Design is a tricky thing. Good design is taken for granted and rarely commented on. But bad design is glaringly obvious. Bad design impacts user experience, and therefore, loyalty and sales.
Bad design takes many forms. It could involve clumsy physical features which ruin the look of the product or prevent you from using it correctly. It could be an undecipherable interface, or an unfriendly user experience, which make your tasks time consuming and painful. It could be technical glitches that slow you down. It could even be the very thought process behind the product itself – answering a need, which doesn’t really exist.
In this interesting Ted Talk, James Kunstler talks more about the impact of bad design: specifically, how bad architecture has ruined cities.
Now, on to three design doozies from the last few decades…
1. Nokia N-Gage
Some marriages are doomed from the start. The Nokia N-Gage was one such luckless union: it attempted to bring together a mobile phone and a gaming console. Here’s a look at one of the early commercials for the N-Gage:
Although the idea was based on research which showed that gamers carried both phones and consoles, the product interpretation was flawed. The buttons, which were no bigger than usual phone buttons, were not suited to gaming. The design looked quite ugly when held next to the ear to answer calls. But the highlight of its bad design, was that,to play, the user had to take off the phone’s cover and battery, as the slot into which the game was inserted was next to the battery compartment. Sales were poor from the start, and the device was discontinued in 2010.
Image: Nokia N Gage
[Photo credit: Wikimedia commons, JP Karna]
2. Windows Office Assistant
While there were many Microsoft products that were contenders for bad design, we picked the feature Office Assistant, because it showcases a flawed concept. It’s just the kind of corporate mumbo-jumbo “value addition” that adds nothing to the user experience – and becomes the object of ridicule. The office assistant, a paper clip called Clippit or Clippy, launched with Office 97, would pop up with suggestions. Most users found the feature irritating and obtrusive, and the suggestions, of no particular help. Clippy was widely reviled and parodied in no time at all.
The netbook was supposed to be a lighter, handier and cheaper alternative to the laptop, for people on the go. Its big advantage was that it could go much longer without needing to be charged, than a regular laptop. Cute and portable, nearly all majors such as Sony, HP, Acer, etc. had launched their versions. But by 2013, all these same companies had discontinued their netbooks.
So what went wrong? Firstly, it was never entirely convincingly clear why people should opt for a netbook over a laptop or notebook, since the two were, in most essentials, very similar. Cheaper laptops also became more easily available. New technology also rang its death knell. Tabs, and i-pads, with their superior convenience, looks and technological features began to rise in popularity. The light, fast ultrabooks also started to gain more traction.
Ultimately however, it was the netbook’s own technical shortcomings that worked against it – it was significantly less powerful, slower, did not have a hard drive, had smaller keys and a screen. The netbook could not be used for long periods of time without compromising on your ability to work or multitask.
[Photo credit: gpsobsessed.com]
What are your views on the three bad designs listed above? Can you think of more bad designs in technology? Share your thoughts in comments below.