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The Durability Paradox

I was reading this article on durable product design at Core77 when I came across a phrase that struck me as being somewhat incongruous.

But what he found was that most of these so-called durable goods were not up to snuff…

… In April of 2010 the first iPad came out, and Hofert bought one. The iPad had of course been a top-secret project at Apple, and upon its release there weren’t a lot of cases available for it. Hofert got himself a scrap of leather hide and decided to make one of his own.

via Core77

The article itself is quite interesting, and Hofert has built himself a fanastic group of products around this idea of durability in an age of ravenous consumption. However I found the example to be an odd one. I also purchased the original iPad and saw this problem unfold myself. Initially only the base cover from Apple was available but over the next few months many alternatives came about. Leather, canvas, wool, all kinds of interesting and not-so interesting designs. Being a bit of a fashionista myself when it comes to a daily carry I can appreciate designs in the finest and most durable of materials and was attracted to these myself. I never pulled the trigger on buying one though, and I think this article helped me understand the reason why. A leather case for a first generation iPad is a durable solution to a non-durable problem.

A durable problem is a problem that lasts. A durable product is a product that lasts. A durable product for a durable problem is a product that lasts solving a problem that lasts.

A leather wallet is a durable product. A waxed canvas bag with buckles instead of zippers is a durable product. A double stitched pair of duck cotton work pants is a durable product.

Storing your ID and cash is a durable problem. Carrying items with you as you walk, bus, bike, or drive is a durable problem. Wearing pants is a durable problem.

Carrying a $500 technical accessory that will be replaced in 15 months is not a durable problem. In fact I would argue that in the course of designing a durable solution that problem, you are actually creating more problems than you solve. If your leather backpack lasts 30 years, that’s great, you’ll get 30 years of great service. If an iPad case that fits the original iPad lasts you 30 years you end up with a fantastic case for 2 years, and a strangely shaped piece of leather for the remaining 28 years.

Creating durable solutions to durable problems is an investment in the future and a fantastic use of time and resources.

Creating durable accessories for non-durable problem is a fashion statement, and a potential waste of time and resources.

Not that there is anything wrong with fashion statements. Nor do I think that an iPad case was really Hofert’s goal, just his first experience in leather working. I simply find it a funny example to choose when trying to highlight the benefits of building durable products, to choose that example.

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