Tuesday, September 20, 2005

(In)convenienced by design

What do architects think of when they design buildings? Buildings built in the 60s in India had switches at the left or right of the door. (In India switches are rarely near the bottom, unlike American houses). Thus, when you entered or left the room, you could switch it on or off (with your hand, not feet).
Somewhere along the way, architects and building planners thought of providing conveniences (like in hotels) by adding the switches on either side of the bed. As far as convenience goes, nothing like it to turn off the lamp just before you doze into slumber reading a book or to turn on the light somewhere in the night. But it has an unintended consequence.

The switches beside the bed for example are at a height that can be reached by children and children being what they are, want to play with switches and switches only. In the earlier design, they were far away from reach and could reach switches only when they were atleast 3-4 feet tall. So, now one has to either dummy the points or use sticky tape till they grow up. Thus well intentioned ideas such as these can have unintended consequences.

The non stick cookware launched many years in India faced a similar situation. In India pots and pans implied metal pots and pans, so whoever launched non stick cookware (with freebies like wooden ladles) should have kept this in mind. Since wooden ladles are flimsy, the regular ladles were used. Ladles are invariably made of metal. Thus non stick pans gave up the fight with metal ladles early in their life and created health hazards of their own. Its been a little while since this happened but I saw their television ads only now; TTK (of Prestige fame) has a range of metal spoon friendly non stick cookware, a first anywhere, afaik. The TV ads are enticing to say the least and housewives (esp those obsessed with 'stainless steel', 'eversilver' and 'metal' ladles) must be smacking their lips with delight at the sight of a metal ladle friendly non stick cookware.

There are many such well intentioned convenience ideas that have some unintentioned consequences. The ketchup dispenser or soap or moisturiser which is a hand pump contraption that allows one to pump out these contents for use is another example. What happens when just a little is left at the end. It doesnt work. So, how about dispensing it from the bottom? Or how about having it the old fashioned way, with no dispenser at all?

Sometimes, it is good to run ideas through a devils advocate (or usage trials) before shooting off a new design into the market.

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