Jesse and Ali visited the unique lab facility of CHOICE and met with CEO Alan Kirkland and Director of Reviews and Testing, Matthew Steen.
We talked about the relationship between the rights of consumers and the responsibilities of manufacturers and the role of design research within this relationship.
As the leading consumer advocacy group in Australia, CHOICE knows a thing or two about researching the design of products. From washing machines and steam mops, to coffee grinders, laptops, TVs and health insurance – there aren’t many things we use that haven’t been tested. But with the sheer quantity of new products on the market, and the thoroughness of testing required to assess products, CHOICE also faces the quantity vs quality dilemma. As such, for their ‘tear downs’ they choose the most popular appliances based on sales data.
Washing Machine Testing Lab and an adorable machine for testing sneakers.
Matthew gave us a tour of the testing labs and explained the CHOICE research methodology, which focuses on ‘products in use’ as much as on component parts. In the cooking lab, for example, the heat circulation of ovens are tested by baking multiple trays of scones. Genius! Are they evenly cooked? Did they rise properly? Since large appliances like ovens can’t be sold in Australia without being safety compliant, the job of CHOICE here is to test whether they live up to their promises.
Not all products tested can be assumed safe though. In the Toys and Baby Products Lab, we were shown a custom ‘dummy tester’ that measures whether a baby’s dummy is small enough to be swallowed. Constant testing of products like this is important because there is no safety standard for all the millions of things people buy on ebay and through other vendors.
So what does all this have to do with repair? Choosing a product based on whether or not it can be repaired, and how long it will last (durability) is definitely a consumer right. But design for dissasembly is not a feature of most of the products CHOICE tests. Consider smart phones, for example, which we discuss in our article “Design and repair must work together to undo our legacy of waste” and CHOICE reviews here. There are huge challenges in assessing the ‘repairability’ of household products, which we will explore in this project and Alan and Matthew have begun to help us understand.