A series of case studies into sustainable product design: The Framework Laptop

In recent years, sustainability has risen to be the central topic of many discourses in our modern consumerism world. As designers, we always ask ourselves important and serious questions:

What can we do to create better, more eco-responsible products?

How can we help expand product life expectancies to reduce and eliminate waste?

How can we conceive products and services that are memorable, valuable, intuitive, and most importantly, sustainable? 

With these series of articles, we have opted to examine the creative process and its results through a selection of products. Here, we are emphasizing the value, advantages, and impacts of implementing sustainable design strategies early on in the ideation process.

What do sustainable tech products look like ?

What if tech products were conceived with sustainable design strategies in mind ?

Case study of existing sustainable product: Framework Laptop

Case study of existing sustainable product

FRAMEWORK laptop https://frame.work/fr/en

A great example of a more environmentally-friendly tech product is the Framework Laptop. At first sight, the thin, high-performance portable computer competes with the best selling laptops of other leading brands with its technical specifications in terms of performance, weight, and price point. 

However, one of the most influential elements of its design lies in how it was conceived and built with a more realistic take on durability. 

We think that the design team at Framework cracked the code by focusing on the product’s life journey within its use contexts. What is the main reason users upgrade their laptops - or most tech products and electronics for that matter? Things break. Hardware malfunction. Softwares become obsolete. Processors run slower. Aesthetics get out of style.

The main solution to all these problems is simple, yet achieving it required the design team to implement sustainable design strategies early on in their creative process. They decided to create a laptop that allows and empowers its user to “[...] customize, repair, and upgrade it to an unprecedented degree, all while remaining affordable and ultraportable” (Wawro, Tomsguide.com, 2022). 

First things first, a laptop that is customizable

At the beginning of your user journey, you can customize the build of your laptop from a decent range of options. In that sense, the product is extremely modular as you can specify anything from storage, RAM, processors, and onboard graphics, according to your specific needs. The Framework laptop comes in a Do It Yourself (DIY) version which can be put together by the user, but is also available in a pre-built option as well.

The standard PC laptop comes with modular ports which allows users to “[...] customize the selection on [the] laptop on an ad-hoc basis without the need for loads of dongles or adaptors” (Gibbs, The Guardian, 2022).

In addition, acting as the cherry on top of this exquisite design cake, most Framework laptops come with physical privacy kill switches located intuitively next to the camera and microphone. Proving that the design team understood that sometimes, although adjusting restricting the privacy settings might be enough, nothing beats the reassurance and certainty of the tactile responsiveness of an ON-OFF physical switch.

 Framework laptops come with physical privacy kill switches
Framework from TechCrunch, 2022

Second, a laptop that is repairable

It is undeniable that the Framework laptop is made by a right to repair company: in fact, it has been awarded a score of 10/10 by the repairability specialists at iFixit.

Although the components are of good quality and by consequence have a good durability, the product itself is built in a way that empowers users to disassemble, remove, fix, and/or replace virtually any part. 

Framework laptop is made by a right to repair
Framework from TechCrunch, 2022

For example, a component that frequently malfunctions and that is easily replaceable is the battery which is said to last “[...] for at least 1,000 full charge cycles while maintaining 80% of its original capacity” (Gibbs, The Guardian, 2022). 

Although the interior parts that can be removed and replaced are more difficult to access, all that is needed is the Framework single tool which is included when a laptop is purchased.

Framework single tool which is included when a laptop is purchased.
Photo by Molly Flores from PC Mag

In that sense, Framework sells replacement parts as well as upgrades through its marketplace, all while supporting replacement parts provided by third parties. 

Lastly, a laptop that is upgradable

Now, almost every core component is easy to access and to remove, but experts believe that it’s upgradability that sets the Framework laptop apart from the rest of the competition. Giving their users the ability to upgrade their tech purchases instead of having to dispose of them after a few years of use proves to be equally beneficial to the consumers as well as the environment.

The Framework laptop has been described as “[..] a marvel: a thin, light and well made notebook PC that you can easily take apart, fix, upgrade and add your own parts to [...]. There are not many laptops that can say the same.” (Gibbs, The Guardian, 2022).

Every part that can be removed and swapped comes labeled with a unique QR code that offers the user all the information needed all while guiding them on how to replace it. Framework is also planning to include links to purchase upgrades or even used refurbished parts on its Marketplace.

Conclusion

We have mentioned in our previous articles how sustainable product design principles can contribute positively within a circular economy. Innovative and smart products such as the Framework laptops can show how different sustainable strategies can be implemented in the beginning of the design process

This type of product features principles such as design for disassembly: the product components are layered and assembled in a way that makes them easily separable all while the parts themselves remain robust and reusable. This enables the user to recover, replace, and repair elements without having to discard the whole product.

Other sustainable principles include design for modularity, enabling users to configure and build the final composition based on their preferences and needs. Through this functionality, the product is able to adapt and evolve within different contexts of use.

In addition, the Framework laptop benefits from another sustainable design principle: spare parts services. These make spare replacement parts easily accessible and available to the user, adding value to the user experience all while extending the product life cycle. 

All in all, the Framework laptop’s design should serve as an inspiring example on how sustainable design principles can be of value to the consumer, encouraging them to purchase your product, to recommend it, and to ultimately take part into your company’s ecosystem.

Our holistic approach to design

Designers are increasingly aware that they are creating products and services that then exist and evolve in a very complex system. With this systemic approach to design, all the interactions between the user, the context (historial, political, geographical, cultural, etc.), and the artifact itself are interconnected. Not to mention that these elements are spontaneously evolving and changing themselves. This calls for products who are adaptable, flexible, and ultimately more resilient. Designers are thus increasingly applying a more holistic approach to design, taking into account the whole big picture, instead of just focusing on finding short-term solutions for isolated details.

If you want to discuss your project, our design team will share their expertise and help you!

Contact us here or at thibault@punctuatedesign.com

Tara Harb
Strategist & Industrial designer
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