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The Art of Perfection

(AKA, product design that makes you go “aha!”)

New York Daily News contributor, Lenore Skenazy, wrote a column a few weeks ago about great, but oft-overlooked product design. Her column starts out by describing some design solutions that just aggravate us to no end (medication blister packaging) and contrasts that to good design:

Good design—design that does exactly what it’s supposed to do—has the opposite effect: Joy.

Oddly, the joyous design solutions that help us in our every day lives are often the ones that go unnoticed. In many ways, this is a great identifier of good design. Good design means it solved a problem without drawing notice to itself by getting in the way.

To show respect for ‘good-but-not-given-its-dues’ design in our everyday lives, the MoMA has opened a new exhibit, “Humble Masterpieces”. Pieces include the Slinky, Band-Aids, bubble wrap and Q-Tips.

The exhibit also has an ‘interactive’ exhibit where visitors can nominate their own “humble masterpieces”. I thought we could have our own little exhibit here.

As the MoMA asks, what is your favorite every day, well designed, taken for granted product? And as Lenore Skenazy asks at the end of her column, what is your most infuriating daily encounter with a ‘design disaster’? (Examples from Lenore include the seal on a ketchup bottle, and the grapefruit.)

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PUBLISHED ON Jul.12.2004 BY darrel
Darrel’s comment is:

Here's mine...

The good stuff:

The 'slinky' garden hose. This year I replaced my miles of twisted, kinked garden hose that rarely, if ever, got rolled up after each use with the spiraled, stretchy ones every place is now selling. I've found that there is a big difference in quality from one brand to the other, but as a design solution, I find it great. The 100' of hose now sit nicely in the corner of my patio ready to be stretched out at an instant's notices.

The bad stuff:

The new upside-down squeeze ketchups from Heinz. This SEEMS like a great idea. And it is. But poorly executed. Kudos on recognizing the most frustrating part of pouring ketchup is getting it to the opening. But it fails on the actual delivery of the product. One needs to squeeze so hard to break the seal that ultimately, you end up with a hotdog that is more processed tomato than processed meat byproducts.

On Jul.12.2004 at 12:44 PM
Darrel’s comment is:




On Jul.12.2004 at 01:19 PM
mitch’s comment is:


something i use every day and almost always brings a smile to my face is my car keys - VW uses the now-familiar all in one folding design that i just love. a great soloution to a problem.


more of a category than an item, but perfect-bound books have always dissapointed me - i hate the way hardcovers crack if you open them too wide, most of them fall apart prematurely, often large gutter, etc.. not that i know of a much better soloution other than some one-of-a-kind handmade books, but nevertheless it alwasy bugs me, more so since, like everyone else, virtually every book i own is bound this way.

also the standard toothpaste tube i find bothersome as well. difficult to store in a shelf (takes up too much room laying on its side, often will not stand on its cap because its too small and unstable,) wasteful of the toothpaste near the end of the tube, messy, and as soon as you start to use it you ruin the packageing - this is on something you will have to use every day, a couple of times a day for X amount of weeks. I switched to a different brand entirely just because the old style bugged me so much.

On Jul.12.2004 at 01:25 PM
Brad Connell’s comment is:

The Design of Everyday Things.

For anyone who has ever felt dumb while trying to turn on a bathroom faucet, or change the clock on a microwave, or push open a 'pull' door (or vice-versa), etc.

I like anything in public washrooms that doesn't require touching (insert George Michael joke here) to operate.

And bananas definitely have the best packaging in the world.

On Jul.12.2004 at 02:49 PM
Michael’s comment is:


Beer bottle caps that do NOT TWIST OFF. It just ruins the momentum to have to search for a bottle opener.

Also, cotton swabs whose rod is too bendy. Q-Tips are stout and do not bend when in use, which is excellent.

On Jul.12.2004 at 02:54 PM
amanda’s comment is:

On Jul.12.2004 at 04:19 PM
John Foust’s comment is:

My favorite piece of design is the sandwich

No, utensils required.

It's very portable.

The bread serves as both a protective barrier and food.

An entire balanced meal can be included in one item.

It brings simple joy.

On Jul.12.2004 at 04:24 PM
Armin’s comment is:

E-mail. Thank goodness for e-mail! It is an "everyday" thing now, isn't it?

On Jul.12.2004 at 05:40 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Sadly, email fails in its own simplicity. Conceptually it's great, but its simple framework/protocol has now burdened most of us with a tool that is incredibly inefficient once you factor in the Spam issue. ;o)

On Jul.12.2004 at 05:48 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Good design -- phone cord detanglers. I have no idea why they just don't put this on every phone cord. Who wouldn't want it?

Bad design — DVD/CD outer cellophane wraps, including the stickers sealing the sides together. I mean, why so user unfriendly?

On Jul.12.2004 at 06:22 PM
F. Espinoza’s comment is:

Tan, you just beat me to CD's cellophane wrappers.

In the same folder: price stickers on books and magazines that leave sticky residue, the dotted line on milk cartons (you always need scissors or knife), mexican bus interiors (designed for people who are 5' tall when sitting, 7' tall when standing), and the one I have come to hate the most: Keys on electronic devices that dont 'click' to let you know they have been pressed and 99.78% of websites.

What brings joy to my daily life: Bicycles. Pencils. Unfiltered cigarretes (have you counted the number of cigarrete filters on the streets?). Tortillas used as cutlery :).

On Jul.12.2004 at 06:35 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Tortillas used as cutlery

Thanks Fernando… you made my day. Nothing like using a good tortilla to lift the rest of the rice and beans off a plate… guess what I'm telling the missus I want for dinner tonight?

Seriously though, us mexicans wield the tortilla mightily!

On Jul.12.2004 at 06:55 PM
ps’s comment is:

Beer bottle caps that do NOT TWIST OFF. It just ruins the momentum to have to search for a bottle opener.

may i recommend you look for an ac/dc bonfire boxset. it comes with a heavy duty bottle opener that goes right on your key-chain. suddenly, twist offs will seem soo lame.

On Jul.12.2004 at 11:58 PM
kev’s comment is:

Permanent retractable markers:


On Jul.13.2004 at 12:47 AM
CCHS’s comment is:

This topic has been brilliantly covered by Sandstrom Design. Check it out, and after it loads be sure to roll over the items in the list.

On Jul.13.2004 at 01:32 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

This topic has been brilliantly covered by Sandstrom Design.

So, I go to that page and stare at it for at least a minute.

Then I notice I'm supposed to click on the italics 'here'. Then I sit there and wait for each image to animate in...waiting...waiting...waiting...


and 99.78% of websites

So true...so true...

(I'll admit that the writing was clever, though...)

On Jul.13.2004 at 08:51 AM
Marshall’s comment is:

One needs to squeeze so hard to break the seal that ultimately, you end up with a hotdog that is more processed tomato than processed meat byproducts...

Umm...er...Darrel...you're supposed to remove the white cap, peel off the foil seal and replace the cap before dispensing.

On Jul.13.2004 at 10:26 AM
Armin’s comment is:

That's funny. Darrel, you must be pretty strong to be able to push that ketchup through the seal… must be from all your working out at that chicks gym you go to.

On Jul.13.2004 at 10:39 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Umm...er...Darrel...you're supposed to remove the white cap, peel off the foil seal and replace the cap before dispensing.


On Jul.13.2004 at 11:41 AM
krf’s comment is:

The bad:

juice and milk cartons w/o the plastic spout (bend cardboard back...ooops...tries other side...blasted carton...)

The good:

juice and milk cartons with the plastic spout.

On Jul.13.2004 at 12:27 PM
Rob ’s comment is:

Current favorites...our J.A. Henckels kitchen knives. Nicely weighted and you've never seen sharper blades, the Varsity disposable fountain pen by Pilot (I know it borders on heresy but it's so damn convenient and not too messy), my daughter's scooter, NY Yankee logo/uniform (pinstripes), the 'new' DiaperGenie, the book, the Chrysler building, the MINI Cooper

Designs I know can be done better: Voice-mail, the cupholder in my 1999 Subaru (which they actually fixed in the 2000 models), cubicles, iCal, most airports (Detroit's though is really cool), toilet brushes/holders (no matter what, there always a pain), Lotus Notes.

I'm sure there are more but I do have to do some work today.

: ^ )

On Jul.13.2004 at 12:39 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Good one, krf. The spout also allows you to lay the carton on its side in the fridge w/o spilling.

Yours reminds me of these two other examples of improved packaging. In both cases, you wonder why no one has ever thought of it before?


It's hard to tell by the pic, but the bottle is square-shaped. It fits easier w/ other carton containers, and can also be laid on its side w/o rolling around on the shelf. I hope all 2-liter bottles adopt this shape eventually.



The 12-pack case reinvented. The new "Fridge Pack" (6x2 instead of 4x3) fits better in the fridge, and is easier to balance and hold. Brilliant little piece of redesign.

On Jul.13.2004 at 12:40 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Sorry, one more...


Goober is a Smuckers jar of peanut butter and jelly in one. Sort of like Aqua-Fresh for white bread.

My kids love it, and it saves room in the cupboard.

On Jul.13.2004 at 12:52 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

the 'new' DiaperGenie

There's a new one? The old one was just a PITA to use. Ugh.

The 12-pack case reinvented

GREAT example!

On Jul.13.2004 at 12:56 PM
jenny’s comment is:

Tan -

You're right about improved packaging. The design I like: those Gladware/Ziploc containers, those "50 cents so you can afford to loose them" kind. Their lids are designed so that they stack well in the fridge or freezer - better than the nicer rubbermaid ones. When they walk off with your friends after a dinner party or you forget them somewhere, its no big deal. And when they get yucky because they got microwaved once too often, you toss them.

Also, the moleskine sketchbooks. They've got a semi-flexible cover, and they're thin - they come three in a pack. They fit into most of my purses. And the thicker ones too, with the built in ribbon to mark your place and the elastic band to that holds the book flat and keeps loose stuff inside.

On Jul.13.2004 at 12:59 PM
Amber Nussbaum’s comment is:


The cardboard sleeves that prevent you from burning the crap out of yourself while holding a paper coffee cup. I'm so glad 7-11 is carrying these now.

Don't like:

The oversized VHS cases that don't fit in your standard video racks. Disney is the worst culprit so far. Yeah, I'm buying DVDs now, but I still have a lot of these that I have to store separately. That's annoying.

On Jul.13.2004 at 01:08 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

I'll nominate the hand crank radio. A radio powered by hand sans battery.

On Jul.13.2004 at 02:22 PM
frank derose’s comment is:

sandals...but not the flip flop, the piece of fabric between my toes makes my skin crawl.

those adidas ones that wrap around the whole top of the foot are the most comfortable thing in the world.

On Jul.13.2004 at 02:38 PM
heather’s comment is:

Darel is right about the upside-down heinz ketchup (even after the seal is broken, it squeezes out at the speed of lightning).

kudos to the sandwich and the banana... brilliant

the bad... punch-card ballots, cup holders in cars (its all about location), parking lots (not always well-thought out)

the good... the swiffer sweeper (it's amazing), pay-at-the-pump, that rubber thing that helps to open jars, the retractable pen (you never loose a cap), that kick-stand on golf bags

(it pops out when you set it down)

On Jul.20.2004 at 12:07 PM
Michael’s comment is:

Smart design: The plastic top of any take-out coffee cup. The little flip-thing that enables you to drink from the cup, and reduces spilage.

Stupid design: Not sure if this qualifies a "design" per se, but the portions given in most microwaveable meals. Like those Michellina's 'frozen entrees'...frozen ENTREES?? They can't actually think that one of these could be considered an 'entree'. There's hardly enough in there to feed my pet budgie.

On Aug.20.2004 at 11:25 AM