Don't make a great play when a good play will do

A few months back I had to replace the dishwasher in my apartment.  We called a repair company and booked someone to come take a look.  The diagnosis was this; the control system was fried and needed to be replaced. This component with installation would cost roughly a thousand dollars, so the repair guy advised us to get a new dishwasher. 

The water drainage pump was fine, all the rotating nozzles, latches, and rollers were intact and functioning perfectly. The buttons were not worn out. The stainless-steel door was still watertight and none of the hose connections leaked. The electricity was still hooked up and the lights were still blinking.  If I was able to use a time traveling telephone and call a repair man from the 90’s, he would look at the dishwasher and say all the components were working and have no idea what the problem was, of course until he removed the front cover to see a small piece of alien technology where an analog system of switches should have been. 

I believe I have fallen victim to design getting worse over time.  Once you know the signs you will see them all over the place.  Car keys running out of batteries, refrigerators with LED screens, thermostats with infinite settings, lightbulbs that are turned on by your phone.  An over-complication of products that are being marketed as innovation. 

The most popular viewpoint on what is happening with so many contemporary home products is the concept of planned obsolescence. The idea that the companies manufacturing these goods want the consumer to purchase the same item again in the future, so they design their product to either break, to become or obsolete, or to convince the consumer their item is now out of vogue. 

This is very much happening, and my dishwasher is a prime example.  The digital component does not cost a thousand dollars. The maker of the dishwasher does not produce replacement components at large quantities for the repair market as they do not want it to be repaired, and 3rd party manufacturers can’t make complicated components such as bespoke computer chips for specific models.  If I had a leaking dishwasher door, I could purchase non-branded rubber stripping to fix it.  This is not the case once you have digital systems involved. 

But the viewpoint of ‘planned obsolescence’ is only partially addressing the problem.  At some point in the evolution of the dishwasher we decided to shift from an analog system of switches and timers to a digital system.  This was a mistake.  Instead of focusing on making dishwashers work better we have decided to instead make them more complicated.  I fail to see how a digital control system has made this appliance better in any way.  It has only forced the disposal of 80lbs of perfectly fine components, and one broken component that weighs a few grams that didn't exist in models two decades ago.  

This past year my local park in Montreal installed new garbage cans. These cans have built in trash compactors so that the same size public garbage can now hold a considerable amount more.  Last weekend it was out of service. The garbage can was broken, and a sanitation worker tied a black garbage bag to the handle so people could still throw out their trash. 

We don’t need new garbage can technology.   We need sanitation workers to regularly empty it (in addition to just producing less garbage of course).  Instead, we have created garbage cans that break, and ironically become garbage themselves.

We should start making dumb objects again.  I would love to have a dumb dishwasher.  I am by no means a luddite (and you can read proof in a previous lunar letter here – return of the luddites).  I want processers to continue to get faster and I’m excited for the disruption that will be caused by AI, but nobody needs an AI toaster. Even our phones are starting to get to the point where we no longer need to upgrade components.  With more data storage and processing being done in faraway server farms  we should focus on improving longevity. I don’t need my phone to be faster or have a better camera, I just need to replace the battery and cracked screen.

When I was little my hockey coach would tell us “Don’t make a great play when a good play will do”. What he meant was don't loose sight of the goal. Making a great play that doesn't work is worse than a less flashy play that does. Whatever benefits a digital system had in that dishwasher doesn't matter now, because that dishwasher is in a landfill.

We need to envision a new definition of what ‘better’ means when it comes to products.  Manufacturing something as reliable and as simple as possible should be at the forefront of that definition.  This is not some soapbox rant about cleaning the oceans and saving the earth but simple facts that without conscious and considered product development we can, and sometimes do, make products worse over time.  A huge step forward is removing technology where it doesn’t belong.  

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I totally agree and we are not asking manufacturers not to innovate but to innovate and improve with some forethought to when and where these items end up. Innovation and improvement should not be at the cost of the planet! Just remember it’s the only one we have and living on the moon with Elon Musk and Co. won’t be affordable for the average human being and it holds zero appeal for me.

Christine Heyman

Whoever decides to start an appliance company that manufactures appliances guaranteed to last a lifetime? People will pay a pretty penny for the privilege. Think Dualit toasters but for actual household appliances… beautiful, functional, exceptional… and ANALOG. Could be done… why isn’t anyone doing it???


my family talks about this very problem all the time! It is utter madness – although not madness to the profiteers. we used to talk about overflowing landfills – where are the voices regarding that? I recently bought a 22 yr old sports car – it is a thrill to not have to take the time to get a “degree” just to drive the car!

maria benham

As an Interior Designer who sells appliances all the time with custom kitchen designs, we know a lot about appliances. We go to manufacturers and learn about their manufacturing processes and how they are improving the efficiency, function and aesthetic of these products. Do you want a dishwasher that is so loud you can’t hear a phone call, or a range that puts out so many BTUs that it’s dangerous in your household to your family and pets? What about the fact that washing machines used to use 50 gallons of water per load, now they only use 5? There are some amazing and highly functioning products that help professional chefs and bakers do their jobs more efficiently and also produce a better product. The research and technology these companies put into the quality of what they put out is incredible. I can’t speak for products made overseas but the manufacturers we work with are very impressive. (and our son plays hockey so I get your reference. Just wanted to present some further information to your discussion.


This is so frustrating! Amen


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