Product Design

I imagine a conversation like this:

“Sven, we need a grease spatter guard design by the end of the week.”

“Ja sure.  What is a grease spatter guard?”

“You know, you’re frying kippers and you don’t want the oil to go out from the pan.”

“Ja sure.  Let’s go have some lingonberry jam und knackerbrot.”

Except that there would be a lot more words with these: ä, and these:  å.  Is this really what happens at Ikea, where they celebrate good design?  Surely not when they can sell a product like this:

What is it?  Why it’s a grease spatter guard, silly billy!  Imagine you’ve just slid a few kippers into shimmering hot oil in your frying pan.  Oh dear, oil is popping and spitting up into the air!  Good thing you just bought a grease spatter guard from Ikea.  Just fold up that little handle in the center, drop it on the pan and…wait, there’s a problem.  The one-inch long handle is in the center, ground zero for hot splattering oil and exactly the place you DON’T want to be reaching in with delicate fingers.  So you rummage through the drawers for some tongs while your kippers burn to the consistency of industrial drum brake linings.  Aha, got the tongs!  Now if you can just grasp the flat metal and fully oil-coated handle with the tongs…aaaaand now you’ve dropped the whole thing on the floor, hot fish oil and all.

#$@!  How many times do you think I cursed Sven and his design buddies at Ikea before it hit me that nobody actually designed this?  If Sven has laid his designer-glasses-framed eyes on this abomination he would’ve seen the problem immediately.  But instead, a purchase order went through to a factory for the following components:  stainless mesh, stainless trim band, stainless folding handle.  Somebody who doesn’t even own an oven assembled it and it was shipped off to my local Ikea.  And that’s how bad products get made.

Don’t think bad design is limited to cheap kitchen implements at Ikea.  Several years ago I test drove a new Audi.  I reached to disengage the parking brake and noticed the armrest was in the way and you had to slide your hand in with your fingers bent backward 90 degrees from the palm in order to grasp the handle.  Again, bad product design.

Which leads me to the flip side:  good product design.  I think design is really the ultimate in handmade.  You have to envision a product, craft a prototype by hand, test it with your hands, and only then can you move on to machine production.  I’m not willing to give Audi a break on their parking brake handle design, but at least they had other things on their minds like airbags and vacuum boosters.  Sven, however, needs to brush the knackerbrot crumbs from his black turtleneck and get back to work on the grease spatter shield.  And quick, because I’ve got some fish to fry.

  1. After swearing AT Ikea, IN Ikea, and ABOUT Ikea, I have sworn OFF Ikea altogether. Nothing against bjorgenkinder or sheissehunds or whatever they are, but vapid products, insipid support, and tepid quality are three reasons to go elsewhere.

  2. I’m not so opposed to Ikea, and while some of their products are simply too cheap and flimsy, some work perfectly and look good. My Poang chair still works great, is comfortable, light, and easy to pack. That’s because a designer had a hand in it. And he smelt of lingonberries.

    What’s the ‘Q’ stand for?

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