Consumer product innovation and sustainable design

Roy, Robin (2015). Consumer product innovation and sustainable design. In: Proceedings of Sustainable Innovation 2015, State of the Art: Sustainable Innovation and Design, 20th International Conference, The Centre for Sustainable Design, University of the Creative Arts, pp. 209–216.



This paper summarises some findings of a book titled 'Consumer Product Innovation and Sustainable Design'. The book was inspired by the author's archive of the (UK) Consumers’ Association publication, Which? that provides a unique written and pictorial record of the technological and design evolution of consumer products marketed in Britain from 1957 to the present.

The core of the book comprises case studies of six consumer product classes – bicycles, washing machines, electric lamps, television equipment, vacuum cleaners and mobile (cell) phones. The chosen product classes were based on selecting for different levels of technological complexity, rates of technological and design change and the relative importance of engineering, aesthetic, human and environmental factors in design. The case studies track the technological and design evolution of these products from their invention to the present day. The case studies also examined when, why and how environmental criteria became part of their specification; the influence of socio-economic and cultural factors on their evolution; and their impacts on the environment and society. The paper also draws on the case studies to provide conclusions about patterns of technological and design change and to provide lessons for designers, engineers, managers, marketers and educators – for example, on what makes some consumer products successful and others market failures, and how to design for sustainability.

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