Dumb Designs

Of course with this one it’s hard to know where to start since we are bombarded with stupidity seemingly by the minute. At times I think people design stupid products, processes, and procedures just to keep us stressed out. Somewhere in the past, I read a medical article where some psycho was trying to tell us that stress is a good thing. Maybe this is true in very small doses, but not at the astronomical level most of us experience in a single day.

Just for humor, here are a few of the Dumb Designs I ran across in a one-day trip to San Diego last week. I am sure there are many, many more I already forgot, but here are just a few.

Let’s start with the hotels; they are such an easy target.

Towel racks over the toilet – Of course there are several towels lying on top of one another. As you try to pull one off the bar the rest fall into the commode.
Hotel coffee pots – Has anyone ever seen a design where the coffee drips into the pot instead of all over the bathroom counter? The design sucks so bad that they even have a catch tray to try and stop some of it from hitting the floor. The real problem is that you cannot pour a cup without spilling the contents and burning your hand.
Lights – Now what is the 1st thing you need to do when you swing open the door with arms full of luggage? Good luck finding the switch.
Clothes Irons – At least most hotels have finally figured out to put an iron and ironing board in the closet. But when you try to pour water into the steam “pinhole” on top of the iron, only a surgeon could get more in the iron than on the floor and your clothes.
Soap packaging – If you don’t have a Bowie knife to cut the shrink-wrap you’re in trouble.

OK enough with hotels, the list would go on forever.

How about a water pitcher in a restaurant? Any waiter that has been on the job for more than an hour, knows not to try and pour the water through the front spout. It will be all over the customer’s lap. You have to pour it sideways out of the pitcher.

Maps without legends or scales. Why would this not be part of every map? You don’t know if an inch is two miles or 20 miles.

Why don’t car lights turn off when the engine is not running? If you really need to turn your lights on without the engine running, why not have a special switch for that?

OK, last but not least is my favorite, “To-go” coffee cups. The slot is so small you will always sear your lip. So you have to rip a bigger hole in the lid, but no one can tear off the tab without burning themselves. You can’t hold the cup because it burns your hand (OK Starbucks now has a “Java Jacket”…sometimes). You try to steal an extra cup to insulate the outside of your cup, but almost always get caught and have to pay for the 2nd cup.


The person who solves this one will make millions.

Have any of these people ever heard of Usability Testing? If you have never heard of it, the concept is pretty simple. You test the thing with real people before you give it to the masses. Watch how people interact and actually use the product first.

The effort involved in usability testing can range from a detailed lab type environment and/or focus groups to something as simple as handing it to a dozen people and see what happens. If you don’t have a formal usability lab in your company, you can still always conduct some low cost testing. There is no excuse not to. Give it to a few people and ask their opinion about it at the very least.

No product or process should be released to the general public until it has been through some kind of usability testing. This is just common sense, but the world around us screams that this is the exception. This is totally absurd. I cannot believe how many Dumb Designs are out there.

To be fair, I should throw in an example of a good design from my trip. Hertz has figured out how to rent a car. It is the Gold Service they introduced several years ago. Either walk to your car or the bus drops you off at a central location. Scan the electronic sign for your name and car slot number. Get in and drive away.

Last year I rented a car at 2:00 am in the Anchorage airport from a car company that is still in the 60’s. Remember waiting in line for hours, the multiple forms you had to fill out in triplicate, the walk around damage inspection with the agent, etc.?

Don’t get caught making the same mistakes in your business, usability is an invaluable step in the process of launching any new product or process. A really creative idea can end up being a complete flop without it.

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