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When Design And Function Wed, Is It A Mixed Marriage Doomed To Fail?

By Steven V. Philips –

Let me start off the new year by complaining. This time about product design and function. Why aren’t they wedded? Why aren’t they even introduced to one another most of the time. Obviously, no one was engaged in thinking things out!

I have a degree from Rhode Island School of Design (who laughed?) where critics are made and/or sometimes acclaimed. And even though I’ve spent my adult life pretty far from the trade RISD teeched me, The Core Critical Me lives on. Because of that, most people I know consider me almost perfect. (Who laughed again?)

Just spent $600 on a new dishwasher. That’s three times the cost of my first car. To do what I could do for free. So very worth it, though. A popular brand, they claim, with a very snazzy stainless steel interior. Supposedly the ultimate in dazzle and durability. Salesperson says it’ll last sooo much longer than other models. It won’t.

Why? Because it’ll be donated to some unsuspecting charity in four or five years. Why? Because it doesn’t wash dishes any better than the 12-year-old appliance it replaced. Because the upper rack doesn’t drop down to accept long-stemmed wine glasses. Because the upright pins were designed to hold plates the thickness of Greek hurling discs and because we do not own a single cup of the proper diameter to fit. Because nothing inside is movable to accommodate a stew pot.

Now I know why I should have probably bought the Samagainian Europa Model Double Douche for $1,300. Cursed advanced Samagainians! Well maybe. Today’s dishwashers are descended from an invention unveiled at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair by a woman (granddaughter of steamboat inventor) whose servants were chipping her china. So hard to get good help. But dishwashers are now up to Version 118.0 and still not so much help! Wonder if they’re heard about the radical advance of the abacus especially in the last 20 years?

And how about other kitchen convenience products? Why do I get my lovely man nails ruined-up getting the filter out of the exhaust hood to clean? Why don’t all recipes have photos and all cookbooks be loose-leaf to lie flat? Why don’t my delicate digits fit inside some cup handles? Why do I have to put on reading glasses (please, no age related comments), and/or lie on the floor, to read which button(s) to push to start my (you fill in the blank)?

Why are we in the USA still swimming upstream in the river of design mediocrity?

Why does bad design sell and I mean not only unattractive, but poorly functioning? And if it’s homely, expensive AND doesn’t work? Wow, It’s the Triple Crown Winner at Waste Derby. And we still line up to buy it.

Try Before You Buy

Guess we Americans aren’t so fussy, or discriminating. Or are we just numb from years of poor design, low price and “stainless” that rusts? Take action, kids. In this new decade, try before you buy, look before you leap and don’t accept ugly. Ask. A friend did recommend the Samagainian machine. OK, I didn’t listen.

If it doesn’t work and form doesn’t follow function, you’ve wasted money. Plus it’s not good for the Inner You.

Jeff Weber, an industrial designer, in Popular Science magazine, December 2010 issue states: “You can strike an intimate relationship with an object”… but people ‘tend to feel that they lose their dignity’ when they must use ugly objects and they use those objects less as a result.” Sit in an Stumpf/Weber Embody chair to believe.

Ikea, Target and your local kitchen tools playground often prove that good product design and maximum function can marry and that the union doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Determine if it looks good AND works efficiently? If not, walk on by, Dionne!

Make sure “new and improved” doesn’t just describe the label colors and the number of adjectives that can fit into a sentence describing how your life is going to improve the minute you take this appliance or kitchen tool home. And when you get it home, if it doesn’t work, take it back. Excepting installed dishwashers, dammit.

Risking my flawless reputation here are a few of my well-designed picks from a walk through the aisles at my local Sur la Table kitchen store. Looks like lime is the color du jour.

1. Folding poly cutting board by Joseph-Joseph. Chopped items end up in bowl every time and it stores flat

2. Square colander. Fits snug in the sink corner so you can use the faucet too.

3. Peeler by Good Grips. Easy to hold even with wet hand and it works efficiently on soft as well as hard vegetables, cheese, etc.

4. Steamer. This one flexes to fit any pot. No gaps to let errant broccoli escape.

5. Bonus is a wheeled basket I used at a Star market in Boston. Quick shopping trip items that you still don’t have to carry.

2 Responses to “When Design And Function Wed, Is It A Mixed Marriage Doomed To Fail?”

  1. Lynn says:

    Look at those shopping carts at the grocery store! How handy. And the colander and steamer – heading out right now to buy those. Thanks for the helpful tips!

  2. Joseph says:

    Shaw’s also has smaller shopping carts, so you can actually go down an aisle w/out playing bumper carts. They’re like the Ikea of grocery stores.

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