A particularly heinous bit of bad product design are ear-shattering car alarms.
The underlying thought was good, I’m sure: let’s make the car raise an unholy racket when someone messes with it, and we’ll put a stop to car theft! Of course, this failed miserably, both because of high false alarm rates and because in the case of a true alert most bystanders will prefer to mind their own business rather than confront a possibly violent thief. In fact the New York City Police Department claims that car alarms actually contribute to making the crime problem worse; and every urban dweller is familiar with their harm to quality of life in the city (for more data, see this report).
Now, car alarms come in many forms, and not all are harmful to our sanity; there are silent alternatives that will alert the owner wirelessly without raising a ruckus; there are immobilizer devices that can prevent theft in various ways; and so on. But many manufacturers still use the useless, maddening audible alarms, and a few design ones that will not shut themselves down after a minute or two – the designers of these deserve to be drawn and quartered…
So, what can we do about this? As a society we can certainly do much, if only we’d try (Terroncito has some interesting thoughts on this). I can tell you what I did. I used to have a car with a particularly nervous alarm, which got in the habit of treating my neighbors to minute-long blasts a few times a week. I tried to have it fixed, but to no avail. So I called my insurance agent, whose policy insisted I have this option in the car. I told him either the alarm goes, or his customer goes. Guess what – the insurance company wouldn’t budge, but the agent, after some diligent search, found another who was willing to accept a silent immobilizer. End of problem.
Remember: you can, and should, refuse to be told by some insurance company to torture your neighbors!