Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Ministry of Crap Design

Just in case any government spooks are reading, this post has nothing whatever to do with my life as a public servant. The title comes from the British comedian, Ben Elton. He observed that so many things in life are so blatantly badly designed that even a monkey would know better. And yet they still manage to reach the marketplace, and us unsuspecting consumers. The only plausible explanation, he concluded, was that there must be a secretive government department dedicated to the promotion of such products: the Ministry of Crap Design.

Despite the comedy (and sadly I was unable to find a clip of this particular monologue) he highlighted a serious problem in society.

Now, I don't subscribe to the management-speak that runs along the lines of "don't bring me your problems, bring me solutions." That, to me, is smug bullshit. Willful abdication of duty. Lazy executives giving themselves permission to stick their heads in the sand and expect their staff to do their jobs for them.

But in this case I am able to offer a solution to at least a part of the problem of bad design, specifically around the modern penchant for excessive packaging, and most particularly that bane of modern life..."easy open" packaging.

How many fingernails have I shredded trying to unpick the tiny tabs mocking me from the edge of the kevlar disc welded to the top of a new ketchup bottle? How many foil yoghurt lids have come away in my hands, leaving the contents accessible only after a frenzied attack with a spoon? How often have I pressed on the indicated spot on the side of a carton only to see the carton collapse before the perforations give way?

I've long since given up even trying to peel back the temptingly free corner on packets of ham or pasta; I just go straight for the kitchen knife. And I've come to the realisation that the invitation to "tear here" is really a cruel pun on the lachrymose interpretation of "tear".

Today's exercise in frustration involved trying to pop gel capsules of cold remedy from their blister pack, which required the application of more force than the capsule could withstand.

My solution is simple.

The entire packaging design team of a new product shall henceforth be locked in a room with a cart full of samples. Not, I hasten to add, the carefully crafted proofs of concept from their pristine laboratory benches, made and tested under ideal conditions, but a bucketload of customer-ready products picked at random off supermarket shelves across the country. Samples that have gone through the standard manufacturing process and accompanying quality control, and endured the hardships of storage and distribution. In other words, exactly what you and I will end up buying.

The team will not be allowed to see the light of day again until they have each successfully opened one hundred consecutive samples.

Any failures along the way, and they all start over again from the beginning.

That, my friends, is called "motivation".

5 comments:

  1. LOL! I really liked your "tear" pun -- nicely done, Ian. :)

    And, yes, this is one of my biggest pet peeves. It's the eventual dreaded task when I come home after purchasing a large batch of DVDs -- getting through all that plastic and redundant, yet incredibly resistant, stickering. Ugh!

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  2. I keep my trusty scissors by my side whenever I venture near the kitchen, new purchases or medicine cabinet.

    The term 'easy open' is placed there to make us feel inferior to the point that we console ourselves with another shopping trip. It's a conspiracy I tell you! ;) Those packaging folks certainly deserve the treatment you have devised for them.

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  3. David, I set my sights fairly low here. Still working on ideas for motivating the reduction of packaging overall, but that is tougher to deal with.

    Jean, ooh! Conspiracy theory! I hadn't thought of that. You might be on to something there.

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  4. Brown paper bags could make a comeback if we could work a way to make them self shrink and have bubble plastic inside.
    If someone opened them without the correct scanning gun then they would self explode much like bank cash bags.

    Sure , a wild idea but a move away from plastics much like the old days of butcher paper for meats and cheese.

    Cheers

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  5. Packaging that explodes if you don't open it right? That's a scary thought, Rob :-)

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