Aging gracefully to increase product longevity

Longer use and responsible disposal of rapidly discarded consumer electronics would slow material throughput and reduce metal extraction rates and associated environmental impacts. Although longevity is technically achievable, extending product lifetimes is more challenging when devices become ‘tired’, ‘worn’ or ‘damaged’ as these attributes are believed to result in loss of value, dissatisfaction and premature disposal. “Materials mediate the aging process in a tangible and immediate way” (Chapman, 2014, p. 141), thus users’ sustained appreciation of materials will often determine a product’s longevity regardless of physical durability and functional lifespan. This paper presents the findings of a user-centred study which explores tactile and aesthetic responses to new and artificially aged mobile phone cases made from leather, titanium, cork, plastic, rubber, walnut and bamboo. The results indicate that preferences for the materials tested were extremely subjective, and even a single participant was likely to have conflicting requirements for the characteristics of the materials (for example, sleek and shiny yet easy to grip). Participants’ preconceptions about the meaning and function of materials in a particular context strongly influenced their responses. The ageing process had no effect on the position of the samples materials in preference order, but the comments provided by participants gave useful insights into the variety of ways that wear and damage can be interpreted by different people for different materials in a particular context.