On Bad Design

I want to highlight some examples of bad design, because recently, it’s really started to tick me off.

Bad Design

Nothing annoys me more than bad design, especially when it is so obvious. However, there is one type of design that I would like to get out of the way. If you have ever visited the UK, you will notice the seats at bus stops are less than comfortable. Here’s a picture of what I am talking about:

Bus Stop Seat

While you might think that this is an example of bad design. The design holds a much more sinister reason behind it. These seats discourage homeless people from sleeping on them. There was a great episode of Extra Credits called “When Bad Design is Used to Hide Problems” which you can watch here that discusses this very issue. I won’t talk about this in this post.

I’d want to talk more about design that just renders the original usage useless. For example, I have a set of oven mitts at that are thickest near the middle, and thinnest near the fingers. Why? Most people that I know hold items using their fingers, rather than their palms. The purpose of over mitts is to provide heat insulation, which a thick layer does very well.

While you might think that the oven mitts are the reason why I wrote this post, it’s not. There exists a monstrosity in my parents’ which is far worse. A toaster oven.

Here’s the model number if anyone wants to buy it and experience the same pain I’m feeling:

Oven Model

Let’s start with the timer. Here’s a picture of the timer control for your viewing pleasure:

Oven Timer

If you’re still not sure what I’m on about, my question is this: what is time between each segregation on the timer? More importantly, why is it a stupid number like 3 and not something that is more commonly used like 5?

But in addition to that, there is something else that makes me really mad with this timer. The designers of this toaster oven have made it so that the heating elements of the toaster oven are turned off when there are five minutes left on the timer. This is a great idea if you want to save power, because the toaster oven remains closed and retains the heat. However, say you want to heat something for six minutes (which this toaster oven makes extremely convenient to set). This means the heating elements stay on for 60 seconds before turning off. So, the only solution is to set the timer really high, like 10 minutes. But then, dare you if you forget your food in the toaster, because it’s going to end up burnt.

This was a good idea in concept, but it was flawed. It is a potential oversight, but the next one isn’t. The toaster oven has a top plate, which advertises itself as being a hotplate. Here’s what it looks like on the top:

Oven Top Plate

Now, all in all, that’s not a bad idea. The outer casing of the toaster already gets hot. Why not use that wasted heat to keep food warm while other stuff is getting heated up? Good idea! And then you lift up the plate…

Oven Top

So, what they’ve done is intentionally remove heat from the inside of the toaster to heat up this useless hot plate at the top of the toaster. What’s more is that you can’t seal this area. The hot plate at the top will always be hot, even if you’re not using it. Do you know how many times I’ve used it? ZERO. All this thing does is waste heat to warm up a plate that doesn’t do anything.

If a designer came up to me with this type of design, I would have fired them on the spot. In these days, efficiency is important. Being able to get the most out of what little resources we have. This design goes exactly in the opposite direction, by wasting valuable heat without any gains. Well done Ikon. And it just goes to show you that people in the corporate world, from engineers all the way up to managers have no idea on how to do anything right.

Good design isn’t entirely about making something look good. It’s about retaining or even improving the functionality, while increasing efficiency. And great design is hard. It’s really difficult to come up with creative solutions to problems. But that’s what you hire designers for. That’s what you hire engineers for. The main problem is that people want cheap labour, with cheap operating costs to increase profit margins. Well, when you do that, you get incompetent people. I’ve seen this time and time again, and apparently, no one seems to care. At least, if people care, people don’t seem to care enough to do anything about it.

But seeing this, will I buy an Ikon toaster oven for my own place? Nope. I don’t care if they are a leading brand. When junk like this gets approved on a corporate level, I boycott them. And sure, one person’s lack of support probably won’t affect the company. But I hope that other people share my attitude and boycott companies that completely disregard good design.

So, do you have anything at home that is badly designed? Have you come up with workarounds for it? What are your thoughts on such companies? Let me know in the comments!

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