Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bad Designer Design

The world is full of bad design. I'm talking in particular about various "designer' products where form has been allowed to subvert function. These bad products have all, it seems, massed in our kitchen to torment me.

We have a toaster. A very 'nice' toaster. Its clever. It toasts a bit slowly, but in general terms the toast that it makes is quite acceptable. Quite, but not wholly acceptable. You see, we bought a sexy brushed stainless steel-finished Russel Hobbs toaster. It was about twenty-four quid, if I remember correctly, so not very expensive, but much more expensive than the Sainsbury's own brand toaster which was only about five pounds.

Our toaster toasting yesterday. Note the protruding bread

It looks good in our kitchen too. Very chic, we are! But, and here's why its only quite, but not wholly acceptable: it cannot toast a whole slice of bread! A standard slice of bread is deeper than the slots provided, meaning that the top of the slice is about 50 mm from the nearest glowing element. You get hot bread at the top and toast at the bottom.

Note the tartan effect on the toast and see too, that there is uneven coverage of toastiness. Unforgivable. Call the design Police!

We also have a kettle that suffers from similar design flaws (no, it doesn't only boil the bottom half of the water!). Our kettle (Kenwood) is incapable of delivering a neat pouring action. It splatters water all over the show no matter how carefully or slowly you pour. For Heaven's sake, a kettle has just two functions, to boil water and to pour the said boiled water.

How do these products make it into the shops? Does no one think to see if the toaster will accept a standard slice of bread? Did no one figure that most people get a wee bit tetchy when boiling water goes almost everywhere but into the cup at which it is aimed? Don't even get me started about clear plastic fridge shelves that don't even have the strength to hold a litre of Coke (I wouldn't dare burden those flimsy shelves with the weight of a four pack of Kronenbourg) or the bloody controls on our hob (Neff) that are positioned so that they melt. And there's our hopeless (but stylish) Brabantia bin, that whilst tall and elegantly slim is unable to accept anything other than elegantly slim rubbish. Which doesn't exist.

A stripped down toaster or kettle in its most basic form, without its designer "shell" would probably function beautifully. Then along come the designers and the sacrifice of function begins...

I'm a designer. Okay, in a different field of design, but this sort of thing embarrasses me. My profession starts to look dodgy and people have reasons to be skeptical about us. I hate the arrogance of many designers, either in product, interiors or graphics, who are more obsessed about making a personal statement about themselves than delivering a sound, well founded piece of work where they have allowed the necessary functionality to live comfortably alongside the form.

I'm reminded of Mr Bean, when he pulled a trout or mackerel or what ever it was from his pocket to test a frying pan in the kitchen department of a large department store. Perhaps we should carry a slice of bread with us into the toaster shop. A bucket of water into a kettle shop? No. We should rely on designers to design properly. Here endeth the wishful thinking.


  1. Our toaster has a slide knob for controlling the toastiness of the toast.

    The slide knobe has a sclae below it, going from thin orange bars thru to thick brown bars.

    In practice tho' the toaster only has 2 modes: bread, and burnt.

    1 micron to the left of a certain position and you get bread; 1 micron to the right and noxious smoke starts billowing out.

    Why don't we replace it?

    "It'll do for now" is the Paterson family motto.

  2. Another bad design in our kitchen - the kettle.

    I see commonality her Paul, toasters and kettles.

    You said that a kettle has 2 purposes - to boil water and to pour said boiled water.

    In order to pour the water (badly in the case of your kettle) you have to be able to pick it up.

    And thus my kettle trumps yours in bad design, for you see, my kettle as a sexy stylish metal handle.

    You may say that I am the chump for not realising that the metal handle will be as hot as the kettle it is attached to, but this handle is sexily designed and is not solid. I assumed it had been deisigned to allow its heat to rapidly dissipate and would so be cooler than the boiled kettle.

    I was partly right.

    Its heat does rapidly dissipate.

    Into my hand.

  3. I'm with you on the toaster thing.

    It seems it's impossible to buy a toaster in England that toasts standard English sized bread.

    I think they wanted to ban me from Argos at one point a few years ago after returning a few of their toasters 'not ft for purpose'.

    I hear of toasters you can get that 'roll' slices of bread through elements which would be perfect, but I suppose they will make an English size just to annoy us!

    My kettle, on the other hand, I love - it used to have an LED which glowed, showing the boiling water through clear plastic in a whole new light.

    It pours well too.

  4. But Tim, I am sure that like everything ever, the British invented toast, toasters and even bread. And eating. It figures therefore that toasters must be made to British standard bread sizes. I insist!

    I do like the cut of your kettle's jib. It sounds splendid. I think I will hunt one down, but I want the lights to glow red, green and yellow to remind me of Zimbabwe's deckchair flag. And also because, as you know, Zimbabwe invented hot water. Or so I was told.

  5. Stew

    We had a kettle once that did similar things, but it was my parents and was given to them as a wedding present. Plastic had not then been invented. In fact, when they got married, fire was still high tech and water - or more to the point, reflections on water - was to be treated with suspicion - part ally, part enemy.

  6. I have come across the toaster issue before, and our toaster does it too. But I have a cunning plan. Put the toast in as usual, and then about half way through the toasting process, pop it back up and take it out, and put it back in upside down! Thus, almost perfect toast and maybe the tartan will be slightly more even too.