Bad Industrial Design In Ascendance

Recently I gave my eldest daughter my beautiful Acoustic Research transistor amplifier. It has only five knobs on its front. It is all polished brass and I believe a thing of beauty. Mated to a pair of antique AR speakers her sound system is superb. It is a model of simplicity in which design follows function.

I believe we are living in an era where industrial design is falling off the shelf.

As examples why is my sink so difficult to wash clean? A good industrial designer would use the principle of shaping the sink so that water draining would create a clockwise or counterclockwise swirl that would drain and clean at the same time.

Two years ago I went to London Drugs here in Vancouver and asked to talk to the manager. I told him I wanted to test three vacuum cleaners for noise so I needed the three that were on sale and an outlet. He thought my request was odd but he did grant my request. I purchased the vacuum that to my ears was the quietest and whose whine was not too high pitched.

It is a Hoover canister. When you use it to vacuum stairs and you happen to lift it with one hand at the same time, it looses suction because of loose seals. It has a plastic hose that kinks. If you do not notice this there is no suction. The phone rang a few days ago and Rosemary (who was vacuuming left it on) went to answer it. When she returned it was not working anymore. I had a suspicion but did nothing to reduce her depression of having to spend money to buy a new unit.

The electric motor, not getting cooling air through its core must have had a circuit breaker. The next day the vacuum worked.

The folks at Hoover who designed the unit did not test the device with someone who might have arthritis. Changing brushes and messing with the hose really hurts me. Some idiotic Canadian regulation prevents the chord for being long enough to perhaps work in a room and the hallway, too.

The worst refrigerator we have ever owned is our present Sears Kenmore “Special Edition”. Note in the picture here that the outside has a thin coat of plastic paint that wore quickly and the metal underneath rusted after exactly one year. Cleaning the drawers and shelves (with difficult to clean tempered glass) is a chancy thing. The glass must be removed. Are sinks large enough for it? Did anybody who designed this refrigerator ever project the problem of having to clean it? Did the Hoover designer ever test the machine in a normal house?

My iPhone 3G has one longish button that can go one way or the other by pressing on its ends. This is for adjusting volume. I find it efficient and simple. My wife’s iPhone 4 has two buttons. That must be an improvement. Or is it?

My Fuji X-E1 camera, like all modern digital cameras, does not promote the connecting of a studio lighting system to it via the antiquated PC cord connection. The high triggering voltage of some studio flashes can burn the insides of digital cameras. In order for me to use a studio flash I had to purchase a safe sync attachment that slips and sits on the top of the camera’s “hot” shoe. A few weeks back I was attempting to take pictures with my studio flash but nothing happened. Finally in complete confusion and frustration I called up my friends at Leo’s Cameras. I was told after we discussed all the possible problems (a bad PC cord, a failed safe sync) that somehow my camera was on silent mode (no idea what that really is). On silent mode my camera will not fire a flash. I cannot imagine the logic behind this.

My new Craftsman lawnmower replaced another Craftsman that worked perfectly except the body had rusted and the holes meant I got small stones hitting me in the face. The chap at Sears immediately knew of this problem when I said, “My mower works except…”

My new Craftsman has a grass catcher bag that says Dust Blocker TM –Ez Empty. I rarely use the catcher as mulched grass when it falls on the lawn returns nitrogen to the soil. I use the catcher when I want grass clippings to mulch around my hydrangeas (they suffer in the July/August droughts). When it has rained there is no dust coming out! When it has not rained I get showered by a fine cloud of dust.

Emptying the catcher is tough. It is no self-evident and if you have arthritis…

It is my guess if that you own a 2007 Malibu, or a brand new Rolls Royce and you happen to drop some quarters on the sides of your seat that you will never ever be able to retrieve them or anything small that might just make it to the edge of your seat.

In all cases I believe it is a failure of industrial design. It is a failure of having forgotten that form (design?) follows function.

Link to: Bad Industrial Design In Ascendance

Originally published at



Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at:

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