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How Hard?

Entry 731, on 2008-04-02 at 18:46:27 (Rating 2, Comments)

How hard is it to properly manufacture a basic article which the human race has been making for years? I often rant about the poor design of high tech items but today I want to concentrate on something much less excusable: simple things which are badly designed.

I mean, after thousands of years you would think that people would have found a design of water jug with a spout which pours correctly instead of dribbling the contents on the floor, but we have a jug at home which does just that unless the operator is skilled enough to tip it forward with sufficient acceleration to ensure the smooth flow of water but without reaching a critical point which ensures spillage for other reasons.

And what about pens? These have been made for centuries (admittedly the modern ball point pen isn't that old, but the criticism still applies) so why do so many pens work so intermittently? I often grab a pen to write something and have to scribble for 5 minutes before it will start writing. Have we not learnt how to make a pen that works better than this yet?

And another thing. I'm wearing track pants today (part of my casual attire at work campaign) and I know that every time I do I will leave my cell phone somewhere because the pockets are so badly designed that things constantly drop out of them. And yes, the pockets do have zips, but they are so badly made that they have all broken.

I can understand how technology (MP3 players, computers, software) might be badly designed because we are still learning about the best ways to make them - except for Apple who have already got it right! - but why have we still not got the design of more basic products (like jugs, pens, clothing and zips) right yet?

I think one reason is that manufacturers have learnt that it just doesn't matter. People tend to buy based on flawed logic. They buy the electronic equipment with the most flashing lights, or stereo equipment with the greatest (exaggerated and meaningless) claims of power output, or the computer which the sales staff in a local appliance store assure them is the best.

Recently a client of mine bought a Mac and went to a local computer store to buy a mouse for it. She was assured that she had made a mistake and would never be able to use her digital camera again after it was plugged into a Mac; also that the ISP she had chosen would not work with Macs; and a couple of other bits of nonsense I can't even remember now. If she had got that (totally incorrect) opinion before buying a computer she probably would have got another PC. She stopped using computers last time because the PC she used to have gave her so much trouble!

And she also chose Xtra as her ISP. It is generally recognised they are the worst ISP in New Zealand, and have been found the worst by surveys in the last 3 years. Why did she choose them? Because they are the most prominent through advertising campaigns on TV. So it seems that spending money on advertising obviously works better than spending it on better equipment, infrastructure, or support staff.

So I can see why quality products don't usually win with consumers (the iPod is a notable exception) and why we are probably doomed to using second rate rubbish forever. If I'm buying a big item like a car, phone, camera, computer or stereo equipment I'll do the research first but I just haven't got the time to do that the next time I buy a pen!

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Comment 1 (1388) by Anonymous on 2008-04-03 at 09:41:51:

It sounds like you have been the victim of some of life's small frustrations. But you couldn't stop yourself from adding in a little anti-PC rave as well huh?

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