Forced Obsolescence

posted in: Business of Design 4

I first encountered the term ‘planned obsolescence’ early in life when I was in school learning to be a car designer. The car companies discerned early on how to hasten sales for replacement vehicles. For people that always want the latest style, there was the incentive of something new and sexy every year. For those that were functional buyers, not style driven, they’d find themselves in the showroom soon enough as repair costs skyrocketed.

In the digital world, we have to deal with three levels of obsolescence simultaneously: the computer itself, the operating system, and the software (not to mention cards, memory, peripherals, etc.) It used to be you could make a stand: I’m sticking to this computer, this operating system and these apps since everything is running smoothly. You could invest in an upgrade at your own convenience and as your budget allowed. But then…

…the industry got smarter. Planned obsolescence wasn’t enough. They wanted total control over consumer technology buying. They created forced obsolescence, or as they would call it, ‘a disruptive business model’. No longer do you own software—you rent access. You might think—no big deal—MS Office 365 is only $99 per year for access. But, then I have to add $960 per year for the Adobe Suite, $1500 for Autodesk Maya, and others. And once you commit, you are committed. The minute you quit the plan, you can no longer open any of the files you created or edited with that software. No permanent license. They’ve got you!

Oh, and if you don’t keep your operating system updated, you’ll still be paying for access to the software, but not getting any upgrades without upgrading the OS. And if your older computer doesn’t support the new OS, oh yeah, you’ll be buying a new computer.

So far, the software companies have successfully herded us tech sheeple into their new paradigm. I resisted for a few years and stuck with the last fully owned Adobe Suite CS6. Adobe knew though, that we would all be forced into their feed lot. Between the need to update equipment, OS, and work on files at the same level as vendors and clients, my resistance became….baaa.

But I am hoping for a pushback. Sadly, Adobe is pretty well entrenched in the number 1 spot for design. They’ve done a masterful job of  outperforming or purchasing and destroying the competition (I miss you Freehand). I expect I will have to follow the sheep trail. Maya, however, is another story. With my recent conversion to the subscription version, the headaches are fresh in my mind: major cost increase with a new renderer that will only batch render if I pay additionally for that subscription. Maya has a lot of competition in a crowded field of 3D modeling and animation. After 15 years of devotion, I’m testing alternatives and hoping I’ll find a way to break out of the herd and find a greener field to frolic in.

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Bill Giobbi (bgob1) is founder and owner of Linea Forma Design, a 38 year old design firm specializing in creating graphic content for print, web and video. He is a graphic designer, industrial designer, model maker, technical illustrator and a digital 3D content creator/animator, with a love of all things design.
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4 Responses

  1. Steven Kaufman

    Double-edged sword, here. I think the Adobe subscription is a great value: fifty bucks a month for access to every software product they produce. Office is also a pretty good deal. I also like getting the upgrades so my software stays current.

    At the same time, I can’t stand getting the upgrades. The most recent Office update wiped out the recent files feature. The upgrade to Mac to Mojave now includes an error message about an out-of-date Java installation (and the “fix it” button does not fix it). It feels like testing and QA has gone downhill with the advent of software rentals.

    I also miss support. Apple has it (critical for my aging father who needs help). Very few others do, so I’m left with Google to find answers.

    Sometimes, I can walk the tight edge of that sword. Other times, it can cut…and it hurts.

    • bgob1

      It’s that new expression, “The more things change, the more things change”. That said, I sure do love all my new stuff!

  2. travis giobbi

    …and then the developers of that software will transfer to a membership-based service! So frustrating, but like w all markets they can’t just rely on new users alone, you can compound that growth by ALSO getting more out of each current users – c’est le capitalism.
    i can sense the demise of our Adobe CS 3.0 any upgrade coming up, i just know it.
    All cynicism & joking aside, though, good luck finding a replacement! Any amount time with even one fewer restriction is a huge relief I bet, especially on a small business. You know, the often declared “backbone of this great nation”.
    -fingers crossed!

    • bgob1

      You’ve got it! But, life’s short. Gotta move on. I love all of my tools. They work great. Just hate being forced to always upgrade. Some changes are just more painful than others!