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Memories of the 28th Century

Misdesign

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Sometimes I wonder about designers of various things, including architects, designers of consumer goods, industrial goods, computer software, and so on. I have known for a long time that they seldom use the things designed, so they donít know how to get things to work correctly. But thatís old news. I am wondering now if it might be a good idea to train people who design things to consider how those things will be used.

I recall having heard that Marcel Breuer said something along the lines of ďIf people want to use buildings that I design, thatís their problem.Ē He just designed things that he liked the looks of. Apparently there are two schools of thought on industrial design and architecture: Those who. think that itís a matter of pure aesthetics, and people who use buildings and things think itís all about utility, and if something looks nice, so much the better. Unfortunately, the people who do designing of things and buildings are, all too often, in the aesthetics camp.

Then thereís the matter of the designers not knowing what is desired as the end product. This often crops up in computer software, where someone writes up specifications and sends the specs to software writers. The ones who write the software never did whatever is involved and try to write something fits the specs. The code that results may be good enough for Microsoft to send it out, but donít expect it to work. Microsoft stopped trying to make their software useful years ago, except in so far as it made money for Microsoft, and it appears that people are still buying the foolishness. There should have been good specifications written, but all too often the people who write the specs arenít all that ďhands-onĒ, so the software fits what the specs say, but the specs were incomplete, and there wasnít enough communication between the code writers and the client. Even when the specifications are good, they may, and bad specifications probably are, as much of a problem as inept software writers.

It is not rare for marketing people to demand poor design and to sell that to the gullible public. Electric automobiles come to mind as excellent examples of this. Those things cost much more than internal combustion vehicles, and the total operating costs are higher but subsidized, and the pollution from producing electricity for the grid is about the same per vehicle mile as from internal combustion engines, but the cars arenít the points of emission, so who notices. But the designers love them, and the marketters pass on that enthusiasm. If only steam engines were available now. . .

When we look at other manufactured products, things are dismal. I especially detest shoes since most production moved to China. I sometimes wonder if Chinese have feet that are shaped differently, but even shoes that are made in U.S.A. are not as well designed as in some earlier periods.

One of my original reasons for writing this was my annoyance with the materials wasted in tower buildings. Regardless of the use, towers need to dedicate a rather large part of their cross-sectional area to elevators, stairs, and piping. The exact proportion varies, but usually one eighth of the area has to go toward elevators and similar. If one were to take a similar amount of building materials and build a low build of no more than eight stories, then a much smaller proportion of the floor area would have to be dedicated to stairs and elevators. I wonít go into building structures that are built solely for appearance, but those buildings are obvious. It makes a good argument for dumping central cities.

I realize that builders and manufacturers want to make more sales, but why would anyone buy any more of something that is poorly designed? Wouldnít it make more sense to design things well, so that they would work? Everyone knows of things and buildings that donít work well, so Iíll give readers a chance to fume about their favorites. If you canít think of any poor design, then consider Microsoft Windows and Office, and you can contrast those with Linux and Open Office, software that works.

If you know the exact quote from Breuer, then please let me know.

Updated 12-26-2013 at 09:16 PM by PeterL

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  1. Virgil's Avatar
    As an engineer with over 28 years of experience, who has been a designer, a technical project leader, and a project manager, this is complete hog wash. Designers who "don't know how to get things to work correctly"??? "Designers not knowing what is desired as the end product"?????????? I was going to rebut a point or two, but just about every paragraph includes some idiotic point with no validity and it isn't worth my time. You pontificate as if you have a world of experience. You don't even have the vaguest clue about standards and requirements, quality, inspection, and qualification processes. Pulease.
  2. PeterL's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Virgil
    As an engineer with over 28 years of experience, who has been a designer, a technical project leader, and a project manager, this is complete hog wash. Designers who "don't know how to get things to work correctly"??? "Designers not knowing what is desired as the end product"?????????? I was going to rebut a point or two, but just about every paragraph includes some idiotic point with no validity and it isn't worth my time. You pontificate as if you have a world of experience. You don't even have the vaguest clue about standards and requirements, quality, inspection, and qualification processes. Pulease.
    You are entitled to your opinions. I was willing to respect your opinion more, until I read the ad hominem argument. If you wish to be respected, then you would do well to avoid such arguments.

    There are things that are well designed, but it usually takes years of development for things to get into that state. Alas, that doesn't work with buildings; they bad designs get built and stay there until they are allowed to fall into disrepair.
  3. Virgil's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by PeterL
    You are entitled to your opinions. I was willing to respect your opinion more, until I read the ad hominem argument. If you wish to be respected, then you would do well to avoid such arguments.

    There are things that are well designed, but it usually takes years of development for things to get into that state. Alas, that doesn't work with buildings; they bad designs get built and stay there until they are allowed to fall into disrepair.
    There was nothing ad hominem in my comment. Ad hominem is an attack on the person. I attacked your pontificating claim. You mistaken my tone as ad hominem. If it's harsh, I apologize. It came out of exasperation after reading this. Designers don't know what is desired as the end product? What do you think, they sit down to design a crank shaft and realize they came up with a toilet flush valve? What do you think goes on during an engineering project?

    When was the last time you sat in on a design project? Were you ever part of a design team? Do you even have an engineering degree? Have you ever done a trade between various design options? When was the last time you tried to meet OSHA standards? Have you ever been faced with cost limitations? Anyone with any knowledge of the subject can see how ridiculous your post is. You have no experience or even knowledge of the subject. If you don't know the subject why do you talk as if you're an expert? It's posts like this that's exactly what's wrong with the internet.
  4. PeterL's Avatar
    duplicate
    Updated 12-31-2013 at 09:20 AM by PeterL
  5. PeterL's Avatar
    There was nothing ad hominem in my comment.
    "An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"[1]), short for argumentum ad hominem, is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument.[2] Ad hominem reasoning is normally categorized as an informal fallacy,[3][4][5] more precisely as a genetic fallacy,[6] a subcategory of fallacies of irrelevance.[7]"
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

    You don't even have the vaguest clue about standards and requirements, quality, inspection, and qualification processes. Pulease.
  6. Virgil's Avatar
    No, saying you're dumb (that is mentally deficient), which I didn't say and don't believe, would be ad hominem. Pointing out that you don't know what you're talking about is a claim against your argument. If it's untrue, you can rebut it. You don't have the experience and it's quite obvious.
  7. PeterL's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Virgil
    No, saying you're dumb (that is mentally deficient), which I didn't say and don't believe, would be ad hominem. Pointing out that you don't know what you're talking about is a claim against your argument. If it's untrue, you can rebut it. You don't have the experience and it's quite obvious.
    You made a false and derogatory comment about the. If you don't understand that, then you might want to study semiotics, logic, and related matters.
  8. Virgil's Avatar
    empty
    Updated 01-03-2014 at 11:14 AM by PeterL