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design problems in physical products

There are several problems with the design of objects in real world. Examples:


Recently I bought a brand-name cordless phone. It's excellent.. except for one thing: it is very small.

With a larger phone, I could raise my shoulder a little, tilt my head a little and keep the phone between my shoulder and my ear.

This way, I could talk on the phone confortably (well.. reasonably confortable) AND type on my computer. When a co-worker called to ask me something about the source code we are working on, I could find the problem rapidly, while talking on the phone.

Because this phone is very small, I can't do this, or if I do it, it feels extremely inconfortable.

Why did they do this??

I a cell (mobile) phone, I understand - you have to carry the cellphone with you, and the smaller-the better (unless it's so small you can't dial numbers on it).

But why do this in a fixed phone? I also had fixed phones with cords, that have the same problem.

When I went shopping for a phone, I discovered I couldn't get a standard thick phone (3-5 cm), because they are no longer on the market.

So I bought this tiny, thin (1-1.5 cm) phone.

So what I'm interested in finding out is: why do they do this?

Do they surrender to the hype of the market, which calls for smaller and smaller devices?!?!


Another gripe I have is about bikes:

My grandfather's bike, made in Austria, had a fine seat. The seat was wide, soft and supported by springs, so you could have a nice ride even if riding on a bad road. Also, the handles were high enough so you didn't have to lean forward a lot when riding the bike.

I went shopping for a bike recently.

Almost all of the bikes in the market are now "sports type" bikes:

- Very small, hard seat, coupled with the bike with a rigid bar.

If you are a super-athlete, you probably don't mind this.

If you have a normal body, or you are a little overweight, the very small seat presses hard against your buttom, and it's unpleasant.

- The handles are low, so you have to lean a lot in order to keep them in your hands.

If you are riding at the races, you probably don't mind this - it gives you a better aerodinamic prophile.

But what if you just want to ride the bike for fun? It sucks to have to lean forward so much - it's an unconfortable position.

All the bike manufacturers seem to think that everybody riding a bike is an athlete, and they make 99% of the bikes for super-athletes.

So, again, why this design decision?


Another issue: park benches. I recently walked in the largest park of my city.

There are several types of benches, put there at several times.

The modern ones are good, but very unconfortable, compared to the ones put there 30-40 years ago.


The design of physical objects is many times getting worse, not better.

The designers somehow got into the idea that confort doesn't matter, gave in to all sorts of hypes, and some of them think that all their customers are athletes.

software enthusiast
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Cordless phones - better to get one, no matter the size, with a headset jack. That way you can easily talk on the phone without having to try to balance anything on your neck.

Small is better this way, since then the phone can get tucked into a pocket while you move around and you can still talk on it.

Bike seats - The newer seats are more uncomfortable, but they probably sell better... There seems to be this entire 'biker chic' trend going on. I see middle-aged men & women outfitted like bike racers (bright colors, racing-style bikes, etc) peddling around my neighborhood. None of them would stand a chance in a real race, but they buy the 'real' equipment.

Park Benches - don't know, maybe a matter of cost rather then design?

RocketJeff
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The type of bike you are looking for is called a hybrid or comfort bike.  It has an upright geometry and a softer seat and is made for casual riding.  Bike saddles are hard because too much padding actually is uncomfortable once your sit bones become accustomed to the sadle.  I started riding on a comfort bike, a Raleigh R400, with a padded seat and switched to a road bike about 6 months later, after riding the road bike with a traditional saddle for a couple of months the saddle on the comfort bike was so uncomfortable I couldn't ride it for more than 45 minutes at a time.

Just because a design doesn't fit your needs doesn't make it a bad design, it just makes it a bad design for you...

Kero
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Phones - I agree. I have an idea for a product - an inflatable phone cradle so you can put a small cell phone in the crick of your neck to talk. This would also work for your regular phone. I have no intention of marketing this, so someone please steal the idea.

Bike seats - for better or worse, the market for bikes is wannbe racers. There are some comfortable seats out there. I have a gell filled seat that is ok and I coworker has a bike that has shock absorber built into the seat post.

Park Benches - This is a feature not a bug. You don't want a park bench to be too comfortable. Someone might want to sleep on it.

pdq
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

When I work at home, I use a good quality speaker phone (hard to find and expensive). It is so much easier than headsets and acrobatics with the phone on your shoulder. Second choice would be a headset.

m
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Also on bike seats.  Those little racing style bike seats can be incredibly comfortable once you've broken them in.

Best bike seat I ever hade was basically just hard leather on steel rails.  It was uncomfortable as heck the first 75 miles or so, but after about 300 miles it fit like a wallet.

Guys will know what I mean.

No idea what you mean about park benches though, we don't bother building parks out here in the country.  Hell the whole county is a park.

Steve Barbour
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Bike seats:

Those that have no center like an elongated donut are supposed to be the best...also concider geting a seat cover.  I used to have a Spenco Seat cover...very comfortable.

apw
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

enthusiast --

I went through this same process when looking for a bike.

There is a solution though -- you have to buy a new seat and a new pair of high rise handlebars for the bike you chose. Most bikes are compatible with a wide variety of handlebars and seats and any bike shop will be able to install them for you if you don't want to do it yourself.

It's just that most people want what's fashionable or common or what everyone else is doing.

Hence, developers justifying and defending calf fattening pens and slamming joel for daring to have nice offices. They don't know anything better so they think that what they have is best.

An intelligent person can transcend this and pick what is the correct solution rather than the me-too chorus of the lemmings.

So, go get the bike you want.

I noticed the same as you on phones. I had to look for months but finally found a decent one at Staples, where I also was able to  find a 2-tape answering machine that takes standard cassette tapes.

X. J. Scott
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The make other bike seats for people who need extra cushioning, a wider pad, a split back (for those with lower tailbones), etc.  They aren't that expensive and can be purchased at a good bike store.

Cell phones aren't made to be cradled in your neck.  Standard phones aren't made to be cradled in your neck.  You will pinch a nerve or pull something.  They make small headseats for cell phones, either with a boom mike or with a mike on the wire to the earpiece.

Park benches do suck.  But the plastic/composite ones should last a lot longer than the wooden ones.  That may have been a trade-off that was made when the budget was drawn up. 

Lou
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

In some cities, park benches are designed to make it impossible to lie/sleep on them.  Makes the park a safer place (supposedly) as the bum rate decreases.

Martin Dittus
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Bicycling can cause impotence.  Not an urban legend -- this is true:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/2991088.stm

J. D. Trollinger
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

That's why it is important to have a seat that correctly fits your body.

Mike McNertney
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Actually I think it likely that a higher proportion of impotent people ride bikes is as plausible as riding bikes causing impotence.

And there's a joke waiting to get out squished around park benches being uncomfortable and incidence of bums going down...

Simon Lucy
Thursday, September 25, 2003

<<Bicycling can cause impotence.  Not an urban legend -- this is true:

It can also cause you to be healthier, look better, feel better, and live longer...and you could even afford it because you wouldn't have to support those kids.

Kero
Thursday, September 25, 2003

I don't know about impotence, but I the wrong seat can certainly cause numbness

pdq
Thursday, September 25, 2003

XJ Scott is right about the bikes.  The way the bike market is, it makes a lot more sense for bike companies to feature standard equipment that matches what most people will want, so that is what they do. 

If you aren't most people, keep in mind that bike parts are very interchangable.  When you buy a bike, focus on things like the frame, the brakes, the crank and derailleurs (though even these can be changed). 

Getting a new set of handlebars (or just a longer stem) or a new seat is trivially easy and relatively inexpensive. 

Also, if you are shopping for bikes at a good bike store (around here in San Diego I recommend Performance or Supergo, YMMV in other parts of the world) and you're not buying a $200-special you can often negotiate with the bike salesman to throw in a different seat or a different set of handlebars for free. 

Mister Fancypants
Thursday, September 25, 2003

Stock bikes come with lousy seats for the same reason that bikes don't have disc brakes, they're cheaper to manufacture and they can get more money by selling you aftermarket seats and replacement brakes.  I once had a bike that had disc brakes.  They never caught on, despite being far superior to squeaky rubber pad brakes.  When I crashed and bent the rear rim, I found that I couldn't obtain a replacement rim that would work with the disc brakes and ended up having to use a standard rim with spacers on the axle to make it fit and had to switch back to rubber pad brakes.  For the seat, I'd recommend you get a gel seat or a gel seat cover to put on the seat you have.  They're quite nice.

I hear ya on the cordless phone thing.  I bought one of those cordless units that has one main charger/answering machine and a second phone with charger that answers the same line without needing another phone jack.  The phone unit lets you store frequently used numbers in memory for easy dialing.  Unfortunately, it never occured to the manufacturers that most people would want to have the same numbers available in both phones.  So, I had to enter every number twice to get them on both phones.  I can't cradle this phone on my shoulder either, not because of the size of the phone, but because it's far too easy to inadvertently hit the button that ends the call in this position.  During the blackout, the cordless phone didn't work, despite having batteries in the charger/answering machine unit.  The corded phone in my kitchen worked just fine.

Matt Latourette
Thursday, September 25, 2003

My dad had a bike with a back disc brake!  It was a while ago, Lime Green bike...not sure of the manufacture....it was great cause you could peddle through puddles and such and be able to stop....the problem was it was a heavy unit...rim/brake combinations now do well in water...

apw
Friday, September 26, 2003

I've got mates who don't bother with a mobile phone; they just carry the cordless one around with them. Claim the new ones have a 2-3 kilometer range. Explains the small size maybe.

Make sure you've got a mobile as well in case of powercuts, or you won;t be able to phone the electrician, if you have a cordless.

Stephen Jones
Friday, September 26, 2003

Or, just make sure you still have a 'real' phone that you can plug in during power outages.

RocketJeff
Friday, September 26, 2003

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