Aiding repair in consumer electronics is one great way to keeping products out of landfill. However, repair can be seen as an intimidating, risky experience. And what happens to the broken discarded part after a repair? This project looked at addressing the dauntingness of repair, and striking the balance of parts, either returning to a manufacturer or being recycled locally by the consumer.
After collecting lots of fans from a recycling centre, and carrying out diagnostic testing, it appeared nearly all the motors and electronics worked perfectly. It was not the expensive, resource intensive parts of the product that had failed, but the surrounding cheaper components like the bases, stands, guards or propellers.
In the ceramic fan, all the electrics are concentrated into one safe, insulated module, so the consumer can safely open up the product; this also enables this part to get back to the manufacturer. A self inflating packaging system will provide the hassle free return packaging for the motor module. It will wait, behind the motor and the bamboo end for the repairer to find. Once the sleeve is slipped over the motor, a tab can be pulled off and the vacuum bag will inflate, providing protection in transit. Prepaid, and address printed, the motor would be less then 35mm, so can be simply popped in a post box.
The motor module is full of copper, iron, neodymium and polymers, so it makes sense for this part to find it way back to its producer. However, for casings, feet, buttons etc, it may not be realistic or rational to post these back, or take to a retailer. Kerb side recycling is designed for what it collects - bottles and thin plastics - nothing made of durable, thick walled polymer. Therefore, the rest of the desk fan is made from either biological materials, which can safely return to the biosphere in their local environment, or abundant materials which are incredibly durable, and cause no harm in their disposal.
The design of the fan was driven by several factors. Fans don’t cool a room, they only cool a person by the wind chill effect, so it made sense to create a comfortable, but directed airflow. A centrifugal fan - one which sucks air into the centre of the impeller and throws cool air towards the perimeter, where it is funnelled out of the slots, can project air upwards eliminating a large stand with a rotating neck.
The case of the fan is a slip cast ceramic piece. In this context of use, ceramic provides excellent properties. We think of ceramics as fragile, but in the setting of a electronic device positioned on a desk, it is one of the most robust materials to make a part. The surface finish will outlast any other finish on a plastic or metal part and will never scratch, fade or wear. Modern glazes are incredibly durable from chipping or cracking and the part was designed so the rim, the weakest point, was not exposed. When done on a large scale, incredible tolerances can be met, with very low production costs per unit. Although, an enormously abundant resource, fired clay has no real route to a second life - here is where a balance between durability and recyclability has to be found. I am currently working on a second design of a centrifugal fan, that uses fabric and a frame as the 'case' of the fan; this would be highly upgradable, compostable, and drastically lighter than ceramic.
I wanted to design a product that people felt comfortable and confident in disassembling.; mechanisms natural to people. Snap fittings are unfamiliar, or even a screw driver can be a daunting proposition for some users. Popping the lid off something and ‘swapping parts over' compared to ‘repairing a product’ is a less intimidating narrative. This fan needs no tools necessary, and can be done not just easily, but fast.
All 8 parts could be available to replace, or upgrade simply by purchasing from the retailer, by scanning the QR code on this inside of each part. With 75% less components of a typical desk fan (around 35!), self diagnosis and rapid and intuitive disassembly is made incredibly simple.
In tandem to designing and making the desk fan, I have been studying the process of designing products and systems for a circular economy.
In a recent interview, Jony Ive speaks about this biggest thing he learned from Steve Job - and he says it was his remarkable focus. ‘When we really focus, we can make amazing things.’ Thinking holistically demands a mindset that constantly questions everything, looking at the wider picture, and all the troubles that brings. But at the same time, its critical to strive to keep this incredibly important focus - so great ideas can happen. Balancing this open mindset, with narrow focus is what I belive makes this area of design so difficult.
During this project, I have created a manifesto, which aim is to try to aid focus but still keeping a wide viewing angle by asking poignant questions and offering a catalyst for change in all areas relating to a product or service. It aims to be a useful toolkit for designers and business, bringing together many ideas and concepts around working in a more circular approach. If you would like to be sent a copy of my manifesto, please contact me here.