"And on the seventh day,
(s)he turned it all over to the idiots."

Updated 2005-04-09 (At long last!)
The images shown here are original, unaltered photographs taken in generally public places. All comments are strictly the personal opinion of the photographer. No photographs or comments are misleading, or known to be false.

This entire page is a homage to Donald A. Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things and other scholarly books that everyone in the design industry should study.

General] - [Electrical] - [Elevators] - [Temperature Controls]
Kitchen and Bath] - [Doors]


Apartment Wall Socket, Revere, MA - 2002-06-01.

We're looking at an apartment and I notice that each room has only one outlet. They look like this one, which I've never seen before. Furthermore, when I go to Home Depot's electrical department, they have no plugs or sockets that look like this.

What in the world is this? Why were these installed in the apartment? What on earth did the former tenants plug into them?

2003 Update: I've been informed that this is a circa 1920s electrical outlet. You mean to tell me that the electrical system in this house hasn't been updated for more than 80 years?!?!?

Be frightened!

Wall lamp, Manchester, MA - 2002-04-21.

Why did they put the lamp switch up there on the wall plate, where you can't reach it as easily or fit your fingers between it and the tubular arm?


I wasted an absurd amount of time trying to find replacement bulbs for this lamp, sold by Service Merchandise. The instructions clearly state using a "Type B" bulb. Well, to begin with, the type of bulb used by this lamp are rarely referred to as "Type B" and no retailer sells them as such. They are "fan" bulbs or "chandelier" bulbs (about the size and shape of a large chili pepper. A larger, standard bulb won't fit).

Okay, that was finally figured out, after many, many calls to electric specialty suppliers, the manufacturer and the retailer. But what's really stupid is the fact that this lamp uses a 3-way socket. Apparently, there is no such thing as a 3-way "Type B" bulb. So why did the manufacturer use the wrong socket?!?

I haven't gotten an answer to this one yet



Gas Station, 2004-11-05

Nope. They missed the point entirely.

Cambridge, MA, 2004-09-08

I was helping a friend move their house and he explained to me that we need to pack as tightly as possible, because this shipping company charges by the linear foot.

Yes, you only pay (a lot) for the part of the truck you fill (shared by other customers, evidently).

However, notice that if you fill the truck with 22-feet of boxes and furniture, you still need 24 feet of truck... due to where the wall brackets for the load bars are located. Load bars are removable horizontal beams that keep cargo separated and stable during transit.


Store "Security Camera," Provincetown, MA - 2002-06-14.

I can only conjecture how effective fake security cameras are (especially when you know what they look like on sale at Radio Shack and elsewhere).

However, the duct-taped cable on this one clearly goes nowhere. But that's okay, since it's pointed down at the floor instead of out into the shop.


St. Ives Shampoo Bottles - 2001-11-12.

Old bottle on the left. New bottle on the right. Why the change in design of the cap? I like the ease with which I can open and close the "valve" style cap on the old bottle. The new bottle has a flimsy "hinge" that makes it slightly more difficult to align the cap when closing.

St. Ives marketing department replied to my inquiry and said that customers preferred the new style.

What customers? And how do I get into these screwed-up marketing departments' focus groups!?!?

Ericsson LX588 Cell Phone - 2002-01-02


It is poorly designed. I can't find accessories for it. It constantly drops calls, gets poor reception in general, and...

Crashes more often than a Windows PC.

Sony KV-27V42 (Mfg. May, 1999) Television - 2002-01-08

A bad combination of circumstances: It took us a while to figure out how to operate the television for our presentation at the Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Have you ever seen a television with the controls on the top? Not a problem if your television is on a low piece of furniture.

But at this hotel, this television is on top of a tall rolling cart. You can't even tell that there are controls up there, much less press the buttons without standing on a chair. Oops!

A.K. Das & Co. Insulated Carafe - 2001-09-27

Nifty vacuum carafe, complete with "nipple" button on top to open and close for pouring.

On the left, the open position. On the right, the closed position.

Or is that the other way around?

Microtel, Rochester, NY - 2001-07-31

Microtel is, apparently, a no-frills hotel chain with smaller than average rooms and few unnecessary amenities. Here's a photo of my room on a recent stay in Rochester, NY. This room featured two single beds, small desk, closet and television (on TOP of the closet).

What struck me most curious was the extra sleeping space... on the window sill!

I found this Microtel not as much the bargain it should have been (their discounted prices comparable to discounted prices of competing hotels).

However, despite the lack of shampoo, I found the shower in these accommodations a proper high pressure that you don't find in even the best upscale hotels!


Chrysler-Daimler-Mercedes Benz Navigation Center - 2000-04-15

My car? Hardly.

Actually, this is the onboard "COMMAND" navigation computer in Mercedes' newer line of automobiles. I can't say that it doesn't do a good job getting you from Point A to Point B. It lets you choose the 'fastest' route or 'shortest' route, for instance. It even talks to you... a lot.

Too bad it doesn't listen as well as it speaks, or you wouldn't need this massive array of buttons and other controls. As a passenger, I was horrified at the amount of attention this device required to operate while driving, and that we wandered out of our lane several times while the driver fiddled with the knobs.

Not to mention that the display could be located elsewhere on the dash, so as not to require the driver to look down (a so-called 'heads-up' display).

Geezus! - This is the most complicated blasted tape player on the planet! I couldn't even figure out where to put the cassette, for starters. Then I find out that all the controls are ALSO part of the navigation system, and about three times as complicated as they could be with a conventional cassette player. ENOUGH!

Logan Airport Baybank... um, BankBoston... oops, Fleet Bank ATM - 2000-05-13

I love this one! Obviously this system was programmed by folks who weren't told that some of their ATM machines have keyboards off to the side instead of below the screen.


Caller-ID technology at work: "Hello, Mr. Burger?"

Okay, I'll admit "Caller-ID" is useful sometimes. If the technology doesn't scare you, however, it is at least often annoying. Here's why:

First, while it's great to know when your friends or ex-friends are calling you, this technology often prevents you from knowing who's calling when companies call you through a switchboard. At the same time, these companies can often tell who's calling them (sometimes to your benefit, and sometimes not).

Secondly, the phone company (at least Bell Atlantic's / Verizon's system) isn't sophisticated enough to properly display company names, as shown above. As a database designer, I know this could easily be fixed. For some reason their system is programmed to automatically replace the first space with a comma, even if it isn't a last-name-first caller. Except when it doesn't (sometimes names show without commas at all).

Thirdly, the information isn't always reliable. Sometimes the Caller-ID box just says "California." More often, it just says "Unavailable," and I don't know how that differs from "Anonymous." More aggravating, however, is like the photo above. When someone calls from a coin-operated telephone, it doesn't say "Pay Phone Call," but rather the name of the company where the pay phone is located. ARGH!


Do you know that Dr. Seuss story, "The Sneetches," where the folks are sold on having stars put on their bellies, and then have to pay to get them taken off and then get conned into doing it all over again and again? Somehow I think the telephone company is like that here: They sell you the "Caller-ID" service and then sell you "Anonymous Caller" capability so others don't know in advance that you're calling. But you can get "Anonymous Caller Blocking" service, too!

1998-11-30 (USAirways Flight 1270)

1998-11-24 (USAirways Flight 369 or 970)

Notice the difference between these photos of two typical airliner cabins? Both have three seats along the right side. The top photo shows a relatively centered light and air control panel above the center seat. However, the control panel in the bottom photo is located to the far right, making it difficult to reach by the middle occupant, and downright impossible to reach from the aisle seat.

I'll also mention the fact that in my experience, the lights are never capable of being directed or focused, and invariably illuminate the least convenient location.

Boston Public Library, 1998-12-02

This is a machine that makes change from paper money bills. The problem here is that when you try to retrieve your change, you need to use both hands, and you must be careful that money doesn't slip between your hand and the dispenser. A 'lip' added to the dispenser would prevent this.

Doral Golf Resort, Miami, Florida area, 1998-09-11

Lovely treatment of flatware on a food spread at a luxury resort. Unfortunately, one must guess as to which folded napkin is hiding your fork, since only the handles are sticking out.




Appliance Corporation of America (Haier Services?) Toaster Oven - 2001-10-14

Well built, maybe, but not well spelt. (Actually, I take that back. In searching for the company web site, all I found was consumer complaints and product recalls!)

Anyway... What I'm trying to convey here is something I seem to see a lot in toaster ovens... that you need to set at least two settings just to toast bread. Much like the toaster oven we own, with this one you have to switch it to 'Toast' mode, then set the 'darkness,' before you press the 'Toast' lever.

I'll post a photo of our toaster oven here soon, to clarify.

Sanyo mini Refrigerator Thermostat - Hotel, Waterville, NH- 2001-10-06

Hey... It's a Refrigerator! - If there's not enough room on the dial for "Warmer... Colder," who decided that the dial should just say "Warmer..."?!?

Remember... It's a Refrigerator!

And did you notice that the panel markings behind the dial indicate that MAX (maximum refrigeration, I presume) is clockwise, while the arrow on the dial indicates that clockwise is "Warmer?"

Hotel air conditioning unit control by International Environmental - 1999-12-08

This is a pretty typical multi-speed fan control knob. The controls on all the box fans in my apartment look and function similar to this.

Notice that it goes from "Off," immediately to "High," and then down to "Medium" and "Low."

I would think that it would be an unnecessary strain on the motor to go from motionless to full speed instantly.

Furthermore, the operator needlessly must switch through "High" and "Medium" when all they want is "Low," and then to turn off the fan, must bring the fan up to full speed before shutting it off.

Trane Thermostat Control, Waltham Office Building - 2001-03-13

What possible reason could there be for this thermostat to have two temperature controls?

There's an adjustment for "HEAT" and an adjustment for "COOL."

Why not one control for "TEMPERATURE?" That way, when the thermometer on the front shows that it's... whew!... 80 degrees in the room, you don't have to fumble with the controls and wait to see what happens.

I figured you just turn the "Heat" down and the "Cool" up, but that didn't seem to work as expected.

When you force the heating system against the cooling system, doesn't it waste energy? With one control, the system should be smart enough to turn on the cooling system or the heating system, rather than mix the two systems for the desired temperature.

GOAT Visitor, Bruce, writes (2002-02-05): The thermostat with two controls is an energy-saving measure. People are normally comfortable over a fairly wide range of temperatures -- say, 72° to 78° F. This means that as long as the temperature is within that range, neither heat nor cooling is desirable.

A plain, single-control thermostat can only control to a small range, around 1-2° F, which wastes energy when a wider range is satisfactory.

The two temperature controls are interlocked so that it's not possible to set the heating control to a higher temperature than the cooling control. If you push the two controls together so they hit the interlock, the unit functions as a single-set-point thermostat.

I see, but am still of the opinion that a single control with an upper range and lower range on one dial would be more intuitive. I certainly didn't know how to use this two-dial device, and I can program a VCR! -- EW

Honeywell Thermostat Control, my apartment - 2000-12-30

A traditional standard manual rotary thermostat. Simple, right?

Wrong. When you turn the dial to the right to turn up the heat (instinctively intending to move the pointer to the right), the background legend moves instead; "moving" the pointer down to a cooler temperature!



Westin Hotel, Waltham, MA - 2002-05-15

This American Standard automated faucet suffers a severe and common design flaw. The user must place their hands within detectable range of the sensor, which usually means washing one's hands ABOVE the rim of the sink. Attention Westin maintenance personnel: THIS is why the counter is always flooded!

Doubletree Hotel, Jersey City, NJ - 2000-05-23

Someday I'll put together a page entirely for hotel absurdity.

Here's just one of the things that's so stupid about most good hotels: They have two soap dishes. So who uses two bars of soap!??! What some of us need is a place to put other things, like shampoo, shaving cream and razor. Mine just barely balances on the edge, and frequently gets bumped off these precarious little shelves.

What I don't need is folded toilet paper.

Osco Pharmacy, Chicago, IL - 2000-06-13

Men not wanted!

As if it weren't bad enough that I'm waiting outside the men's lavatory at this store for five minutes before someone explains to me that its out of service...

They tell me to use the ladies' room next to it. It is here that I make the startling discovery that women's toilets are designed such that the seats won't stay up without being held in place (naturally, this is not normally a concern to regular users).

(Guys already know it is only a woman's house or apartment where you'll find shaggy upholstered or foam padded toilet seats... they never stay up while in use by male guests).

Disposal strainer by Melard (Masco) at Home Depot, 1999-11-24


Why do so many design flaws happen in the kitchen and bath?

This handy dandy little kitchen gadget is a strainer designed to keep small objects--like flatware--from going down the drain into the waste disposal unit.

Unfortunately, the thing is made from plastic that floats; making it totally useless.

UPDATE: 2001/08/26:

I just purchased a replacement for this defective drain strainer. This one is manufactured by Danco, and looks very much like the Melard product. Unfortunately... and you guessed it... this product is every bit as faulty as the Melard unit. Sorry, Danco: This is not the "Perfect Match" your company claims.

So why can 't I find this obvious device anywhere, and possibly in... METAL? This is just another example of all those occasions when I feel like I'm the first person to ask the obvious question.




How can an elevator that only goes up to the 2nd floor be so freaking confusing?!?

Boston University, 1991-09

Notice both arrows pointing down?

(That reminds me of the elevators at the Christian Science headquarters I visited here in Boston. I noticed a red light and a white light next to each other above the elevator door. Which one is up and which one is down, I wondered. Suddenly it was clear: Red was down--hell--white was up--heaven. Ha!)

Hotel Elevator - 2002-01-08

The Marriott Hotel Metro Center in Washington, D.C:

Have you ever seen a more screwed-up elevator control panel?

Let's start with those big labels for the "Executive Offices, Pool and Health Club," "Restaurant and Board Room," "Registration, Lobby and Hotel Bar" and "Ballroom / Meeting Rooms." Everyone that gets on the elevator tries to push those labels, thinking they're buttons. No, they just light up when you push the button several inches to the right [See the Boston Copley Westin photo, below, where the labels actually ARE the buttons].

Then there's the rest of the buttons for each floor. Could they possibly be arranged any worse? I shouldn't ask... some elevator technician might interpret that as a challenge.

Westin Copley Place Hotel, Boston, 1998-11-13

I was looking for the meeting rooms: The sign in the lobby (top) says they're on the 7th floor, but the elevator buttons (bottom) say they're on the 3rd floor. Meeting rooms are actually on the 7th floor, and the hotel employee I asked couldn't tell me the difference between a meeting room and a hospitality suite.

And what's happened to the good old days when the lobby was at ground / street level?

Office Building, Waltham, MA, 1992

"Quick: Take me to the lobby!" (I guess this explains why you don't use the elevator in an emergency)


Boston University, 1991-09

Notice both arrows pointing down?

(That reminds me of the elevators at the Christian Science headquarters I visited here in Boston. I noticed a red light and a white light next to each other above the elevator door. Which one is up and which one is down, I wondered. Suddenly it was clear: Red was down--hell--white was up--heaven. Ha!)




City Hall, Belmont, MA, 2000-07-17

I wanted to inquire why a busy three-way intersection near Belmont City Hall had no stop signs or traffic signals. When I finally figured out which entrance to the building was NOT locked, and once inside, I saw a door with this helpful notice. It dawned on me that signage is not one of Belmont's strong suits.

A Hi-Tech Company, Waltham, MA, 2000-07-19

I saw a sign like this once and waited a long time to finally get a picture of one again. Well, here it is! There are two possible ways that this sign might properly be designed, and this ain't one of them:

A) "Please Use This Door" placed on the intended door but without the arrow; or

B) "Please Use Other Door" on the door not to be used, pointing to the intended door.

(Former) WordsWorth Abridged, Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA, 1998-12-22

I stood here and watched people use these doors and was very amused. They are clear glass doors with a very visible sign instructing you to "Pull" it open when entering. These double doors swing both "in" and "out," and also have "pull" handles on both sides. This all makes the sign not only irrelevant, but also the word "Pull" on clear glass becomes a subconscious gremlin. Dyslexic or not, you're apt to reach for the "Pull" handle when leaving the store; recognizing "Pull" backwards faster than realizing that you should actually "Push."

Book Store, Portland, Maine (1994?)

Maybe the problem is the "Pull" handles on this door!

Grocery Store, Chinatown, Boston - 2003-07-28

Lost in translation: This is a "Push" door with a "Pull" sign in English and a push bar that looks like it could be a pull handle.


Double Doors... Don't get me started!

The concept is simple -- or at least should be. Double doors have that name because there are two of them. So if they've gone through the trouble of installing double doors, merchants and building owners should also make sure both doors can be used!

I can't stand every time I push or pull on a double door and it turns out that's the side that's locked. See those latches down there? use them! Or if you have some good reason not to unlock them, you had better have a clear sign posted that indicates to people which door should be used.



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