The broken objects, or broken part of objects, can be recombined and converted into a new product which extends the function and usability of the originals. At the same time, it keeps the original objects, or part of original objects, to leave an opportunity for owners to continue cultivating/stacking bonds with old things.
Design for Broken
Autotomy is the behavior whereby an animal sheds or discards one or more of its own appendages, usually as a self-defense mechanism to elude a predator's grasp or to distract the predator and thereby allow escape. Some animals have the ability to regenerate the lost body part later. The organism of these animals’ bodies is ready to be broken for the second life.
What doesn’t kill it makes it stronger. 'Broken for the Second Life' is also a design ethic for the brands and designers in the Repairing Society. The things designed to be broken gracefully and cleanly make the later repairing and grafting work easier. Every time we repair something, we add to its potential, its history, its soul, and its inherent beauty. In the Throw-away Society, most objects end up broken. Designers and brands don’t care because they make living on it (the unrepairable broken-objects force consumers to buy a new one). However, in the Repairing Society, designers have a strong sense of making repairable things by always keeping autotomy in mind. They not only focus on how products are used but also how things are broken. It means the object’s afterlife is well planned in the beginning.
REPAIR: Broken is Better Than the New
Repairing things is disappearing from our lifestyle in recent years. But, it used to be a ubiquitous service available to everyone when I was a child. Repairmen, like tinkers, sharpeners, and shoe cobblers, wandered in the streets and communities to ask if anyone has anything waiting to be repaired. Everything after their repair work looks new. Repairmen are great artisans who devote their lives to prolonging the stories and strengthening the bonds between things and their owners.
The Repairing Society makes products live longer through repeatedly repairing. It also revives the traditional repairing and creates more job opportunities for repairmen, and empowers citizens to become repair people too.
1. Re-Cart picks up broken/ old objects from residents.
2. Re-Cart sends broken/ old objects to Re-Stations.
3. Re-Station classifies broken/ old objects for repairing and grafting, then sending the ones waiting to be repaired to the right repairmen.
5. Re-Cart sends repaired objects back to their owners.
4. Once the repairing work is done, Re-Cart collects the repaired objects from Repairmen.
The Revival of Traditional Repairmen
The traditional repairmen, such as tinkers, sharpeners, shoe cobblers, and so on, repair things with traditional techniques and skills. They not only fix things but also make them better through inputting historical value.
The Emergence of New Repairmen
The new repairmen repair things with new technologies. For example, 3D printing, 3D scanning, reusable mold, and memory material. They are not limited to traditional repair work and are capable of repairing nearly anything.
Repaired Piggy Bank, Plate, and Cup (Kintsugi)
The piggy bank, plate, and cup repaired with Kintsugi technique by traditional repairmen. Each breakage is highlighted with gold instead of being concealed. The golden joineries on the piggy bank tell the stories of its owner.
Repaired Dish (Resin)
The dish repaired with clear resin is made by new repairmen. Through the transparent resin, you can observe each broken vine declaring the history of this dish. And the history of objects should be cherished.
Repaired Basket (3D Scanning and Printing)
The rattan basket repaired with 3d scanning and printing by new repairmen. The composition of half original rattan and half 3d printed woven PLA make this basket hard to be defined as old or new. Ideally, objects give form to ideas, but they also provide us with permission to reimagine what is possible.
GRAFT: Recombining for Repurpose
Graft or Graftage is a horticultural technique whereby tissues of plants are joined to continue their growth together. This idea also can be used in the Repairing Society. The broken objects, or broken parts of objects, can be recombined and converted into a new product which extends the function and usability of the originals. At the same time, it keeps the original objects, or parts of original objects, to leave an opportunity for owners to continue cultivating and stacking bonds within objects. The objects send a message to others that we have a history, that we are capable, and that we believe in continually evolving use.
1. Re-Cart collects broken/ old objects and needs from residents.
2. Re-Cart sends broken/ old objects to Re-Stations.
4. Graft-Designers analyze the broken objects and people's needs, then providing grafting concept to Graft-Labs.
4. Graft-Designers analyze the broken objects and people's needs, then providing grafting concept to Graft-Labs.
5. Based on the grafting concepts made by Graft-Designers, Graft-Labs find the best-matching pieces from their library and combines them into a new one.
6. Once the grafting work is done, Re-Cart picks up grafted products from Graft-Labs.
7. Re-Cart delivers grafted products to residents.
3. Re-Station classifies broken/ old objects for repairing and grafting, then sending the ones waiting to be grafted to Graft-Designers.
Graft Design is a new branch of design discipline in the Repairing Society. Graft designers are responsible for analyzing the collected broken objects and needs from people. With the assistance of an AI matching process called 'Binning.' Graft-designer simulates the recombination of broken objects in 3D simulation and sends the concept to Graft-labs.
Graft-Lab & Factory
Once receiving recombination concepts from Graft-designers, Graft-labs and factories are responsible for finding the best-matching broken pieces and grafting them into new products based on the concepts created by Graft-designers.
Watering Cup #1 (Tea Pot Neck + Watering Body)
This watering cup is a grafted product made with a ceramic teapot spout and a plastic watering can. The strong contrast of their sizes and using-context creates the aesthetic of Graft.
Watering Cup #2 (Watering Neck + Cup)
This watering cup is a grafted product made with a plastic watering can spout and broken cup pieces. As its spout neck is vertical to the cup handle, every time I use it to water a plant. I feel like I am pouring tea for an old friend.
Tea Mug (Teapot Handle + Mug)
This Tea Mug is a grafted work made with an elegant ceramic teapot handle and an IKEA glass mug. The mesh and clash of vintage and modern make it much more interesting than the original pieces.
Grafted Colander, Spatula, and Protractor
The colander is grafted into a soup spoon by getting its holes filled with plastic; This spatula is a grafted product made from a plastic barbecue fork. Its graft-designer endowed it with the function of the shovel by extending its surface area; The ruler is a grafted object made from a Protractor. It got a second life by being given a drawing function.
Grafted Spoons (Old Spoon + New Spoon)
These two grafted spoons are great examples to embody the collaboration between old and new. The small one is the combination of a ceramic spoon head and a wooden spoon handle. They are merged with clear resin. The second is a grafted rice spoon made up of a plastic rice-spoon head and a wooden handle with an elephant woodcarving.
AUTOTOMY: Design for Broken
“Broken for the Second Life” is a design ethic for the brands and designers in the Repairing Society. The things designed to be broken gracefully and cleanly make the later repairing and repurposing work easier. Every time we repair something, we add to its potential, its history, its soul, and its inherent beauty. We design for a long arc of use, and an evolving appearance and meaning.
In the Repairing Society, designers have a strong sense of making repairable things by always keeping autotomy in mind. They not only focus on how products are used but also how things are broken. It means the object’s afterlife is well planned in the beginning.
Ceramic bowls usually break at the thinner parts, the walls, and rims. The base usually stays complete. Autotomy bowl with five bases can break into five small ones which can be easily repaired and grafted. It is a bowl holding the potential for five future lives.
Autotomy cup connects with its handle via weak joints. Once broken, it breaks from the weak joint instead of its handle and body. So it can leave clean broken parts for the later repairing and grafting. Rather than pretending it will last, this kind of work assumes it will break.
Traditional chopsticks break disgracefully because of the structure of the wood fiber. Its messy broken section makes it hard to be repaired. The autotomy chopsticks leaving a groove in one side makes it break from the weaker groove and leave a clean broken part for later repairing and grafting.
Few pencils can be used up because graphite breaks easily. People throw pencils away when feeling frustrated after failing to sharpen it. The autotomy pencil splits its lead into multiple even-length pieces. The length of each lead is too short to break again, and users know where to start sharpening it. Through this way, the autotomy pencil can keep a longer serving life.
Plastic is not trash; Recycling doesn’t exist.
In the Throw-away Society, plastic is debated as the most notorious material, and recycling is a central topic of most green movements. This consensus was made because the dump, as the core of Throw-away culture, transits all materials into trash. Plastic becomes the most durable trash because it is non-degradable. The negative consequences related to plastic are determined by how people consume. Correspondingly, recycling is a way of turning trash back to raw materials for the next round of making-buying-dumping. However, in the Repairing Society, all materials are designed to be repaired and repurposed. Things retain their origin or find another life through meshing with other pieces. It means nothing is dumped as trash. Plastic even becomes an indispensable material in the toolkit of Repairing and Grafting. Accordingly, the concept of recycling no longer exists in the Repairing Society due to the disappearance of trash.
The attraction of evolving objects
Repairing Society educates consumers to cherish things. Repaired and Grafted objects also have a unique attraction to their owner. If we parallel the object-human relationship with the human-human relationship, it is not hard to find that the evolving common value plays a vital role in the intimate relationship because humans are always in a state of change and quickly get bored with immutable things. Repaired and Grafted objects are evolving through combinations of appearance and function. The evolving life of objects creates the aesthetic of a complex and evolving narrative to owners because people never know what things will become over time. Things surprise their owners periodically to accumulate meaning to users. The relationship between humans and objects is no longer the subject-object relationship of using and being used but a long-term subject-subject connection.
Repairing Society vs 3R’s Theory
3R’s Theory, 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' is often debated. It can be traced back to the underlying movement of becoming environmentally conscious in the 1970s. It helps to cut down on the amount of waste we throw away. It hopes to conserve natural resources, landfill space, and energy.
However, the limitation of 3R’s Theory is also apparent. 3R’s just focuses on dealing with throw-away products by recycling instead of landfilling. It doesn’t solve waste-and-pollution problems from the origin: Consumerism. It is like parents following children around to clean up their mess, the house is cleaner, but it doesn’t educate children not to throw things. And the 3R’s cleanup cannot keep up with the pace of “Overconsumption” all the time. The Repairing Society acts as an educator, not a cleanup tool. It intends to change people’s perception of consumption.
IN THE END: Retaining Our Humanity
Repairing Society is an imagined world to our Throw-away Society. I treat it as a consumer education paradigm that advocates for 'Repair not Replace.' It is not only a guide for consumers on how to consume but also for designers, brands, and manufacturers on how to make. I hope the proposal of the Repairing Society could plant a seed in people’s consciousness to encourage them to retain their bonds with things. The things help their owners to know themselves better and connect to others more deeply through their historical value and narrative value. My grandmother treasures a love token, a pen, given by my grandfather to remember his love. My parents keep my stamped footprint to celebrate their only child's born. I collect all the gifts from my friends to cherish our friendship. These objects help us know ourselves. They confirm our values. If we continue detaching objects and randomly dumping things, we may lose ourselves one day. Keeping things is retaining our humanity.