Better Devices Manifesto: 10 Ways Devices Can Be Ecologically Better

Our business is making devices and we believe that the way we make them makes a difference. Product design is about seeing an unmet need, defining that need as clearly as possible, drawing inspiration from the world around us, and making thousands of design decisions. It’s a big job; too big for any single person; so product design is also about teamwork. 

 

The decisions matter, and we increasingly see how design decisions can have a positive effect on the environment. Here are 10 attributes of better devices that can lead to the sort of world we all want to live in:

 

  1. Carbon Neutral - There are terrific organizations such as ClimateNeutral.org out there working to make it efficient to measure, offset, and reduce carbon emissions. Every product has a lot of requirements to meet already and by adding carbon neutrality we can shift the electronics industry toward being part of the solution to climate change.
  2. Durable - If electronics were compostable, we would not have to work so hard to make them long-lasting, but they are not. The best way to make electronics have a lower carbon footprint and satisfy customers is to make high-quality, long-lasting devices. This elevates brands, reduces e-waste, and saves money for everyone.
  3. Nontoxic - We have learned that certain substances can harm nature and damage our health and it’s important that we incorporate this learning into our designs. RoHS was a powerful force in the electronics industry some years back. It was initially met with resistance, but after several years on the books it became the norm and now most electronics are lead-free.
  4. Open Source - Every device already takes advantage of open standards and it is increasingly common to incorporate open source software into our designs. This is a powerful mindset as we approach new designs. Use proven open source elements and become part of the communities that manage them. When feasible, publish hardware designs for free on OSHWA.org.
  5. Recyclable - Electronics do not belong in landfill. Tremendous amounts of engineering have gone into making the electronic components and the devices themselves, and it is an admission of defeat to throw it into the garbage. To meet performance goals, electronics often have exotic materials like gold, platinum, cobalt, and indium that are more expensive to mine than they are to recycle. Thinking about the recyclability is a good way to increase the salvage value of your devices. If we buy back our devices, we get to reap the rewards ourselves.
  6. Repairable - The sibling to durable is repairable. Repair is making a big comeback as people increasingly recognize its value in prolonging device life, promoting healthy social interaction, and supporting education.
  7. Secure - More and more devices have built-in mechanisms to only function for the people who bought them, which require sensitive information to be stored in the device itself. When compromised, a lot of harm can be done. While perfect security does not exist, we should make it expensive and difficult for the bad guys to hack into our devices.
  8. Supported - We all know how reassuring it feels when the manufacturer of a device actually steps up to provide help when things go wrong. This can be manifested in many ways: helpful sales people, good documentation, a well-maintained support center, simple warranties, buy-back programs, and spare parts.
  9. Updatable - For any device that has firmware, this firmware should be updatable in the field. As most devices become connected devices, they run complex stacks of software which are constantly evolving. To release it into the wild without the ability to update its code is to shorten its lifetime and cause regret for the customer.
  10. User-friendly - These devices serve us, not the other way around. Take the time to make the user experience a pleasant one.

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