A recent study has shown that nearly half of all “malfunctioning” products returned to the store for a refund aren’t really broken. Buyers just can’t figure out how to use them.
Are we getting dumber? Is technology outpacing us?
No, mostly it’s the fault of bad design, and overly complicated products.
As frequent readers of this space know, I’m no technophobe. I love gadgets and I become what they call an “early adopter” of the latest and greatest as soon as I can afford it.
Consider my washing machine. It has separate settings for cottons, knits, delicates, ruggeds, 20% polyester blends, favourite t-shirts, white cotton knits with glitter, 60% polyester blends with dark cuffs, colour cotton knits with buttons, and muddy sneakers.
Of course, there’s a completely different set of buttons and knobs on my dryer, even though both appliances are made by the same manufacturer and were offered for sale as a pair. I figure the designers are the same people who, in 50 some odd years, haven’t managed to match up the number of wieners per package to the number of hot dog buns per package.
I also don’t understand my old digital camera. You actually have to hunt for, and then turn on, the feature called “red eye reduction.” Why is this a “feature” and not something the camera just does automatically? I mean, is there anyone who actually *wants* their blue-eyed relatives to look like they’re possessed by demons? (Okay, maybe there are a few of you, but please don’t write to me to tell me why.)
Even supposedly low-tech things like pick-up trucks are ridiculously overdone. We rented a pick-up truck this past weekend, so we could move some furniture, and take a large amount of rubbish to the recycling and composting depot. What we expected was something like our car, only with a cargo bed where our back seats would have been.
What we got was a vehicle I couldn’t even see over while standing on my tip toes. The truck bed sides came up to my nose; it took a running jump and a crash course in pole vaulting just to get into the cab. The gas station owner rubbed his hands together in glee when he saw us coming. Somewhere there’s a draft horse laughing its bridle and collar off.
Not even your toiletries are safe from being overdesigned. I saw an advertisement tonight for a disposable razor that has five blades on one side of the head, and one blade for “tricky spots” on the other side. Further, I can buy this razor in a “manual” version or a “power” version; the latter will emit “gentle micropulses.” Since these micropulses aren’t touted as being good for reducing nicks, cuts and razor burn, I can only assume they’re to save the user the bother of making “Vroom! Vroom!” noises himself.
So the next time you’re faced with a DVD player that’s still flashing 12:00 at you, don’t despair. You’re smarter than you think, and technology isn’t as scary as people would have you believe. You just have to remember that what makes it to market has effectively been designed by… a committee.
And we all know how complicated and badly designed *those* usually are.