1. Apple puck mouse. We all tend to think “design excellence” when we hear the name Apple, but it’s not always the case. The dual-mind design team of Steve Jobs and Jony Ive insisted that a perfectly round mouse was the right way to go for the revolutionary new iMac line launched in 1998. Their devoted followers quickly told them they were wrong, lamenting its uncomfortable fit for the hand, difficulty finding the single mouse button (a topic worthy of its own thread), and short cord. Pursuing simplicity has served Apple well in almost every case, but with the puck mouse, it took several years for Apple to abandon the simple elegance of the circle and ship iMacs with a more traditionally oblong mouse.
2. Wii Remote. First there’s the fact that real gamers hate the Wii, due in large part to the dumbed-down nature, represented in its controller by the lack of analog stick, shoulder buttons and other modern gaming conventions that Nintendo tossed out so your Grandma could bowl on her TV. Then there’s the fact that it’s so smooth and slippery, and would easily slip out of your hand and crack your television or your brother’s skull, so you were supposed to tie the controller to your body with a wrist-strap. When that didn’t squelch talk of lawsuits, we got the Wii Condom, an ugly, squishy plastic cover to keep us from hurting ourselves.
3. Sony Remote for Google TV. Techcrunch said it best, calling it a “Ten Thousand Button Nightmare.” The world of Internet video ported to your television is one of great promise but Sony just wasn’t up to the challenge in helping viewers figure out how to hunt down desired content with this unfathomable remote. You almost want to pick it up, just out of curiosity, to see what this monstrosity really is. But it’s just too scary. And speaking of scary…
4. Furby. Was it a bird? A monkey? A mutated squirrel? Whatever it was, it has haunted our dreams ever since its brief run as (inexplicably) the must-have Christmas gift fad of 1998. It was cool to think of Furby as a smart toy who could learn from you and respond intelligently to commands, but in reality Furby had just a handful of programmed commands and creepy sounds. It looked soft, but was hard and unfriendly feeling, and the motors and gears which moved its eyes, ears and beak were so loud they squashed any illusion of a real pet. Less charm than a Pet Rock.
5. Pontiac Aztec. There’s a great scene in
30 Rock in which Alec Baldwin and team have to design the perfect microwave. They gather round a computer to design their creation, giving the microwave extra doors for cooking big items, wheels, and even cupholders since “Everyone loves cupholders!” Finally, Baldwin sits back and frowns upon their creation, declaring, “We’ve invented the Pontiac Aztec.” Enough said.
6. BMW’s iDrive. Debuting on BMW’s 7-Series, the iDrive was based on Windows CE for Automotive and controlled many of the vehicle’s secondary systems with a big controller knob in the center console. Critics quickly decried its steep learning curve and that it required drivers to spend their early experiences with it looking at the system screen and away from the road. Its interface has been improved over the years to be more intuitive, but BMW has not fully lived down the bad buzz generated by early reviewers and buyers.
7. Motorola ROKR w/ iTunes. By all accounts, it was an OK phone at a time when being OK meant you were one of the best phones on the market. But it wasn’t what people wanted, and a far cry from the smooth user experience that being associated with Apple seemed to promise. Steve Jobs was anxious to get into the smart phone market, and this was admittedly just a half step in that direction, with iTunes crammed into an inelegantly designed operating system, and the ability to store only 100 songs. It was a huge step backward from the iPod in every way, and made the market even hungrier for a phone that would do what everyone wanted with Apple’s trademark elegance and grace.
8. eVilla Sony. This half-assed, half-computer had everything going against it. Other manufacturers had already tried and abandoned production of computers designed just for the Web and email, but Sony thought they’d be different.
Called an “Internet appliance,” it lacked a hard drive, speedy processor, and a competitive price point (full-blown computers were available for the eVilla’s price of $499). Within three months of its launch, Sony admitted the device didn’t work as planned, and the eVilla was killed.
9. Original Amazon Kindle. Many people love today’s Kindles, but they are far cries from the first Kindle devices Amazon released in late 2007. It’s hard to believe anyone wanted the original Kindle with its small screen (6 inches diagonally), delay in page turns and screen refreshes, difficult keyboard, short battery life, clunky form factor, and high price of $399. Despite all these complaints, the Kindle was still considered the best e-reader of the time, but looking back, it’s shocking to realize how far the Kindle has come, from origins that were so underwhelming.
10. All things Microsoft, represented here by Clippy the Paperclip. We’ve made it all the way to number 10 without mentioning Microsoft’s legendary design cluelessness? There’s almost too many products to list here, so we’ll represent Microsoft with the bit of design we love to hate: Clippy the paperclip, the icon designed to help all of us morons navigate the complex waters of Excel and Word. So you want to create a new document? Clippy jumps onto your screen out of nowhere, and before you can shoo him away, he gives you twenty options and tips on starting your new file. Was it more offensive that the product design team thought we were idiots, or that we’d actually be entertained by Clippy’s antics? RIP, Clippy.
What else did we miss? Tell us what you think are the worst product designs of the modern era.