The folks over at Make magazine have published a Maker's Bill of Rights to demand hackability in products. Interestingly, the things that make a device hackable are the same things that make a device repairable and upgradeable, so design-for-hacking is also green design.
Their "Maker's Bill Of Rights" is as follows:
Meaningful and specific parts lists shall be included.
Cases shall be easy to open.
Batteries should be replaceable.
Special tools are allowed only for darn good reasons.
Profiting by selling expensive special tools is wrong and not making special tools available is even worse.
Torx is OK; tamperproof is rarely OK.
Components, not entire sub-assemblies, shall be replaceable.
Consumables, like fuses and filters, shall be easy to access.
Circuit boards shall be commented.
Power from USB is good; power from proprietary power adapters is bad.
Standard connecters shall have pinouts defined.
If it snaps shut, it shall snap open.
Screws better than glues.
Docs and drivers shall have permalinks and shall reside for all perpetuity at archive.org.
Ease of repair shall be a design ideal, not an afterthought.
Metric or standard, not both.
Schematics shall be included.
(I recommend reading the full post at Make, because there's a whole bunch of good feedback from readers below the article.)
Some of these requirements are nearly word-for-word from green design certification standards like EPEAT. For instance, EPEAT point #126.96.36.199 (required for certification) is "External enclosures shall be easily removable by one person alone with commonly available tools." Point #188.8.131.52 (required for certification) is "Product shall be upgradeable with commonly available tools." Point #184.108.40.206 (an optional point) is "Plastic enclosures shall not contain molded-in or glued-on metal unless metal inserts are easy to remove by one person alone with commonly available tools." (i.e. screws are better than glues.) I could go on.
Why is design for hackability the same as design for long lifetime? Because the things a hacker wants to do to a device today (add memory, storage, or faster processing, or peripheral extensions) are the same things required to keep a device from getting obsolete years from now (when it will have to be faster / have more storage / connect to peripheral X, just to stay useable.) Many devices have proven useful long past their original lifetimes--the Beowulf project has used old 486 and Pentium I computers (junk to any modern computer user; obsolete nearly ten years ago) to create "a computer which can operate in the gigaflop range" (better than all but the highest-end personal computers available today).
Design for hackability is also green design because when a device dies, it's usually just one part dying before the rest. How many times have you had the batteries die in a device (which, in most models of Apple's iPod, are not replaceable)? Or had your cell phone's screen break while the phone itself still functioned? When I was in college I worked in computer hardware repair, and often a "dead" machine merely had a bad power supply which could be fixed by replacing a 10-cent resistor, if you knew enough about the machine to determine which resistor was bad. If every product came with schematics and manuals archived in perpetuity, as Make's list suggests, any home user could get this knowledge and potentially save their device from the grave if they're geek enough.
So let's hear it for the Maker's Bill Of Rights, and hope more companies open their products up to hackability and life-extension.
Thanks *so* much for this, Jer. I was obsessing at length over the hackability of dead products about a year ago, and I love seeing this comprehensive take on it, along with your thoughts.
This is amazing. I immediately thought about what if these guidelines were used in the design of architecture... then I got to the part that says they're already similar to green design guidelines for products! Imagine a neighborhood whose entire infrastructure (all types) is hackable and easily repairable; thus maybe even giving the build environment the ability to augment itself like people augment their bodies and minds with technology-connectedness.
Thanks for the great article! I love Make and Craft magazines precisely because of how green they can be.
I found this website from an article at wired.doc and I really enjoyed reading about what I love to do. (Fixing things and recycling technology) First thing I totally support what you are suggesting but there are some practical issues to overcome. PC’s, Television and other consumer appliances produce the bulk of the techno-trash we are producing in the Western World but let’s talk reality. Do you want things smaller, faster, and cheaper? Do you want things more energy efficient? Some of the things you would have manufacture’s implement are going to force products to be bulkier, more expensive and in some cases really impact energy consumption. (Not to mention increase the natural resources to build and distribute).
The real issue is repair or replace when a consumer product has failed. The solution to this problem is information. The most important aspect you strike on is the need for manufacturers to become responsible for passing along maintenance and repair information to the consumer. As long as our culture maintains a throw away mentality and a ‘bigger, faster better model’ must have mindset we will continue to dig ourselves deeper into economic and environmental problems by consuming financial and material resources we don’t necessarily have.