Saturday, August 20, 2011

Zombie Designs

So, I've been shopping for new wallets, right? (My old one went in the dryer when I thought I was under siege by bedbugs and got totally destroyed.) I really liked the wallet I had, and I couldn't really put my finger on why until I started looking at possible replacements.

The reason was the ID Window was designed right on my old wallet. The plastic window was the entire pouch, there was no unnecessary leather border partially obscuring information - no one ever told me to "take it out of there," which is always annoying because that's the time when the natural condensation that's accumulated between the card and the wallet decides to do it's superglue impression. 

I mean, is there really any reason for that border? I mean, it might be a side-effect of the way wallets are manufactured or the way leather is cut, but does it actually serve a purpose to partially obscure an ID and then make it difficult to remove? If it does, I can't think of one. So it's clearly an inferior design. But, curiously, even expensive wallets by name brands like Gucci can get this wrong.

That leads to an interesting question: in pretty much every field and facet I can think of, there are designs and features that are clearly inferior to other, more recent inventions. They are designs whose time is past, and yet they continue to rise from the dead again and again and again. (This is certainly true of software and the web.) This makes true, uniform progress in any field difficult, particularly if you take the view that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. 

Dducation, communication, and the Human Condition are easy things to blame. Information overload is undoubtedly an issue, and I'm sure the sorry state of our patent law isn't helping either. But I feel like this is a big problem. I've seen a rash of articles lately commenting on the pace of innovation, and fretting about the lack of low-hanging fruit still available. It'll take real work to continue to innovate at a pace that even resembles the frenetic rate of the past 20 years or so, and the apparent rate of progress will be even slower if we, as a global culture, are not able to efficiently shed ideas whose time has passed.