Flexibility Is The New Longevity

Longevity is not about building products that exist longer, its about making products that are useful longer.

As you are likely aware, change is becoming the new normal. Which is great. But what does that have to do with that big Red dude holding double peace signs? Red dude is one rather large example of the disconnect between physical longevity and longevity of service. There are millions of milk crates around the world, most of which are involved in tasks completely unrelated to milk. Unfortunately, not all products can be repurposed into mega sculptures like Red dude. When our needs change, the usefulness of our products change too.

Our accessibility of information is taking the way we communicate, the way we work and the way we play into unchartered territory. All this new information is affecting the way we construct our lives. More people are craving change and progress from career advancement to lifestyle fulfilment. This emphasis on personal progression leads us to having more lifestyle, employment and social changes through our careers.

Designing with this constant variance in mind allows products a better chance at longevity.

Longevity refers to a products durability of service over time. Key words here being 'durability' and 'service'. With the combination of some clever little peanuts and many advances in manufacturing we got very good at the durability aspect, maybe even too good. Most products live long after their 'useful' life has ended. Now we need clever peanuts focusing on the service aspect too.

To design products with longer useful lives we need to consider our ever-changing habits.

Fortunately, digital products are nimble enough to adapt to our changing habits. Consider the operating system on your computer, the products foundations are flexible enough to distribute updates to its users in real time. The flexibility to provide ongoing value to users is a win win for consumer and business'. The consumer gets more value and the business sustains its useful life. To stay relevant the business must have a deep understanding of what their users want. Users will leave if the updated offerings do not align with their updated needs.

Put the power in the users hands.

Allowing a user to personalise their product function is a sure fire way to maintain relevance and sustain value. Expanding on our digital narrative, consider apps on your phone, the software allows us to customise the functions we need from the device. On January 1st you decide you're getting fit and download the latest fitness app. What was yesterday a device for memes and emojis is now the centrepiece of your fitness revolution. Boom. Everyone wins. Consumers growing needs are satisfied and the business has more longevity.

The cloud is great for products offering constant, relevant value. Unfortunately, one large issue with the cloud is its lack of tangibility. When Nike released their Air Technology, getting more squishiness in shoe soles, it required a new shoe to be designed, manufactured and distributed. It was then sold to consumers where they then discard their current shoe and put the new one on.

The old shoes physical life was far from over, but the technology and service it provided was outdated. The fundamental design of a shoe provides no flexibility in its offering over time (apart from laces), this limits the shoes ability to grow with its users needs, shortening its longevity.

A product without a system is like a car without fuel.

A well functioning product system requires a deep understanding of the intended audience and how they behave. A great example is the bicycle. A bike is modular, allowing every piece to be upgraded, replaced or repaired. To upgrade your bikes function you can order parts online for a DIY job or head to your local bike shop and let them do the work. The system facilitates the ongoing useful life of the product.

Not as simple as the cloud, but still provides a whole lot of flexibility for functions to grow with users. Got a dirty butt from riding in the rain? Add a mud guard. Flip over the handle bars going down a hill? Install a back break. You get the idea. The systems around owning a bike are built to grow and adapt with the users needs.

So unless we can build mega sculptures from our physically strong but useless products we need to start closing the gap between physical durability and durability of service. Because there is no point having one without the other.

Flexibility is the new longevity.