Design Oversights 01: VW Cup Holders, Remote Control

For some reason it took me a really long time to figure out that things don’t just appear out of nowhere. When I was a kid, I always just assumed that if something annoyed me, well, that was my problem and I should just deal with it. Here’s a phrase I never said until I was probably 19: “Who designed this piece of shit?”. For example, if I had bought the car I own today as my first car (instead of my pimpin’ ’88 Crown Vic), I might have been annoyed by the absurd placement of the cupholders:

VW Cupholders

Faced with the decision between drinking a hot coffee or being able to see and interact with the stereo, I probably would have shrugged, put the coffee between my legs, spilled it when I reached down to grab a CD, and driven myself to the hospital for crotch burn treatment. Now I that I know that these tragedies can be averted, I can’t help but look at everyday objects through designer glasses and ask “why”? If you’ve ever gone to dinner with an architect, you’ve probably caught her looking at the ceiling. When you asked her what she was looking at, she probably said something about the grid for the HVAC distributors not matching up with the grid for the lighting fixtures. That’s when you shrugged and ordered an appetizer. It’s annoying but we can’t help it.

Another example:

Vizio Remote SbS

This is the remote for the sound bar I installed not long ago.The remote is designed such that the critical functions are always visible and the detailed functions are usually hidden but can be slid out. I’m going to overlook for the moment the design flaw that you cannot control anything but the most basic of functions without the remote (meaning you’re effed if you ever lose it or have a dead battery). I’m also going to ignore the fact that a sliding remote is kind of a dumb gimmick and just creates more places for the remote to collect dust and break. What I want to point out is that whenever you are holding the remote in one hand, and want to slide out the rest of the functions, where do you want to put your thumb to get the leverage to open it?

Vizio Remote Mute

Right there on the damn mute button. Well done, Vizio. You’re lucky your product at least sounds good, when it’s not muted from me trying to open your remote.

You may be wondering why I’m calling these “design oversights” rather than “designs by idiot monkeys”. Well, it gets to something that bothers me about architects. Show them a bizarre or questionable design decision and they’ll immediately get all smug about how they never would have designed such trash. But confront them about something bizarre or questionable in one of their designs and you’ll get an explanation that probably contains one or all of these phrases: “Well, the client wanted … and then when we opened up that wall we found … so then the contractor just went ahead and … “. There are a lot of factors that get considered during a design process and we can’t ever consider them all. Let’s go back to that remote for a second:

Vizio Remote Closed

It actually looks pretty cool, right? The shape is nice, the material is slick (too slick to open the remote, actually). And I called it a “dumb gimmick”, but I’m generally competent when it comes to buttons. I can imagine grandmas everywhere saying “I don’t care about surround sound this and subwoofer that, just show me how to turn it off, up and down” and being pretty happy with this design. This is, in a lot of ways, a successful and interesting object.

Doesn’t mean I’m not going to get pissed off at that damn mute button.


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