why badly designed product is bad

I bought a ZOOM H4 Handheld Digital Recorder for my wife who plays cello. It is an amazing machine that records and reproduces the sound with clarity and depth. The problem is its design. Or the lack thereof. The whole user interface of the tool is completely disastrous. The ON/OFF button is awkwardly positioned on the left side along with other buttons that do minor functions. The ON/OFF button is tiny. Real tiny. It took few minutes for me to find it. The record button is to be used to stop and pause the recording as well. But it simply says, RECORD. In order to access menu, you have to click the center button. But, once you get there, you have to use a tiny “JOG” button which is located on the right side to move around and select different menu items. You also use the same center button to use Replay, Pause, Fast Forward and Rewind functions. But, it is so easy to start the menu option, rather these desired functions. The screen is tiny with very small fonts. The bulk of the screen is used to show the decibel level of the sound input during recording and playback. Yet, the name of the file that is being played is stuck in the corner of the screen, making it virtually impossible to know which file is being played. The screen does not show any information about how much memory you have left and how much batter power you have. For some reason, you must push the record button twice in order to start recording. When you first push it, it will take you from “STOP” to “Pause”. What? Manual is thick and intimidating. Yet, there is no single sheet of “here’s what you do to start recording as soon as you get this” kind of instruction. The whole packaging seems to say, “I know you just got me, but you cannot play with me. First, read all the instruction cover to cover and then come back to me.” So, when I first managed to record my wife’s cello sound after about half a day, I felt triumphant. Perhaps, that is the only positive aspect of a really bad design — feeling triumphant and accomplished by merely figuring out how to use the thing.


Why can’t things be designed like Dyson vacuum cleaner? Why can’t they give us pleasure when we use them? Why can’t they just jump out of the box and scream, “let’s play”, like my MacBook? Why can’t these products be designed to put a smile on our face each time we turn them on?

Professor | Writer | Teacher Digital Innovation, Design, Organizational Genetics Case Western Reserve University

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