Better design for whom?

I bought a beautiful camera the other day. The only problem was I had to throw it away after one roll of film. You see, my old Minolta SLR finally seized up after 30 years and a holiday was imminent. As you may have guessed, the new camera was a Boots disposable.

It looks, feels and functions like any other compact camera and includes glass lens, flash and film, plus a Mac-like translucent finish. The one feature it does not have is an accessible back for reloading film. The film is, however, accessible to processors and printers (with a special tool) but not to the user. This prompted an editorial discussion and a camera dissection.

During manufacture the film is fully unwound into the other side of the camera in a ‘dark room’. During use the film is wound back frame-by-frame into the original canister. When the roll is finished, and the whole camera arrives for processing, the canister simply pops out the bottom of the camera. For the sake of a hinge, fastener and an arguably more expensive production line, this camera with all its electronics is destined for the tip. And while the plastic is recyclable the camera is not. A waste perhaps? The question begs; who is this designed for, the manufacturer or the customer? Cutting parts, of course, cuts costs and eases design-for-manufacture. This saving can then be passed onto the customer to produce a cheap and convenient way of taking photographs. However, this saving sacrifices the second-best function of a camera. The first function being that it works, the second is that it will work again.

A vast amount of marketing research no doubt confirmed the demand for disposable cameras and sales have been spectacular. It’s clear that for consumer products with mass market potential, a low retail price takes precedence over product functionality. But for a pound or two more I would liked to have reused my camera.

For those with a further interest in Design for Manufacture and Innovation, the Manufacturing Industry Achievement Awards takes place on the 19th September in London. Don’t leave it too late to book. Call 0207 7970 4772