Monday, November 14, 2011

I Could Make Your Whatever Better

Okay, writing the blog about my job from hell the other day has had me thinking about what my ideal job would be (I like my current job okay, but it isn’t my ideal). I have two ideal jobs that I can think of. Writing is one. Creative writing to be more specific. Like doing this. How cool would it be to make a living writing blogs and novels all day?

My other idea has to do with my design side. I’m not even sure of the exact title of the position. It would have to do with making products better. Testing prototypes and giving feedback on them before they go out into manufacturing or more importantly, before they go into the real world.

I think of the old BASF commercials. “We don’t make the whatever. We make the whatever better.” I could make a lot of whatevers better. Seriously, how many products do you have in your home that kind of irk you when you use them? It could be something little about it, or it could be something big. Fact is, if it’s a pain to use, if it isn’t easy, safe or convenient, you’re apt to use it less. And you’ll probably curse it while you are using it. Which means, you are giving it a bad name (could be a REALLY bad name). And, perhaps you’ll choose not buy that brand again. And, you’ll tell all your friends about how bad it was. You may even post it on Facebook. That’s a big oops for companies.

A big thing to me in design is button placement. If you can’t figure out how to turn something on or off rather quickly, what’s the point? What if safety is an issue? What if the phone is ringing? What if my toddler is eating rocks or something? (Not that I have a toddler and not that mine ever ate rocks. Acorns maybe, but not rocks). How do I turn the darned thing off? I always wonder if someone actually tried the product or did it just get approved because it looked pretty on paper? Trust me, I’ve done those drawings in college (we called them renderings) of industrial widgets. A little shading and a few highlighting starbursts and, Shazam! Any product can look fantastic. I’m not saying things shouldn’t look pretty because they should. But good design shouldn’t compromise efficiency of use. I know, I know. Form before function for some people. I say both. (That’s also where us interior designers sometimes have problems with architects, but that’s another story).

When things are beautiful and they feel good in your hand, they are a pleasure to use. I think finding pleasure in the simple things in life could so improve our overall happiness. I have the most wonderful vegetable peeler ever (I know my Sweet-Smelling Girlfriend is getting tired of me raving about it, but I can’t help it). It’s stainless steel. Has CIA printed on it. It has a heft to it. It feels great to hold. It looks pretty. It works beautifully. It was well worth the $20 or so dollars it cost. Yes. Really. It cost that much. Most people balk at that. “A potato peeler should cost three to five dollars,” you say. Yes, but what if it slips in your hand and practically cuts your finger off? Or, if it’s so uncomfortable to hold that you get blisters after peeling enough potatoes for all your guests coming to your Thanksgiving meal that you can’t even enjoy your company? Or, if it breaks and you have to keep replacing it? You’ll be spending that amount before you know it. Should have bought mine.

Some items that could use major redesigns in my life (and this is just the tip of the iceberg; I feel I could redesign SO many things) are my alarm clocks, vacuum cleaner and iPad. Alarm clocks shouldn’t be so difficult to set. Or, to change the time with daylight savings time or whatever reason you need to change it. They should have a decent-sized snooze bar on them and the shutoff button shouldn’t be so accessible while trying to hit the snooze. The point is to have it wake you up and if you want to sleep an extra seven or nine minutes, great, but you shouldn’t be able to hit a button and zonk back out for hours if your only intention was to snooze a few more minutes.

My vacuum cleaner needs a better place to put your foot to make the handle bend backwards so it actually vacuums. Or, maybe it needs a hand-held trigger release? Something. And, there are so many attachments that they don’t all fit on it. And if they do, they pop off. Then, there’s the whole handheld part. Really? Really. Not. Good.

I believe that if more attention was paid to detail on how a product is used, it could be made so much better. There are so many situations and scenarios in which products are used. Many people who design things seem to think that everything will be used in an “ideal” setting. On some fantasy land. Or, in June Cleaver’s already perfect home. Yea. No. When is anything in your home ideal? These improvements could and would also be kept in mind for manufacturing. You can never not think about how it will be built and the costs involved. But, gosh, do you know how many more items a company could and would sell if they have a knock-out product?

Now, to the third one on my list…the iPad. The iPad is really an awesome piece of technology. Very few buttons (which I may reconsider the feel of those a bit); it has a touch screen…it’s great for the most part. My big exception with it is with the charger. The piece that has to be plugged into the unit is narrow. Hard for little or old fingers to hold and it is not at all intuitive on which direction it goes in. I’ve watched co-workers flip it around and around several times trying to get it in its socket. Add to that the complexity of having a thick foam protector case that we need to use in schools and it makes it even harder. Why did decent design stop? The plug was like an afterthought.

In design, nothing can be an afterthought. Good design incorporates all parts of the product. Good design is comfortable. Good design is functional. Very functional. Good design is beautiful.

So, if you make things at your company and you are looking for someone with an eye to make improvements, give me a call. I’ll take your whatevers and make your whatevers better.*

*Plus, I’m a lot of fun. And, I’m easy on the eyes.

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