UIO Runners Up: Product Service Systems

Judging a contest is always hard, especially when there are so many strong designs that you want to trumpet around. That's why, over the next week, we'll be showing off some of the amazing runners up in our Umbrella Inside Out Contest. Today we wanted to focus on a couple of the great concepts for Product Service Systems. As you've heard from us before, PSS design seeks to eliminate waste and energy expenditure by reducing the number of products that have to be sold. Rather than selling the physical product, these systems rent the utility of the product. Car rental agencies, community bikes, and cyber cafes are great examples. Two notable PSS entries jumped out at me from the UIO field.The first tackled one of the classic problems with communal use strategies: theft. Ourbrella, a design for a plastic roto-molded umbrella to be placed around London's downtown, deters its users from walking away with the goods with a very simple method.

Basically, you can't put the umbrella away. Since it's one piece, and plastic, it can't be folded up, which also means it can't be broken. The idea is that you would feel he rain start, and grab an Ourbrella from the hanger on a nearby lightpost. After the rain is over, replace the ourbrella on a nearby lightpost for others to use.

While there are definitely wrinkles to be worked out, like what to do when all your Ourbrellas end up outside the Millenium Eye, or other popular tourist spot, this is a concept with some serious legs. And, of course, being made of one piece of plastic, these umbrellas are beautifully recyclable into new Ourbrellas when broken.

The other great design did away with Umbrellas all together. Rather than giving people the service of shelter from rain through an umbrella, "Rainy Day Browsers Welcome..." uses shops to perform the same function.

Stickers and flyers inform shoppers outside shops that they are welcome to come in out of the rain and browse without feeling that they have the buy something. More of a public awareness campaign than a product, it is nonetheless exciting.

I love the way that the design subtly encourages development of community interaction. Moreover, I expect it would be quite fun, especially if you ended up in shops you might not normally visit.

While neither of these made our winner's circle, they are exceptional ideas. As more and more of the world adopts the consumptive habits of the west, we will need to de-materialize as many experiences as possible. These two designs are a brave step in that direction.

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