Everyone has a list of things that need to be fixed. There are small things, like styrofoam containers that leak last night’s leftovers all over your desk, and then there are bigger things — the American health care system, for instance. There are potholes and computer glitches and the complexity of online travel bookings, which increasingly seem to require a PhD to understand. And there’s more, much more, from maps that mislead to, well, politicians who do the same. (Good luck fixing them
Naturally, big problems generally require big solutions — and even though logic and experience tell us that we should, in truth, not sweat the small stuff, it’s the small stuff that mounts up.1. Lottery Tickets
A photographer I once knew referred to the purchasing of lottery tickets as "the stupid tax." And indeed it may be: but smart people buy them, too, and are clearly not put off by the fact that they're so hideous-looking — big and bold and bright and so jam-packed with information you can't imagine. (Or maybe you can. But can you imagine designing one?) I suppose if you win it doesn't matter a hoot how garish those color and font choices are, but given the odds stacked against you, the greater likelihood is that you will simply spend an inordinate amount of time looking at them. Ergo: shouldn't they look better?2. The Hearse
In all honesty, this is no time to suggest introducing design challenges to an industry about to go belly-up: but how is it, in a field that prides itself on innovation, that hearse design does not appear to have advanced one iota since the Eisenhower administration? What, just because you're dead means you can't ride in a good-looking car? And for that matter, what's up with the curtains? The person in question (okay, the corpse in question) is already in a box, so it can't be on account of modesty. Or maybe it's some sick design metaphor that nobody ever questioned — you know, "it's curtains for you!" (Okay. Maybe not.)3. Monopoly Money
Unrealistic. Not enough zeroes.
4. TV Remote Controls
Annoying. Too many buttons. 5. The State of New Jersey
With apologies to Felix Sockwell, Eric Baker and others — this was sent to us by a friend, who explains, "because you have to drive through it to go anywhere. Like Ohio." Members of my family who will remain nameless (but have been contributors to this site) have been known to drive miles out of their way to avoid it. (No, I am not making this up.)6. Political Lawn Signs
Where is it written that all political candidates must have lawn signs that are red, white and blue? Are there party rules — or worse, demographic statistics suggesting that people won't venture out to the polls if, say, a candidate were to go with a nice orange sign — something with a burnt sienna background or some nice olive green type? The notion that voters can be swayed by lawn signs is sort of odd to begin with — scaled, as they are, to the height of the average garden gnome — but, assuming they have some intrinsic merit, why the incessant fidelity to the same patriotic palette?
7. Childrens' Ski Jackets
And while we're at it, where is it written that kids' ski jackets have to be so ugly? To have red stripes? To be graced with four thousand pockets that no human fingers can actually pry open? And a detachable hood and lining that you don't dare detach for fear that you'll never remember how to put it back together? Mostly, though, it's the stripes. And the logos, a cross between Hello Kitty and Nascar. And the itchy, fake fur around the hood. (Regrettably, not detachable.) And don't even get me started
on lunch box design.
8. Kennedy Airport
Nominated for reasons which are, I think, self-explanatory: runners up include Miami, Philadelphia and Yerevan, Armenia
.9. Blister Packaging
— the ire and injury that comes from struggling with those annoying plastic
blister bubbles — is now an official pathology with its own Wikipedia
page. (Acording to the Consumer Product Safety Commission
, an average of
6,000 people a year end up in the emergency department for
packaging-related injuries.) But does it take visits to the ER to affect design change? (If this is the case, be afraid: be very afraid.) In happier news, things are looking up for those impatient and/or accident-prone gift enthusiasts: following the lead begun by Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, companies like Fisher-Price, Mattel and even Microsoft are participating in a new initiative called Frustration-Free Packaging. Next up? Frustration-free kids' ski jackets! (Hey, a girl can dream, can't she?)10. IRS Forms
Though given a significant face-lift in the early 1980s by the designers at Siegel and Gale
, tax forms are as dreary as they are dense: indeed, the very act of filing taxes remains an inescapably grim milestone of early winter. On the bright side, at least they're not set in Comic Sans.
Which raises an important question about design and redesign: not to denigrate the importance of function (or even to suggest that what things look like and how they perform are mutually exclusive) but if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, just how many beholders do you actually have to get before you redesign something? In truth — with economic belt-tightening the order of the day, and much more critical world problems deservedly pulling focus — redesigning lottery tickets because they're visual eyesores is unlikely to galvanize change any time soon. Nevertheless, yearning for beauty remains a fundamental human need. (Designers, it would appear, possess this human need in spades.) As John Cage once observed, "the first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is: why do I think it's not beautiful? And very shortly you discover that there is no reason."