Throw away all your poorly-designed tools. Seriously, throw them all out.

June 14th, 2010

This is part of a series on ideas for today. There’s already an introduction, an article on artistic movements, and another on market efficiency.

Can you point out all the hand tools, power tools, light fixtures, remotes, software applications, and furniture in your life that you’ve learned to live around the quirky and inefficient design choices that on a good day give you good joke fodder but on a bad day make you curse the children of whoever made that deathtrap?

Yeah, you should seriously consider throwing all of that junk out.

Realizing how much time and energy you are wasting on inefficient design is so hard most people only notice poor design for a few moments before moving on with their day. But if you were obsessed enough with the problem to time your tasks you’d see the glaring problem, especially when compounded over the course of your life.

It’s more than wasted time. Think of the mistakes made, both minor and major, that are made because of poor design. Have you turned on the wrong burner on a stove top? Was a recipe in a cookbook too ambiguous or missing ingredients so you had to rely on guesswork to finish the dish? And they can even be deadly – think of dull knives and hard-to-understand food processors.

How’s that chair you’re sitting on while reading this? Comfortable? Will you be sore later? Is your footrest high enough? How about that desk height – is it better for writing by hand or for typing on a keyboard? You may not even realize how uncomfortable some of your furniture really is if you’ve used it long enough to adapt to the pressure points and discomforts.

All of this adds up to a giant drag on the happiness in your life. Material possessions aren’t everything but the objects that populate your world contribute to your well-being. Being mindful of the tools you use and the dwelling you assemble for yourself only helps you to concentrate on the more important things in life.

I’m not saying to throw everything out now. That’s likely too cost prohibitive. Here’s a few suggestions to follow:

  • Replace anything inefficient or uncomfortable in the order of what you use the most. Start with your bed (that’s six to eight hours of use every day!), if you work from home consider your desk and chair, then work on your kitchen supplies, and so on.
  • Spend the money and get a Mac or any other Apple device. Computers play too big a role in our daily lives now for you to be using a machine that doesn’t respect the user. This rule applies until another company starts selling a computer with a similar caliber of design.
  • The best advice I’ve received on furniture and home decoration is to not buy everything at once. Fill your home piece by piece over years. The hardest thing avoid is decorate a room in one sweep. By staggering your purchases you can give your home a more organic look. But most importantly, get rid of those poorly-designed tools.
  • Buying things that are aesthetically pleasing to you should be a given. You could find the most comfortable chair in the world but if it looks like a claw and gives you nightmares, keep looking.

One big positive externality for replacing your poorly-designed tools is you are helping to encourage manufacturers to produce better designed products.

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