Archive for the 'Bad design' Category

Mind the footprints!

An important element of everyday product design that is all too often ignored is the footprint of an object.

I mean, look at these two electric kettles, which are very common kitchen appliances. They serve the exact same purpose; they use the exact same technology; they have the same water capacity.

Electric Kettles

But there’s a big difference: the one on the right has a sensible, compact cylindrical form. The one on the left, by Kennedy, flares at top and bottom, so its footprint – the counter-top area it requires – is some 45% grater than for the Graetz kettle beside it. Kitchen counters can never have too much free area; the designers at the Kennedy company have wasted some of that area for no good reason at all, simply to show off their “artistic originality”.

I see this cavalier attitude to footprint in many products, and it always annoys me… why can’t these people think of their users?


Russian Roulette!

Clearly marking tool and instrument controls is always a good idea, but it becomes vital where safety is at stake. And if there is one control where safety is definitely at stake, it is the safety catch!

Like this one, on a rechargeable jig saw from Taiwan:

Jigsaw with unmarked safety lock

See the switch clearly marked “Safety Lock”? Very informative… but there is not a hint as to which position is the locked one. There is a picture that may try to indicate this, but it is quite ambiguous.

So – this is really a weird implementation of Russian Roulette. But hey, at least it’s rechargeable…

The ancients had it right

These days the preference for shoddy, cheap, use-and-discard products is all over the place. Here is an example:

Street sign

This sorry street sign in Jerusalem has taken on a very “artistic” look – because it is made from a blue layer of stick-on plastic sheet over a metal plate. Over time the plastic started to shrink and curl, with this amusing result.

And it occurs to me that the ancients who lived in our city had a better method. Take this stone, which was part of the temple enclosure parapet in the second temple period (around the time of Christ). It too carries a Hebrew inscription, identifying the location of “the house of trumpeting” – the location where the priest stood who blew the ram horn to announce the entry of the Sabbath.

The house of trumpeting inscription, Temple mount, Jerusalem

This stone took a big fall when the Romans destroyed the temple, but the lettering on it is crisp and legible after two millennia.



Innumeracy in the skies

Was on a United flight enjoying my coffee (such as it was), when I noticed the text on the paper cup.

Nice cup:

Paper cup on United Airlines

Makes them feel very ecological, no doubt… someone in Marketing must’ve though it a good point to brag about.

Except that it’s completely meaningless, of course. This statement remains true even if the cup contains zero recycled material.


How many engineers?

See the mechanic working on my Renault Clio.

Do you know what he’s doing? Looks like he’s trying to squeeze his arm into a tiny space between some metal beams in the engine compartment frame. Why is he doing that? Because he wants to replace a burned out light bulb in the headlamp assembly.

Renault Clio lamp change

Actually I carry spare lamps in the trunk, so I thought I could change the bulb myself. But after a long struggle I decided to take the car in to a garage shop, in the hope that the mechanic there could solve the riddle: how do you access the headlamp’s back side and extract the lamp?

Why, what’s the problem? Here is the problem:


The headlamp is wedged in behind the tube with the yellow cap, and is practically impossible to reach without disassembling the metal beam behind it. Yep… Renault designed this car so you need to take it apart to change a light bulb.

How many design engineers does it take to make it impossible to unscrew a light bulb?

A truly uncool armrest design

Back from vacation, having flown a Boeing 737. This lacked the personalized screens seen in longer haul craft but it had a headset jack and a set of volume and channel controls for each passenger. The controls were set in the armrest, in easy reach of the passenger, like this:

Boeing B-737 armrest audio controls

Cool, huh?

Not cool. The two rocker switches for the volume control and channel selector are flush with the surface of the armrest. This means that if you rest your arm on the thing – or if your neighbor in the next seat does – your channel is bound to skip up or down every few minutes. If you watch a movie this can get truly aggravating.

And all they had to do was recess the controls a couple of millimeters under the surface…

Funky pumpkin!

Was in Germany and saw these in a supermarket. The thing is called Bischofsmütze – which means Bishop’s hat, although there’s something vaguely oriental (Islamic oriental, I mean) about it.

Bischofsmütze - Bishop's hat pumpkins

This is the weirdest fruit I remember ever running into – it looks like it’s a mashup of two different species, with the poor attention to finish seen in Frankenstein’s monster…

My first reaction was, that settles the heated controversy: surely no intelligent design can be seen in this ridiculous fruit! But then I had to admit: even the most meticulous designer may express a sense of humor now and then…  🙂

A small difference

Here we have two glove compartments. The one on the left is from the Renault Clio; the other from a Mazda 3. They serve the same simple function and – not surprisingly – look pretty much the same, if you ignore the nice touch in the Mazda’s, that places the latch closer to the driver.

Glove Compartments

To be precise, they look pretty much the same from the outside. When you open them you see a world of difference.

Here is the one from Renault:

Glove Compartment Renault Clio

It goes pretty deep under the dashboard, so you can stick a lot of stuff in there – an advantage for sure. But the angles and the door design are such that the moment you open it, everything is liable to spill out in a mess.

And here is Mazda’s design:

Glove Compartment Mazda 3

Here, there is a deep section behind, and a door designed like a separate deep tray; and the geometry ensures what you put in the inside part stays there, and what you put in the door remains in the door, ready for you to reach in and take what you need.

Two designs for the same function: a poor one and a superb one. And they cost the same to produce, no doubt…

Writing in an unknown tongue

See the hilarious street sign.

Why is it hilarious? Well, if you can read Hebrew you don’t have to ask. For the rest of you, here is the story.


Palermo, where this sign hangs, was home to a large and lively Jewish community in the middle ages. Then, in 1492, the Catholic Monarchs (Ferdinand and Isabella, those of Columbus fame) found the time on their busy schedules to decree that all Jews be expelled from all their dominions, Sicily included, and that was that – even today the only Jews to be seen on this lovely island are tourists. Moslems didn’t fare much better, having been expelled in the 13th century.

And it is to this history that we owe the sign, which marks one of the streets of the medieval Giudecca – the Jewish Ghetto. Someone had the neat idea of adding Hebrew and Arab names to streets in that area, in acknowledgement of their history. So far so good.

The joke, however, is that with not a single Jew living there, the Sicilian sign makers evidently relied on someone sending them the Hebrew version of the street name – which they then diligently proceeded to copy, without any idea of how to read the Hebrew script. The result is a hilarious mess of typos, most notable the replacement of the letter Yod with an apostrophe, no less than six times in this example.

I have no idea if the Arabic is any better…


Here is a street sign from Tel Aviv’s Ramat Hachayal area, a vibrant hi-tech hub. The sign hangs on a building at Hanechoshet st., as stated in English.

Hanechoshet street sign, Tel Aviv

The Hebrew is more detailed: it has the street name at the top, followed by the fine print, which explains the name. Nechoshet in Hebrew means copper, and so the text on the sign educates us:

Copper st. / An easily worked metallic element. Serves primarily to make thin electric wires.

Well, Duh!…

The origin of this utterly unneeded explanation can probably be traced to the commendable practice of adding explanations to street names referring to little known persons or events, such as

Rafael Weiss st. / Biblical scholar, 1940-1974.

Not every passerby can be expected to know every biblical scholar, or politician, or artist from bygone generations, so this is somewhat useful.

Knowing when to break a standard mold and leave a field empty in a template is a sign of intelligence…or perhaps a sort of mini Turing Test?