Archive for the 'Bad design' Category

Form follows dysfunction

Postal form

So we had to ship some parcels overseas, and we were given these forms to fill at the post office.

Not surprisingly, the form had four copies, and asked for a lot of shipping and customs information. what was surprising, however, was the incredibly poor functional design of the form’s layout.

Most obviously silly was the layout of the field for the recipient’s address, which you can see in the photo below:

Postal form addressee field

The small area provided would barely accept any respectable street address, but then they ask you to add telephone, fax and email on the indicated lines. Forget about – you couldn’t even fit on that tiny line! Same thing for any respectable phone and fax numbers. Nor can you try your hand at miniature calligraphy, because to mark the four copies you must push very hard on the pen…

Every day hundreds of people in the country struggle with this form. Won’t anyone at the PO take pity on us?

The Lawyers’ Balloon

One can hardly imagine a more fun child’s plaything than a toy balloon. These have been around in various forms since the middle ages at least, and are as pleasing to today’s children as ever. And they generally look like the balloon in the illustration below, from the classic children’s book, beloved by generations of Israeli children, “Tale of five balloons”.

Red Balloon illustration by Ora Ayal

Balloon seen at a McDonalds restaurant


But not at McDonalds. I visited one of their ubiquitous locations last week and saw at the counter the balloon you see at the right above. The poor thing was peppered with… legalese.

Legalese on a McDonalds toy balloon

For those of you whose Hebrew is rusty, here’s what it says:

The balloon is made of natural Latex.


  • Not suitable for children under 36 months of age.
  • Suffocation risk for children under 8 from uninflated or torn balloons – adult supervision required.
  • Keep uninflated balloons out of the reach of children.
  • An exploded balloon must be immediately thrown into a trashcan.
  • Keep balloons away from the eyes and ears.


Where is our sandbox?

Something caught my attention in this children’s playground in our neighborhood, where my kids used to play long years ago.

Sandbox replacement

Back then the slide was made of metal, but the new one works just fine. However, back then the slide ended in a large sandbox, which was a major attraction in its own right. Kids would dig, build sand castles, mess around and have fun.

Not any more, as you can see: the sand has been replaced with some green rubbery material. This must have seemed a great idea – clean, easy to maintain, resilient and safe. However, consider this line from Wikipedia:

Sandpits encourage the imagination and creativity of children by providing materials and space to build several structures such as sandcastles; use toy trucks, shovels, and buckets to move the sand around; dig holes and bury objects, etc. In other words, the sand provides a medium in which children can pretend to explore, construct, and destroy the world in three dimensions.

With this ersatz version, kids can do none of these things. They can stay clean and hygienic, certainly; and safe, so nobody gets sued.

Still,my kids, and my own generation, and countless others before it, have managed quite well with the sand.


Right Door, Left Door

Refrigerator doorHere is a photo I snapped in a kitchen area in a company I visited. See what’s wrong?

The refrigerator sits close to the wall on the left, and its door opens to the right (handle on its left side). Which means the person opening this door has to do a little dance to get into the space between the opening door and the wall.

No big deal of course, but it’s an unnecessary inconvenience: you can buy fridges with doors hinged on either side; often you can change the side even after the purchase. Many people are unaware of this possibility, or don’t bother. In this case, all the employees on that office floor have do the dance because someone didn’t care…

Weirdest napkin ring design ever?

I was at a fancy home and kitchenware store and saw the box in the photo here, containing – it says on the front – “Salt & Pepper Napkin Rings”. This sounded weirdly intriguing, like “Oregano & Thyme Spark Plugs”, so I took a closer look. Turns out this is one of the stranger design ideas I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

Salt & Pepper Napkin Rings BoxNapkin rings, in case you haven’t dined in the fancy places that use them (I don’t, but my grandmother used to have them before paper napkins appeared), are used around linen napkins when setting a table. What do they have to do with condiments? Well, as you can see in the close up, each of these rings has two inner compartments that can be filled with salt and pepper, giving each diner a personal set of shakers… combined into one unit (a dubious idea IMO), integrated into the napkin ring (a terrible idea IMHO).

Salt & Pepper Napkin Rings

So why is this a bad idea? Many reasons, from the hassle of having to keep them all filled, to the inevitable spills when a ring is overturned, to the difficulty keeping one condiment in while pouring the other out… but primarily, because why on earth do it? A Swiss Army Knife has its benefits when you’re a Swiss soldier, or a boy scout… but not every set of disparate functions need to be designed into an uneasy coexistence!

Have to hand it to them, at least… if you ignore the two plastic stoppers, the ring is surprisingly elegant looking! 🙂

A new way for elevators to crash

Crashed ElevatorWhen Elisha Otis invented the ‘safety elevator’ mechanism in 1852, elevator crashes have become a rare event indeed. But these days “crash” has a new meaning, which Otis couldn’t have foreseen. Consider the elevator in the photo, from the Azrieli towers in Tel Aviv. It has a wonderful new control system with a large computer screen to tell you what’s going on.

And, as you can see in the photo below, it has crashed…

Crashed Elevator controller

Too bad the weary traveler has no way to follow any of these cryptic instructions.

In fact, we run all too often into this situation: a  computer-embedded system that sends admin-level error messages at a user that has neither the ability nor the expertise to address them. A simple blinking red light captioned  “malfunction – call maintenance at tel. 1234567” would at least be actionable!

Stupid tape measure!

Here are two retractable tape measures. The one on the left is a classic by Stanley, the other, made by Panyi,  clearly a cheaper clone. Looks the same, works the same… except for one small difference.

Notice the difference?

Tape measures by Stanley and Panyi

This type of tape measure has a stated offset printed on it, equal to the width of its metal case, to allow taking inner measurements. In the Stanley unit, the number is +50 mm, a clean round number that’s easy to add to the number you read on the tape. I also have a Stanley tape of different design that uses +60 mm… again, a nice round number.

But the cheap knock-off uses +55 mm – far less easy to rapidly add in your head. Couldn’t the manufacturer bother to add or subtract 5 mm to the case size?…

Bad, bad designer!

Guest post: Elevator button usability

Today we have a guest post from our loyal reader George Trudeau of Hyannis, Massachusetts.

George sent me this photo:

Elevator Buttons

And here is the story:

I went to a Doctor appointment and took the elevator up to the second floor office by pressing the great big 2.

When I left the office, I was still thinking more about my appointment than how to operate an elevator, so I pressed the button under the 2, the doors closed, and I returned to my thoughts. Eventually I realized nothing was happening so I pressed the button under the 2 again… It even has arrows pointing to it.

If I wanted to go sideways I might have pressed the right button the first time.

Nice catch! Not only is the up/down direction represented sideways, but the line in the  “Close doors” icon does look like a “1”  in the same style of the “2”. Of course, you have to be distracted to make this mistake… but usability is about ensuring proper user interpretation even when distracted!

How to make headlamps expensive

Here are the headlamps of two Mazda cars. On the left, a Mazda 323 from the first half of the past decade, the other a Mazda 3 from the second half. Both fine family cars.

See the difference in design strategy?

Mazda Headlamps

The car on the left has the headlamp split into two parts. The one on the right uses a single assembly.

Why do I care? Because when either lamp gets broken in an accident – and for the outer, the turn signal, this can be even a minor scrape – you need only replace one small cover in the older car, and the entire large assembly in the new one. An assembly they will charge you a ridiculously high sum for.

And yes, some may find the newer design more aesthetic; but the modern highway is a battlefield, not an art museum. We’re better off with cars designed with repair cost in mind. But then, it’s easy to conjecture that that’s what they are – just not in the owner’s interests…

All shine, no legibility

Here is the control panel of a counter-top cold/hot Tami 4 water bar. Push a button – you get hot water. Push another – here’s a refreshing cup of cold water.

But… which button?!Shiny buttons on a Tami 4 bar

Of course, that’s why the buttons – all seven of them, for there’s a lot more you can make this glorified water faucet do – are labeled! The problem is, only one – wisely perhaps, the one labeled “Extra hot” – can be easily read. The others have the label printed on mirror-like shiny surfaces in light gray, which means you need just the right angle of lighting and viewing to make the text out at all. See the photo – the legends on the right are visible (though at very low contrast) while of the two on the left the top one is just barely readable and the bottom one is totally invisible.

They say writing was invented in the fertile crescent in the 4th millennium BC… but we had to wait till our day and age to invent invisible writing.