Designing end-of-life for devices
Before working on digital products, I spent several years doing sustainable design — what happens to products after we finish using them. This is almost its own discipline; designing products with recyclable materials, replaceable components, easy disassembly and delayed obsolescence. All in the pursuit of reducing the environmental impact of the things we use.
We should put the same thought and effort into designing the end-of-life for devices containing data. When changing device, people have worries about reliability, privacy and security, and are left with unanswered questions like:
- Can I transfer data between my old and new device?
- Will I lose anything when I switch device?
- Am I about to delete something one of my family needs?
- Is my old device safe to sell?
- Has all the data on my old device been deleted?
- How do I know, for sure, that accounts have been logged out of?
Without an answer to these questions, devices like the old phone in my bedroom drawer feel like a liability. Still containing personal data, protected by increasingly outdated software — with potential security flaws that become more known as the years roll on. It's unclear if it’s safe to sell, or use as a backup, should my new phone break.
We can better meet people’s needs in situations like these, by designing for the end-of-life of digital devices. This might include exploring:
- Data portability standards for devices
- Wiping a device that is explainable and simple
- Designing for shared devices and data
- Proofs of deletion that can be independently checked
- Data storage you can easily remove and destroy
Product teams should get more time to design what should happen when devices stop being used. This is an opportunity to add more trust and care to the digital devices so many of us rely on.