• U.S.

Design: The Man in the Trap

3 minute read

Designing is such a prestigious profession these days that there seems to be more of it than there are things to design. The result is overdesign, bringing more that is really less, heralding improvements that do not improve. Recent examples:

∙BUMPERS. Once there were bumpers to guard the fenders; now the bumpers seem far too delicate to be bumped. Some, in fact, have so many knife-edges and knobs that they act more like can openers than bumpers. As for the friendly push in time of stress, drivers have to be careful that pusher and pushee match up bumper-wise. One solution (by Dodge): bumper guards to guard the bumpers—and the bumpee.

∙DISPOSALS. Though they were meant to provide an easy system for getting rid of garbage, most disposals are such picky eaters that an accompanying list spells out what must be otherwise disposed of. “There you are,” says ARCHITECTURAL FORUM Managing Editor Peter Blake, “with a paper bag full of disgusting garbage and find you must go through it piece by piece to get out metals, bottles, plastics, et al.”

∙FAUCETS. With rare exceptions, bathroom faucets all used to turn one way—counterclockwise for on, clockwise off—something a man with soap in his eyes could rely on as he groped for the hot water faucet in the shower. Then the designers got the modern impulse to get symmetrical, and devised matching handles that turned in opposite directions, toward or away from each other. No one knows which way is which until he tries it.

Sometimes in the same bathroom the hot turns on in one direction on one fixture, in the opposite direction on another.

∙FOAM-RUBBER CUSHIONS. Neither soft nor comfortable, the new cushions spring disconcertingly back into their original inhospitable form, seem visually as uninviting as a concrete slab with the un-touched-by-human-bottom appearance of an ad in a homemakers’ magazine.

∙VENETIAN BLINDS. A centuries-old and efficient design, the Venetian blind has been tampered with by improvers, who have divided it so that top and bottom can be tilted separately (who needs it?), and the adjusting cord run through a snap spring. Result: they jam.

Many of the better designers view the trend with distaste. Concludes Designer Charles Eames: “There is a danger when the better mousetrap is better at catching people than at catching mice. And that’s the trap we are finding ourselves in right now.”

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