Things needing a redesign  MAR 18 2009

A couple of months ago, Jessica Helfand posted a list of 10 things that needed to be redesigned. Her list included the hearse, plastic packaging, and IRS forms. Fast Company recently asked a few other designers what they thought was in need of fixing.

How about it? What would you like to see redesigned? (More than one-line answers appreciated.)

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There are 53 reader comments

Matt Jankowski12 18 2009 3:12PM

Instructional signage at places like the DMV, post office, fancy delis, etc. Basically anywhere that you have to stand in line where standing in that line could conceivably last more than 30 seconds or so, I want large well written signs all over the place with arrows pointing exactly where I'm supposed to be.

I also want diligent use of those poles+ropes to create a lane where people are supposed to stand, rather than the crazy form your own line policy places have.

Philip (flip) Kromer15 18 2009 3:15PM

The walk sheets and call sheets generated by the DNC campaign software. I can't tell you how many times during last year's campaign I walked four blocks looking for that last address on Cypress Ave only to realize it was on Cypress Ln -- one among a myriad of usability problems these have.

Mike16 18 2009 3:16PM

Bedding. I cannot STAND fitted sheets. I have tried every gizmo on the market and my tossing and turning just pulls them off the mattress. The dust ruffle that comes with bedding is useless as well. The gauzy material it is made out of inevitably tears, and trying to flip a mattress or do a hospital corner is maddening.

Matt17 18 2009 3:17PM

Toilets, both the innards and the toilet itself. Having recently replaced the fill valve in two toilets recently, it's far too difficult and error-prone than it should be. The fact that you very often have to replace the supply line when replacing the fill valve (because the new fill valve varies enough in depth to render the existing supply line useless) adds to the aggravation.

Lex24 18 2009 3:24PM

Remote controls. So few get it right -- with the original (non-backlit) TiVo remote being a shining exception.

TVs these days come with throwaway remotes, begging you to buy a universal alternative instead. But so few universal remotes seem to be designed with daily use in mind. Buttons should be clustered, feel different, and use different shapes.

Jo Fletcher24 18 2009 3:24PM

Toasters. You would think with all the technology we have today that somebody would have invented a toaster that can toast bread in 10 seconds and not the seemingly 5 minutes it seems to take now.

elliott30 18 2009 3:30PM

Dare i say, the iPhone needs more buttons. You can't do some of the simplest tasks (such as answer the phone) without looking at the device. Extremely unfriendly for the visually impaired.

Bonzo McGrue37 18 2009 3:37PM

Door locks. It's ridiculously simple to bypass any cylinder lock, broadly relied upon for physical security, using a bump key. The only thing preventing mass mayhem is the public's lack of knowledge. So here's to mass mayhem:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lock_bumping
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwTVBWCijEQ

robin45 18 2009 3:45PM

In the spirit of designing services/experiences, not just objects, I think the multilateral organization -- e.g. the UN, NATO, WHO, etc. -- needs a redesign. We need them now more than ever, but it's hard to point to one that's coherent, effective, has broad credibility, etc. (Maybe there are some famous exceptions I don't know about.)

In my mind, it would involve a lot of "process design," game theory, maybe a few novel legal concepts (what's the Creative Commons of international treaties?), and then -- important -- some really good branding.

Steve Portigal47 18 2009 3:47PM

I'd like to see the ending credits for movies redesigned. The credit is a form of currency in the filmmaking process, but it's not a form of content for most of the viewers of the film. That's why most people get up and leave during the credits. Some filmmakers are clever and put outtakes alongside the text, or use a great or crappy song, or run a small bit of film at the very end as a final payoff for the loyal. It's not that we don't want to know any of the information, but it's not necessary to experience in that format in that time and place. I'm sure there are tons of credit watchers out there but how else could you get that information in a more effective fashion? How else could you have a transition between the content and the lights coming on? There is a role there for something, but right now it's driven by money and industry standards and I want to see a viewer-experience based film credits.

Maureen Parr50 18 2009 3:50PM

The tea-cup/coffee-cup needs a handle on both sides. It is very difficult to use for the elderly, those with arthritic fingers etc. The coffee shops serve such huge drinks these days in large and heavy mugs or cups and they are difficult to pick up and hold.

Curt55 18 2009 3:55PM

Childrens toy packaging. Seriously, I've wounded myself more by opening toys for my son than I ever had in gardening and woodworking.

John White57 18 2009 3:57PM

Video game controllers. They seem to have more or less converged on a design that subjects anyone past their teenage years to repetitive stress injuries (although maybe we adults shouldn't be wasting our time with games anyway). A lot more flexibility, so that you can re-position your hands from time to time without totally changing the feel, would be great.

Udi57 18 2009 3:57PM

Receipts. Most people, in most cases, do not need one. You don't need one when you buy a coffee, or a cookie, or a pack of cigarettes. The default should be no receipt for anything less than, say, $20. If you want one, ask for one.

Nita02 18 2009 4:02PM

I would like to see a lawnmower with a different steering design. The rigid wheels are always so hard to maneuver around irregular garden beds, trees, etc. I wish they could have wheels something like swivelling coasters.

Myles05 18 2009 4:05PM

Cell phone towers. Ugly, horrendous things. When they try and design them to be something they're not, usually trees and such, they are even worse. Somebody needs to channel Saarinen and Rams and come up with something modern, futuristic and fun.
Don't get me started on contemporary urban condominium design...

vt13 18 2009 4:13PM

i have a long-ish list here.

James Veitch21 18 2009 4:21PM

The MTA ticketing system. Why, oh, why do I still need a physical ticket? What a waste. It should model itself more on the London Oyster card.

Scott L.37 18 2009 4:37PM

Public drinking fountains.

Obafofia44 18 2009 4:44PM

Umbrellas. They're pretty useless as they are - odd, clumsy, easily lost and, most importantly, do not keep you dry. They don't even perform their most basic function! The thing's been around for hundreds of years and no one can think of a better design for a rain protective aparatus? Unbelievable.

Albert Balbutin49 18 2009 4:49PM

Water guns
Office calendars
Airplane seats
Potato Chip bags
Zoos (no cages, except for lions, tigers, and bears, oh my. Or even better, no zoos)
Houses (kitchens with hidden recycling bins, compost bins)
Formal shoes
Bart trains (Bay Area Rapid Transit)
The human body (i'd like wings)

Greg51 18 2009 4:51PM

Brake lights: Traditionally, brake lights are binary, indicating only "on" or "off." But in traffic, it would be extremely useful for a driver to know whether the car in front is lightly tapping the pedal or slamming on the brakes. Since cars started having that third brake light in the rear window, I haven't seen any further advances in this area. Sure, this may become moot once computers are driving our cars for us, but in the meantime it would be helpful to display grades of braking.

Parking meters: Some cities go really far to either have embedded-chip parking cards or nearby machines that take other than change, but the solutions I've seen involve having to either find the merchant that sells the card or going to the nearby machine and then walking the receipt back to your car. Why not just have the meter itself be able to read credit cards? As in: park, swipe, go.

Kent52 18 2009 4:52PM

I second the toilet. Seriously, the only thing between a nice clean bathroom and floor covered in shet, is a crappy wax seal?

Washing machines. Why can't I just do a few items 3 or 4 at a time? Why does it take so much water and time?

Dish Washer. Big waste of water, there should be more physical things scrubbing so I don't have to pre-wash everything.

All childrens cups should be two times thicker at the bottom then the top.

Tyler Sellhorn55 18 2009 4:55PM

I teach high school math and social studies...I have seen new designs for sweeta$$ teched out classrooms, but I want someone to design a classroom that effectively provides space for non-instructional teacher tasks, implements new instructional technology like clickers, multimedia displays and smart boards, and meets feasibility requirements for school district physical plant budgets. There is money to made people...students, parents, teachers, administrators, business and community leaders all want to invest in that kind of stuff, but nobody has gotten designers with the education people to really build something powerful like an iPhone for classrooms (combining many tasks, but doing them in a synergistic way).

jon_hansen53 18 2009 5:53PM

Scientific product packaging--I'm looking at you Fisher Scientific. It's ridiculous that a 5 ml bottle of reagent should be shipped in a box the size of a computer monitor.

There needs to be a new type of parafilm designed, one that can shrink around packages, protect them, and keep them at desired temperatures.

wendy43 18 2009 7:43PM

Mobile x-ray machines. Ridiculously heavy cassette on digital machines. Long cord to run over and drag through body fluids. Poorly designed interface for choosing patients and exams. Wireless issues that cause me to push the machine up and down the hall saying "can you see me now?" I want Apple to make an ix-ray.

Kari54 18 2009 7:54PM

Highway signage. Certain places have far too much and other areas have too little. And frequently it's not very intuitive. It clutters up the landscape and it's the equivalent of visual litter.

Billboards. Do they have to be so ugly and obnoxious?

Airline food. Keep it simple. Think 'picnics in the sky' and forget the gross curried chicken.

Food packaging. Much more of it needs to come in resealable packages.

Food portions. I often wish I could order S-M-L sizes at restaurants. It seems like they often want to give us a whole day's worth of calories on one plate. That's too much food.

Newspaper web pages (the portal page, or front page). Many of them have terrible design.

Nick58 18 2009 7:58PM

Bathroom doors. Bathroom doors should swing out, not swing in, so that people leaving bathrooms don't have to use their hands, and can instead just nudge the door open with their shoe and safely slip out of the bathroom without contracting hepatitis or something.

Mike19 18 2009 8:19PM

Childrens car seats. They're awkward to install, difficult to adjust, ill-fitting lumps of plastic. They are so hard to install properly, many folks have to have others install the seats for them.

Shantel20 18 2009 8:20PM

Takeout coffee cups. A tea shop I know will whizz up a frothy cup of green tea for me, to my delight… but five minutes later, throwing away a paper cup, cardboard sheath, and plastic cap, I'm kicking myself for not bringing my own cup. It's not always convenient to carry an empty mug around. A good folding portable cup would be a fantastic, hip, practical alternative.

Connie42 18 2009 8:42PM

Online forms that have a drop down box to choose your state. I could type "IL" so much faster than the time it takes to find Illinois in the middle of the list of 50 states.

Shellgamer19 18 2009 9:19PM

The grocery aisle offers much inspiration: Cereal Boxes (get rid of the cardboard, maybe a rigid bag?). Ice cream (see the cream?) containers. Egg cartons (how about clear to see breaks?). Soup (anything but a can).

Ashley03 18 200911:03PM

Ketchup packets!

Does anyone use just one? Why not make each packet the size of four? Or recyclable material. I'm all for the huge ketchup pump inside the fast food restaurant, but for people who don't go inside, there is no other option. So frustrating! I wish I didn't love ketchup so much.

anastasiav16 18 200911:16PM

Markers - Dry Erase markers, in particular.

I'd like to see someone invent a marker that automatically retracts when its not in motion. I have a toddler, and letting him draw and erase and draw and erase on the whiteboard is great fun for everyone, but our choices are either a) buy new markers every week when he leaves the caps off or b) remember to police the markers for caps when he suddenly puts the marker down and decides the chasing the cat is more interesting.

Also, yeah, toilets. They make them with foot flushers - I've never understood why these aren't more universal.

Travis03 19 200912:03AM

The Computer Mouse, unless I'm the only one with RSI problems. Seriously, it is 2009, and that's the best we have?

Steve Dekorte26 19 200912:26AM

Aside from government offices, airports are some of the worst designed places I've been in.

For example, they spend millions on little art peices for the hallways but can't seem to afford a few chairs for people taking off their shoes at security checkpoints.

Chris33 19 200912:33AM

College and University websites. They pretty much all suck.

EdB55 19 2009 1:55AM

Building on brake lights: blinkers should be able to tell the other motorists "hard right, right, left, hard left". Instead the tool in front of me who was kind enough to signal left is actually making a U-turn which is a rather hard left so instead of flowing with traffic I'm left wondering why this moran can't seem to make the left they've indicated ... until I see they're actually interested in going where they were.

Oh and girl scout cookies. They need a price tag much closer to zero :)

Adam Quirk16 19 2009 3:16AM

Video editing could use a makeover. I long for a day when real-time editing between a team of several people in different locations can take place online via some sort of live screencasting or software-casting application. Like Aviary for collaborative video editing. Rendering and file size make this impossible on our current interwebs.

Bonus would be to edit with my hands directly on a screen like M$ Surface, and see my other editors' hands on screen as well, like they're just behind the glass.

JLF05 19 2009 4:05AM

Toyota Prius definetly

Marco Romano27 19 2009 8:27AM

The taxation system, the health care system, the educational system, the social justice system, the electoral college, the economic system, the www, the eco-system and all other malfunctioning systems that impinge upon the life of the planet.

laura44 19 2009 9:44AM

The electric grid in the United States. We're far too smart to continue to rely on something so, well, unreliable. The longer we wait to implement the Smart Grid, the more energy we're losing.

Also, those stupid scanners at the grocery store. 2009 and it still takes 41,354 swipes for the scanner to read the barcode on my loaf of bread?

And finally, cordless power charging for mobile devices. Let's find a reliable, efficient way to charge cellphones, ipods, laptops, etc. without the constant search for a plug. Anybody who's ever attempted to study at a Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, or comparable location knows how dumb this search is. (At least let's put plugs EVERYWHERE so we can always plug in.)

Tim Carmody29 19 200910:29AM

Here's one my wife was asking about the other day: why not make tennis/athletic shoes that you can have resoled? Just like dress shoes, the sole almost wears out faster than the rest of the shoe; but you inevitably wind up springing for a brand new pair, subject to the vagaries of fit, comfort, and taste all over again. Let's have more shoes we can reuse!

curtis corlew43 19 200911:43AM

Tennis ball cans. Why in 2009 they still have a sharp metal , dangerous peel-off lids is beyond me.

Dick Kusleika45 19 200911:45AM

Gas pumps. It's criminal that I have to get out of my car to fill my tank 100 years after cars were mass produced. Why haven't we standardized that the fill tube be 27" from the ground and 13" forward of the rear axle? Then I could pull up to the prescribed spot, swipe my card, and the pump does its thing.

K27 19 2009 1:27PM

One universal device for all rechargeable consumer electronics.

Frequent Flyer57 19 2009 5:57PM

For example, they spend millions on little art peices for the hallways but can't seem to afford a few chairs for people taking off their shoes at security checkpoints.

That's because the security checkpoints were designed before you had to take off your shoes.

Beck33 19 200911:33PM

The turning on and off of kitchen and bathroom faucets should be triggered by feet, not hands. This would save water and be more hygienic.

Philip Ashlock55 20 2009 1:55AM

I was going to add the same suggestion for the aforementioned foot controlled faucet, but the same should certainly be true for toilets. The worst are the IR sensing autoflush toilets that immediately flush when you lean forward. All those IR sensors use energy, foot levers could actually harness some energy. There's also a suggestion above about opening bathroom doors with feet. The foot controlled faucet would be really great while hand washing dishes though.

Oh, and bike locks. I dream of a bike lock that doubles as a structural element of the bike (like the seat maybe?) I can imagine a crossbred U-lock bike seat.

John49 20 2009 4:49PM

Answering machines. This is one of those things that used to be great, and now sucks. (No indicator of how many messages you have? Only a blinking light? With only three buttons and interminable slow voice menus?) I'd like some new features too, like the ability to put in an SD card and upload messages to the computer.

Logan59 20 2009 8:59PM

The G-spot should be moved to the side of the neck.

(This does mean, however, that no-one will get any work done.)

peterchen44 21 2009 4:44AM

Computer cases: CD-ROM / DVD drives that have the button above the tray. Front plugs for USB, FW Audio that are on top, rather than on bottom.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

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