Dirt, damage, servicing and repair: understanding motivations for product disposal. Technical report

Cooper, T. ORCID: 0000-0001-8623-2918, Fisher, T. ORCID: 0000-0003-2565-8805, Harmer, L., Salvia, G. and Barr, C., 2016. Dirt, damage, servicing and repair: understanding motivations for product disposal. Technical report. Nottingham: Nottingham Trent University.

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Sustainable consumption requires increased product longevity, not least because the fast throughput of consumer goods adds to the threat of climate change due to embodied greenhouse gas emissions. Vacuum cleaners are the second largest source of embodied emissions among electrical products in the UK, and today’s consumers only expect them to last around 5 years, perhaps a third of typical life-spans in the past.

This report presents the findings of a research project funded by Defra in order to find solutions to inadequate vacuum cleaner lifetimes. The project involved a multi-method research process that led to the development of a practical toolkit with potential solutions.

The first phase of the research comprised a scoping exercise with a literature review, stakeholder interviews, over 100 user interviews and a product teardown exercise. Through this, five themes were identified as the basis for design interventions to increase vacuum cleaner longevity: Ageing Gracefully, Optimal Construction, Information Provision, Enjoyable Experience, Servicing Systems.

The themes were explored in the second phase through a survey of over 500 consumers, a user co-creation workshop with 30 participants, and a workshop involving the research team and five employees of a leading vacuum cleaner manufacturer. During this phase five final year Product Design undergraduates were recruited to develop product concepts based on the themes. The results of the survey support the view that many vacuum cleaners are discarded after a short period. It suggested that key challenges were: creating the perception of the vacuum cleaner as a pleasant object and vacuuming as an enjoyable task; motivating constant and effective maintenance; communicating information to users effectively, and encouraging periodic servicing and repair. The co-creation workshop revealed key elements of vacuum cleaning from a user perspective, including frustrations such as a heavy, noisy or smelly vacuum cleaner, perhaps with an unsatisfactory cord or hose. Through this work product concepts for ‘ideal’ vacuum cleaners were developed for each of the themes:

Ageing Gracefully: A robust, attractive, high performance product that ages well, offering high performance and retaining an ‘as new’ sensorial quality (e.g. visual, noise, smell).

Optimal Construction: A long lasting motor body with a convenient recyclable head unit containing typically serviceable elements, e.g. dirt container, filters and brushes.

Information Provision: A product designed to communicate performance levels and assist faultfinding, enhancing user interaction from when first unpacked and assembled, and with wireless internet communication of product status to the manufacturer.

Enjoyable Experience: Enhanced emotional attachment through consideration of material choice, ease of use and storage, and reduced contact with dirt.

Servicing Systems: A leasing system providing users with a high quality machine (either new or remanufactured) at a lower long-term cost, with benefits such as free servicing.

The manufacturer workshop revealed that lightweight, easy to use and cordless products are of growing importance in the industry sector. The Information Provision and Optimal Construction product concepts were especially well received and considered most promising.

In the third and final phase, the concepts were refined through a focus group involving 15 users, which provided feedback on prototype products. A toolkit for product development teams was created in the form of cards that display 28 components (i.e. product features) generated through a product concept development process. Each card has information on the type of cleaner most likely to be attracted to a particular product feature and the actor (i.e. industry, policy makers, consumers) most able to influence its implementation. The product concepts and features were then tested through a second survey, again using a consumer panel, which attracted over 550 respondents. This investigated how the concepts and features might influence purchase decisions and whether consumers felt they would influence the vacuum cleaner’s longevity. Lastly, the toolkit was tested with five industry stakeholders (four manufacturers and a repairer) to consider commercial feasibility.

Item Type: Research report for external body
Creators: Cooper, T., Fisher, T., Harmer, L., Salvia, G. and Barr, C.
Publisher: Nottingham Trent University
Place of Publication: Nottingham
Date: July 2016
Divisions: Schools > School of Art and Design
Schools > School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 17 Dec 2019 09:22
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2019 09:22
URI: https://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/38866

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