If It Ain’t Broke…

Innovation | 10 October 2017
Keith Walkerby Keith Walker

Hotels, half decent ones at least, still have a slight feeling of glamour about them. The uniformed staff, the dimly lit bar, the knowledge that someone will be clearing up after you all make you feel a little bit special. However, it’s not quite clear why this should be the case. Let’s have a look at the reality.

You’ve eventually persuaded reception that, yes, you do have a reservation and you’ve been given a plastic card that is what passes for a key nowadays. After being shown the hidden door that leads to the lifts you eventually find which combination of buttons actually takes you to your floor, or at least one near it. You follow the signs and walk the half-mile or so from the lift to your room only to find that it’s right next to the lifts on the other side.

Having made it this far, you’re now faced with the room lock. In theory, it’s clearly labeled how to use the key to open the door. In practice, it would take a professor of combinatorics to work out the number of different ways you can insert the card, the speed at which you need to insert and/or remove it, when you should push the door handle and whether reception has actually activated your card or not. After trying most of the options, many of them multiple times, you’re slightly surprised when you hit one that causes you to fall through the door into a cramped, dark hallway.

Hidden behind the door is a control panel the likes of which is rarely seen outside nuclear power stations. The fan (draft) and temperature can be individually set to within a fraction of a degree in multiple different zones, what and wherever zones may be. Lights in every corner of the room can be dimmed or brightened and the media control centre can be set to play any one of a thousand options on any number of speakers and screens. Or they could be if any of the myriad menus, options and pop-up boxes were labeled in something approaching English or if you had an advanced degree in computer programming. You poke at the screen for a while until random bits of the room are lit and there’s a slightly ominous humming coming from an air vent.

After all that, you need a shower. You open the bathroom door to find that a light is already on, presumably as a result of your stabbings at the control panel in the hall. Not the main light of course; you’ll never find how to turn that on, but the vanity mirror illumination will do for now. It’s all much as you expect. The basket full of lotions and potions from a designer brand you’ve never heard of, the slightly threadbare robes on the back of the door and the end of the toilet paper neatly folded to a point (why?)

Then you turn to the shower. How many controls do you need to operate a shower? Two – one knob for the hot water and one for the cold. Then why are you faced with what looks like the view from the footplate of a small but fully functional steam train? Not being qualified as an engine driver, it takes another half an hour of experimentation to produce a lukewarm drizzle, the only option you can find that you’re actually able to stand under.

After a deeply unsatisfying shower you leave the room knowing that when you return you will be even less likely to open the door without resorting to an axe, the air conditioning will have chilled the room to an arctic freeze, it will be lit like Blackpool sea front and a chocolate mint will have mysteriously appeared on your pillow.

That’s three simple things: the tap, the key and the light switch, that some twit in horn-rimmed glasses and a black polo neck has ‘re-imagined’ for no good reason and to no good end. All originally designed well over a hundred years ago and got right pretty much first time; none of these things should’ve been touched since then. When an engineer starts out they have it drummed into them – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Why this simple rule hasn’t made it through to the design department is something of a mystery.

Now consider the cigarette, something else that became common over a hundred years ago. It’s a perfect, simple piece of design that was also right first time and which, most importantly here, hasn’t changed since. Unless you stick the wrong end in your face, it’s pretty much fool-proof. When it came time for the twenty first century update, the inventor of the original e-cigarette recognised this and, being a smart chap, left the user interface as it had always been.

Unfortunately, there was the slight problem that early e-cigs didn’t work very well. This meant that a lot of less sensible designers got in on the act. Rather than fix the problems they went to work on the user interface with predictable consequences. The simple cig was loaded with buttons, bulky batteries, tanks, lights, charging ports… And so it was turned into the less-than-elegant ‘vape’ or common ‘mod’, something that certainly did need re-imagining.

Some things really don’t need re-inventing and the best designers know when to leave well enough alone. AYR’s designers took it back to the beginning.

It’s a twenty first century cigarette with the original nineteenth century user interface.

Simply perfect.

 

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