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Dubious Products

Some not-so-cool products.

You can't skinny dip here

inhabitat, 2015.

sky-pool.jpgFig. 1: What could possibly go wrong?

If you're looking to assert your superiority over the “tiny people” at the bottom of society, where better to do it than from a glass-bottomed pool suspended between two building, 115 feet in the air? Not only can you enjoy the pleasures of extreme vertigo, but if you don't vomit directly into the pool you can vomit all over the unwashed masses working endless hours for minimum wages who are constrained to the ground floor.

Useless hydrant

Personal photo, 31 July 2015.

milanhydrantfail.jpgFig. 2: Just what do you do with this?

On first blush, one might wonder Just how do we use this fire hydrant? But perhaps more appropriate would be Why the heck did they put the hydrant in the middle of a parking lot?

This is what happens when you keep building over and over again on the same land, with potentially ancient architecture and infrastructure. Milan is at least 1,800 years old; there's no knowing what lies under this parking lot that caused the hydrant to be installed here.

The "Triangle of Life"

Yanko Design1), 2013

triangleoflife.jpgFig. 3: Life raft or death trap?

This design is like virtually every other modern life raft - it has GPS, and a visual beacon, and all that. It's distinctiveness comes from the effort made to prevent it from capsizing. It can actually open - rather like a flower - and lay flat in calm water - accommodating four or so people.

But would it really resist capsizing? Just look at the image. All that would happen is that it's four occupants would be shaken, not stirred, as the thing rolls over and over in a storm.

To demonstrate how weak the scientific and engineering understanding is of some “designers,” consider this fragment of text from the source page for this product:

“Apparently the triangular structure prevents the raft from turning over, a fear often associated with smaller rafts.”


Glass Toilet

Behance, 2013

glasstoilet.jpgFig. 4: Do we really need this?

This toilet is made of glass. While its purpose is not what you think, it does give rise to some interesting questions. It appears to be part of an advertising campaign for a toilet bowl cleaning product.

It raises the question, though. What would be gained by this toilet? What functions does it serve (as part of an advertising campaign)? What functions might it serve otherwise? Would those extra functions increase the benefits of the toilet to users? What are the disadvantages of such a toilet?

(Note: there are such things as transparent houses.)

The Eva Solo Iced Tea Maker

Bless This Stuff, 2012

evasoloicedteamaker.jpgFig. 5: A tea maker.

Here's an $89 iced tea maker. Also check out this video about its operation.

It's most interesting feature is that it is a single product that, with little change, ranges over a substantial range of use. It replaces all items needed to make iced tea with a single structure. This cuts the environmental impact of the whole process by lessening both manufacturing materials and cleaning supplies needed to keep them sanitary over time. Clearly, a requirement for this design was to support all stages of the iced-tea-drinking experience.


  • the tea holder looks like a sex toy;
  • the neck of the tea holder is too narrow so users will likely often “miss” the opening and end up with spilled tea leaves;
  • the parts around the neck of the carafe do not seem disassemblable, thereby making it hard to clean;
  • the glass carafe is not a good thermal insulator, so the iced tea will go back to ambient temperature quickly;
  • it's over-priced.

The Barbecue Dining Boat


bbqdiningboat.jpgFig. 6: So, that got built.

For a mere $50,000 you can own this ridiculous and ugly-as-sin boat. It has a built-in barbecue grill in it. If I had $50,000 to burn, I'd give most of it to charity. Seriously, what would you rather do: save a life, or buy this foolishness?

The Human Bowling Ball


humanbowlingball.jpgFig. 7: For those masochists among us.

For only $4,500, you can “be the ball” in your very own, rather gigantic, lawn-bowling game. I honestly cannot see any reason why any human being would want to do this.

Motorized Monocycles


motorizedmonocycle.jpgFig. 8: Because who needs to make an effort?

For a mere $13,000, you can own this vehicle. It's a unicycle, of sorts. The interesting physics comes from the large wheel and position of the centre of gravity (below the centre of rotation of the wheel). This geometry makes the vehicle surprisingly stable when in motion.

You can build one for about $1,000 if you know what you're doing, so I'm not entirely sure why this needs to cost half as much as a decent automobile. (You can find other, similar vehicles using this google search.)

Toys for "benign girls"

Boing Boing

benigngirlphone.jpgFig. 9: There's probably a simple explanation for this.

Obviously, this toy is just for a very specific market of female children: the benign ones. Which immediately suggests that there are malignant girls? Really?

This is a great example of the importance of the (mis)use of language in design. Can anyone imagine how this product might have come to be named? Can anyone imagine people who might not understand that and take the product's name literally?

A cute, but too complicated, clock

Bulbdial Clock

bulbdial.jpgFig. 10: Sundial without sun.

Here's an interesting take on the sundial - which obviously doesn't work more than half the time (nighttime and cloudy days): replace the sun. The spotlights rotate as would normal clock hands, and the shadows they cast tell you the time.

While this will work more than half the time (it won't work in bright sunlight), doesn't this seem too complicated? Mechanically, it's only a little more complicated as any clock (the bulbdial has three rotating spotlights, instead of three rotating hands), but conceptually it's tricky. Some people will keep wanting to look at the spotlight housing rather the shadows.

My suggestion would be to make the rings and spotlight housing close to the same colour as the clock face. Even better: just buy a Timex.

Parched on the back nine?

Hammacher Schlemmer's online catalogue, 2007.

golfclubthermos.jpgFig. 11: Sneak stuff onto the green.

Here's a product I just can figure out. This device looks like a golf club, but is a liquid-dispensing thermos.

Now, one can bring bottled water onto a golf course, so one must wonder: what exactly are you drinking that you need to sneak it onto the course?

As they say, don't drink and drive (a ball)….

The un-shoelace

Yankz, Inc, 2007.

yankzlaces.jpgFig. 12: Special laces.

This shoelace “system” is an interesting cross between regular shoelaces and a zipper. The latch slides up and down. When it's down, the top of the shoe laces is slack and lets the shoe open enough to get your foot in the shoe. When you pull up the latch, it cinches the lace tight.

While athletes might benefit from this because it is more likely to tighten the laces evenly and do it quickly.

But honestly, whose life is so busy that they haven't time to lace up their own shoes? One must question if this product isn't actually catering to the hyper-active lifestyle prevalent in North America. This is an issue that should be of concern to every designer: what are the cultural impacts of a product? Are they worth it?

Is this really a child's toy?, 2006.

doraaquapet.jpgFig. 13: NSFL Dora

With apologies to sensitive viewers, it seems to me that this “toy” is not designed for children….

This really falls into the “what were they thinking?!? category. This image was found on in November 2006. Everyone to whom I have shown this image immediately recognizes this as a sex toy.

The question is: why couldn't the designers see this too? The only explanation I can think of, is that sometimes you are so close to something that you lose sight of the obvious. This is easily remedied by letting workers take breaks, and spreading work out over time - of course, this is not standard operating procedure in most companies.

Is this any better?, 2010.

If you thought Dora (above) is bad, what about this one? How could any reasonable person have allowed their company to produce this toy? There are basically two kinds of explanations. One kind involves stupidity, malice, or laziness on the part of the makers of this toy. The other kind of explanation is that there were so many people involved in the development of this toy, and each of those people saw so little of their task as a whole (i.e. the development task was divided into so many small portions that no single person understood the project as a whole) that it was impossible for any one person to ever notice the bizarre error in this toy's design.

A tasteless supermarket ride

YouTube, 2008.

duckchair.jpgFig. 14: Donald's mind is in the gutter.

Here is a ride of the type often found in supermarkets and in shopping malls. Once again, the ride was obviously designed without thinking of what it would look like in operation. Or at least, I hope that was the case.

Bad manufacturing creates porno-Barney

As with so many toys, there's a small battery-powered chip-and-speaker buried in fluffy material. Squeeze the toy, the device is activated, and something happens. This all assumes the device is properly located in the toy and oriented in the right direction. If the device is wrongly located, weird things can happen. I think this is a case of a manufacturing error.

A surprising coat-hook

rudeteddyhanger.jpgFig. 15: What were they thinking?

Clearly, this was unintended, and it's quite possible that children won't see the problem. But children have parents, and I don't think many parents would be interested in this item. (source)

See Also

Actually, educated people would call it a “tetrahedron” but that's harder to say and to sell.
design/dubious_products.txt · Last modified: 2020.03.12 13:30 (external edit)