Six Dreadful Product Designs Part 1

16 Mar

The following list of design disasters comes from one’s man’s unwitting mission to purchase the utter garbage. At least that’s the conclusion I’m slowly coming to. This is not a list derived from extensive market research. These are my actual, sad, purchases.

And before you point out my undeniable cheapness, it’s not like everything I’ve bought is entry level junk. For example:

6. Koss PortaPro Headphones

As a music lover, and with the prospect of a 2 hour daily commute ahead of me, I began researching headphones to determine which would be the best for my buck. I settled on these, because their main con according to reviewers was the 80s look (they’ve been making them since 1984), but otherwise they scored top of their class on sound quality. That is certainly true on both counts. They’re a bit ugly, but the sound is wonderful. Their recommended retail is $50, but for some reason, they’re about R700 or more here. (While the link lasts, you can check out how the phones look when they’re not broken too).

They also come with a lifetime warranty, which I interpreted to mean that they’re built well. In fact it means the opposite. Koss seem to realise that they’re going to break really quickly, and so they make sure that people can get their set patched up whenever they need. If said people are American. I’m not and so:

My Repairs Include:

The little plastic sleeves that allow one to adjust the size of the sprung-steel head pieces are criminally flimsy. I (predictably?) have a big head, so I needed them stretched out to their fullest extent, and after a short while they snapped off. After a bit of glue and tape they were sturdy again, but it was the end of their adjustability and so the handy carry bag was now rendered useless.
Next, Koss try to counteract the skull-crushing effect of a sprung-steel alice band by including a ‘Comfort Zone’: two little sliders that tuck the earpieces firmly in, or open them so they’re a little looser on the earhole. Those sliders, being delightfully plasticky, only partially worked and inexplicably returned themselves to the ‘firm’ position at every opportunity. The onset of a headache would alert me that the brain clamps were back on.

Or that I'd had enough Mars Volta for one day

The next issue involved the way that the phones themselves clipped into the head scaffolding (that’s the proper terminology, honest). A little triangular plastic ball joint is supposed to clip into an equally plasticky socket. If the plastic gets at all worn, the earpiece falls out, rendering the headphones unusable. That happened after a month or two.

My solution was to get the hammer drill out, and very carefully tunnel through the triangle without drilling into any the inner gubbins (also the technical term). Once a hole was made, I could sew the earpiece onto its scaffolding again. I was proud of my kludge work, but I didn’t appreciate having to take powertools to a month-old piece of audio equipment.

Have I pointed out yet that all of these design problems are just related to the thing that keeps the phones in the region of your ears. In 25 years they haven’t found a sturdier way to stick them on your head?

Eventually, a year or so on, the wiring in one side (could be the drill side, now that I think of it) gave up, and the person I paid to solder it back for me could do nothing to save them. I’ll miss you, little buddies. Crappily built, skull squashing little buddies.

5. Look-alike Dustpan

If you look closely, you'll notice it's not exactly in showroom condition

OK, so who cares about a retarded dustpan design, seriously? I won’t dwell on it for long. But it deserves a mention, because it’s one of those products that was made by someone who had clearly seen a working one in action, had the desire to copy the arcane device for his own profit, but was darned if he understood the principle upon which it operates.

It reminds me of a time in the hardware store when I witnessed a customer complaint. The customer said, ‘I bought this axe here and the first time I hit a piece of wood with it, and the axe head shattered in pieces.’ The manager honestly said something like, ‘Ah, yes, but this is one of the really cheap ones, so…’. He completely implied that if you wanted an axe for axing stuff, then you should really have bought the more expensive variety. That one is cheap because it’s one of those looking-at axes.

Apart from the fact that the handle of our dustpan is clearly broken off in the picture, because it’s cobbled together out of used yoghurt containers, the main problem is not actually with the build quality. The main problem is the very clever dirt ramp that guards the lip of the dustpan:

It is quite hard to convey in a photo just how steep that lump really is. It exists to keep the dust from falling out of the pan once it’s in, which frankly, for people without neurological disorders, is not usually a serious problem. What this lump successfully does is either staunchly defends the pan from any dust entry, or vaults the mess clean over the back.

I wouldn’t have thought it possible that someone could see such an uncomplicated object in wide circulation, try to copy it, and not manage to do so, but here it is.

Honourable mention: Genius Drawing Tablet

It’s not really fair to include this device, because it is really good for the R600 that it costs new. It is worryingly flimsy in parts, but it works more than OK. The trouble is the instruction booklet, and the unfortunate results of combining bad instructions with an excited me.

I got it by mail order to replace a Wacom tablet that used a serial connector and so couldn’t fit into my laptop. Wacom pens work by magnetic field and so don’t use batteries, but the Genius pen needs one. The instruction leaflet for installing the pen battery looks like this:

I was extremely excited that it had come, so I pulled it out the box and set to work getting everything installed. The instructions are almost entirely diagrammatic, so I noted that I had to pull the pen-halves in opposite directions until it popped apart. When I did this, I noted that it was a little stiff, and when I finally got it apart all sorts of wires came out, and bits fell on the floor. When I looked a little more closely at the diagram, I saw where I had gone wrong:

Why, that's not cylindrical hatching!

What looks like a design on the pen body has a tiny (really, really tiny) arrowhead drawn on it, and is meant to illustrate twisting. The unnecessary large black arrow above ‘Step 1’ that seems to be saying ‘pull’ is not actually an instruction at all, but a comforting reminder that unscrewing the pen will result in the one end moving away from the other.

The text clearly states that twisting is required, but on a product made for drawing, one should not rely on your user being much of a reader. You should also probably have mastered the art of drawn instructions.

After an hour or so of sobbing and feverishly trying to put wires and bits back, I managed to get it to work, albeit with a crack in the shaft and the left- and right-click buttons forever removed.

[Part II here]


One Response to “Six Dreadful Product Designs Part 1”


  1. Six Dreadful Product Designs Part 2 « Ungenius - March 23, 2012

    […] See Part 1 << […]

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