6 Design Flaws That Annoy You Every Day (And Why They Exist)
The world's a frustrating place sometimes, made all the more frustrating by the fact that so many of the annoyances we deal with every day don't have to be that way. We've talked before about scientific reasons behind everyday nuisances, and that's all well and good. But what happens when the unthinkable happens, and science fails us? What happens when the world is Complete Bullshit, and the only reason for it is human stupidity and selfishness?
Why, Cracked makes a list of it, of course! Below we've documented six everyday annoyances that exist for wholly legitimate yet completely infuriating business reasons.
Here's an example of clamshell packaging:
You hate it. Everyone hates it. It's impossible to open by hand, and even with a pair of scissors, massive, hand-shredding chunks of plastic are left sticking out of it at odd angles. It's the war crime of product packaging, and there's even a term used to describe the frustration people experience when opening it: Wrap Rage.
So why, you shout, shaking your bleeding hands at the sky, would anyone in the world design packaging that's impossible to open?
The Reason: Package Pilferage
To make it impossible to open.
More specifically, it's to thwart shoplifting, in particular, a very specific type of shoplifting. Package Pilferage describes a crime when small, relatively expensive objects are removed from their outside packaging (in which various anti-theft tags and devices are embedded) and stolen. By making packaging that's impossible to open with anything less than the Daikatana, product engineers have made shoplifting harder.
And easier to detect.
Airline delays seem to be a fact of life with modern air travel. Even at the best of times, the possibility of a delay is ever-present. And if you have the arrogance to fly during the holidays or when the weather's a little bad? Who do you think you are you cocky son of a bitch?
Yes, we're talking to you there on your throne of stained carpeting.
But hang on a second. These delays are caused by weather and traffic, right? Weather and traffic are at least moderately predictable. How can an entire industry turn constipated the second snowflakes start to fall in Chicago?
The Reason: They've Reached Maximum Capacity
Planes are expensive to fly. And the people who like to fly on them (that's us) are cheap assholes. These two factors, along with a few other reasons, make the airline industry one of the most consistent money-losing industries on the planet. The only chance an airline has of making money is if nearly every one of its planes is in the air, earning money, every second of the day.
"HEY! PLANE! GET BACK TO WORK! DON'T MAKE ME COME IN THERE."
Each plane then has its own, very tightly packed schedule. New York to Atlanta to Denver to Seattle to San Francisco, etc. ... There's no slack built into this, because slack costs money. Which means that when a delay happens -- whether due to weather, maintenance, or rank incompetence -- it causes a delay everywhere else along the length of that chain.
There's a second reason there are delays. Passengers are generally OK with them. No delay is likely to be longer than the length of time it would take to drive or sprint to our destinations. And delays are so endemic to the industry, there aren't really any competing airlines we can gravitate toward (and even if there were, there's a good chance we'd still click "Buy Fare" for the one that was $50 cheaper). For the most part, that as much as we might like to complain, we're all just willing to accept a certain amount of hosing when we travel by air.
"We'd now like to invite any Star Alliance passengers to come be shot in the face with this powerful hose."
Hot Dogs and Hot Dog Buns
Hot dogs come in packs of 10. Hot dog buns come in packs of eight. This discrepancy has been the subject of angry dad rants since man first crawled out of the sea.
"MY LIFE DIDN'T TURN OUT THE WAY I WANTED AND NOW WE HAVE TWO EXTRA HOT DOGS, SO WHY THE HELL ARE YOU THE ONE CRYING?"
And aside from the amusement of seeing our dads collectively lose their shits, there's really no point to this wiener surplus. So how did the world get to be this way?
The Reason: Different Industries, Different Standards
To answer this, I went right to the experts.
This organization exists.
The key issue is that hot dogs and hot dog buns are made and sold by completely different companies. Bakers and meat-part-conglomeraters have different equipment and different areas of expertise and do most of their business in their own little worlds, without ever having to talk to each other.
For example, at some time in the past, someone made a baking pan with room for eight rolls, sold a bunch to their baking friends and before anyone noticed what happened, there was an industry standard. Once those standards form, they're hard to break out of. All your recipes and racks and ovens are sized for eight-roll pans. Changing out of that is a real hassle.
Meanwhile, in the probably-much-less-pleasant-smelling past of the meat-parts industry, someone decided that 10 hot dogs was a nice round number to make out of a pound of meat parts, and their competitors followed suit. A new, completely independent standard had formed, which was also hard to break out of. Yes they could change their product to start making eight hot dogs per pound. But think about how that would look on the shelf. Although this would be the same weight of meat parts, it'd look like they were only selling eight hot dogs when their competitors were selling 10; the difference in size would be tough to distinguish. The standard stuck, and dads everywhere were left doomed to their lives of bitter frustration.
"YOU ARE A LITTLE MIRACLE, BUT I NEVER IMAGINED YOU OR YOUR BROTHERS BEING HERE."
Waiting for the Cable Guy
I'll pick on cable companies here, but this really applies to any utility or service that requires a technician to visit your home to install something. A process that usually involves them making an "appointment" to be at your house sometime between 9 a.m. And 4 p.m. An appointment rather inconvenient for you, seeing as you have things like a job or crops to tend and maybe can't afford spending an entire day waiting around for them.
Unless you work from home that is.
So why can't they set a real appointment? How can a company that controls the very flow of information not have mastered calendar technology?
The Reason: Maximizing Work, Minimizing Employees
The central problem here is that these service calls take highly variable lengths of time to complete. Depending on how simple your install is, or how much time you spend trying to seduce him, your cable guy can spend anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours in your home. More importantly, it's really hard to predict which it will be in advance. They can calculate average install times, of course, and those will be accurate enough to at least predict roughly how many calls per day a cable guy could handle.
"No time for foreplay today, ma'am. I'm on break in eight minutes."
But this system only works if the installers go to each house in turn, one after the other. If they have to book and set specific appointments, they'll either be missing a large fraction of appointments, or setting each appointment block to the longest plausible amount. That means less calls handled per day and ultimately more cable guys to hire. And seeing as this practice inconveniences customer one time, which they soon forget about, cable companies haven't had much incentive to change their ways.
Even if it did leave more time for cable laying.
Among terrible stand-up comedians, ketchup packets take a lot of abuse, probably more than they deserve. Yes, they're kind of wasteful, and they have a habit of spraying ketchup everywhere but where food actually is.
No, that's a napkin, you idiot.
But honestly? They're not that hard to open. Let's put on our big boy pants, here. Yes, they could be better. But in the grand scheme of things, this isn't that hard ... wait, what? They could be better?
Yes, in fact, they've already made better ketchup packets. Here's one:
Squeezable and Dippable? This. This right here is what science was meant for.
These things exist? Where are they? Why aren't they everywhere? And why are we still dealing with the stupid shitty ones? WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT THIS?
The Reason: The People Who Pay for Them Aren't the Ones Using Them
Ketchup packets aren't bought by consumers. They're bought by fast food companies. And because the better ketchup packets cost more to produce and about hree times the cost to restaurants to buy, that's a big problem. While an extra few cents might be the kind of price you would be willing to pay to keep ketchup off your good driving pants, that's not the kind of price a Wendy's accountant is going to pay.
"If I was a fun, sauce-enjoying person, do you think I'd have gotten into accounting?"
Always Online Video Games
SimCity is the latest entry in the classic series of city-building games where players are given the tools to build up cities from nothing, and then throw Godzillas at them.
Because some men want to watch the wee little world burn.
These games have always been single player, because it turns out that sitting alone in a room clicking roads for several hours is an obscenely unsocial thing to do. And, being single player, there was no reason to play them online at all. A situation that changed with the release of the latest SimCity, which requires players be connected to the Internet and the publisher's servers at all times. This is a seemingly odd requirement for what is an essentially single-player game and was made a mind-bendingly frustrating one when these servers were completely unusable during the first few weeks after the game launched.
So why would a company cripple its product with an unnecessary feature that everyone hates?
The Reason: They Make More Money (Probably)
This is admittedly a relatively new business model these publishers are exploring, so whether it ultimately does make more money is still a little open to debate. But here, at least, are the reasons they're going this way.
The first and most obvious is that an always-online game drastically limits the ability of people to pirate the game. The publishers essentially switch from selling easily copied software, to selling licenses, which are much more difficult, if not impossible to duplicate. Although it's debatable how much piracy has affected video game sales, it's reasonable to say that it's had at least some impact, and it's entirely predictable that publishing executives would do something to limit it, even if it meant people saying mean things about them on the Internet.
"A buttchugger? Is that a good thing or is ... nope. Not a good thing."
The second reason is that by requiring players to always be online, publishers can begin to generate revenue other ways, either by selling subscriptions to play the game, or by selling bonus content to players. This aspect feels a little less offensive to players, in that at least it appears to be improving the product, even if that does cost them more money. Not that that doesn't also stop them from shrieking about it.
"I've just realized that I actively hate every single one of our customers."
If you find it frustrating that the industry is now making obviously worse products, remember that the point of these businesses wasn't to make the best possible products. It was to make money. It was always to make money. As it happens, making excellent products is usually the best way to make money, a happy coincidence for consumers. But thanks to changes in technology and business models, it looks like the business of making offline, single-player video games is becoming less and less profitable. We can weep for it, and we can call people buttchuggers on the Internet, but there likely isn't much we can actually do about it.
Aside from stop buying their video games, of course. Oh? We weren't putting that on the table? Then yeah. Nothing we can do about it.
Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and your best friend. Join him on Facebook or Twitter and make him reconsider that.