Good design is something we all crave in consumer products. In my experience, manufacturers seldom deliver. In many cases, the lack of good design is shocking — if anyone actually used the product for any time before putting it in production, its design would have been changed. Two examples of this appeared shortly after I bought a new car. While I generally am pleased with the vehicle, two features, each very obvious to me after a few short drives, make me want to scream. The first is the ornamental chrome-like trim on the dashboard air vent to the left of the steering wheel. This metal reflects in a glaring way in the outside rear view mirror and is a constant annoyance. Interestingly, my father’s car, from a different manufacturer, exhibits the same problem. A more serious design flaw is presented by the control for the instrument panel lights — a thin, plastic stalk that sticks out of the instrument panel that is twisted to control the brightness of the instrument back lights. Aside from the fact that the stalk is flimsy and likely to break, it presents a safety hazard when accessed while driving, because it requires the driver to reach through the steering wheel with one hand.
Other design elements that are bad for the consumer are deliberate. In my limited experience, Apple, whatever the other merits of its products, is a master at this — so much so, that when other companies see what it gets away with, they emulate it. The lack of a memory card slot on its phones and tablets (before any claim at water resistance, which might have justified its omission), as well as the lack of a user-replaceable battery put me off Apple products when I was looking to buy my first smart phone and tablet. I simply did not want to pay five times the cost of a standard memory card for the same storage that had to be built into the phone, or pay the Apple store a hundred dollars to replace a fifteen dollar battery. The recent elimination of the headphone jack on some products, to force the user to purchase a dongle or bluetooth ear pieces, is the same type of deliberate anti-consumer planned obsolescence design. Another is the changing of the jack for the charging cable that forces a consumer to buy all new cables each time he or she buys a new model Apple phone. In the biopic about Steve Jobs, a scene that resonated with me was the launch of a new Apple computer. When the machine wouldn’t work seconds before the public unveiling, the poor guy who tried to fix it found that Jobs had used screws that prevented the opening of the computer with a standard screw driver.