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  • Writer's pictureSven Marten

How SONOS put a knife in my designer’s heart – an open letter

Dear SONOS, When I first heard about your “trade-up” program I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a joke and when I realised that it wasn’t, I hoped it was merely a short term, attention-grabbing marketing strategy. But I was wrong. The sad truth finally became apparent: you really are serious about this. When my initial anger had transformed to a more reflective sadness, I tried to understand why this hit me so hard even though ironically I don’t own a single SONOS product. But as a product designer, your move to encourage people to dispose of beautifully designed, excellent, durable products truly disappointed me. Pursuing a strategy for sheer greed and profit is something I find unacceptable. How perverted is it to wilfully destroy products that could be re-sold and bring joy for many years just so you can sell a newer version that basically does the same as its predecessor: transporting high quality sounds to ears? In this day and age where one of our primary global challenges is to raise awareness about the importance of a sustainable lifestyle, this is really a punch in the stomach. Why not give your most loyal customers a discount because they have owned and been using your products for more than a decade instead of making them destroy things?

… is to kill your old beloved speaker

You may have your reasons, but whatever crude marketing strategy is behind this, let me explain why this is such a no-go for me. It is because you betrayed my deep-seated belief that good design exerts a truly positive force. Every beautifully designed product contains the promise of a world that is clear, in order, and liveable. It enchants the beholder to the extent that the simple act of looking at the object induces feelings of joy. And you did an excellent job with that. Your products are so well designed that they enrich the environment regardless whether they are switched on or off. I used to surf your website to check out your latest products just for the pure joy of looking. And more than once I felt a strong desire to purchase. But not any more. With your “trade-up” program you ruined the charm and robbed me of the many positive feelings I experience whenever I spot a SONOS product. And this is disheartening, because now the first thing that comes to my mind whenever your brand comes to my sight is “terminator-program”. You may say that I am exaggerating, but imagine if someone tried to encourage you to put a sledgehammer through your 1959 Braun LE1 speaker … just so you can get a discount on the new 2019 digital version.

Braun LE1 speaker — about 500 pairs were produced between 1959–1966

Obviously no one who has their five senses intact would ever do that. Besides the fact that a pair of these iconic design classics are nowadays sold at $5000 –6000 it feels downright WRONG to destroy beautiful things. And it feels absolutely WRONG to dump fully functional, high-quality products.

“it feels downright WRONG to destroy beautiful things. And it feels absolutely WRONG to dump fully functional, high-quality products.“

Your “trade-up” program is nothing but a “dump-it”-program. Your message urging customers to kindly bring their product to a certified e-recycling facility really isn’t what the product deserves. It contradicts the fundamental principles that underpin outstanding product design, and which Dieter Rams, Braun’s legendary Chief Designer, described in his 10 theses for good design half a century ago: “Good design makes a product useful. Good design is long-living. Good design is environmental-friendly.” Your marketeers may have to learn that good design is much more than a beautiful shell. It is one of the most powerful, unique selling propositions and offers those who can produce outstanding designs numerous competitive advantages. If it resonates with the core values of the potential buyer, it’s something they will fall in love with. I’m saddened that you have destroyed the positive associations towards your brand that I built up over the years. I hope you take corrective action, so that I can fall in love with your products again in the future.

Yours sincerely, Sven Marten

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