Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Design, phones and fishing boats

click photo to enlarge
There's a widely held belief that the design of objects improves with each passing year. That certainly seems to be the case with, for example, cars. Today's models are more comfortable, safer, more fuel efficient, and more rust-free than ever. But there are many objects where design doesn't follow that upward curve of improvement.

I've mentioned before the new teapots that can't pour without dripping despite the fact that the solution to this failing was discovered centuries ago. Then there are shower controls. You'd think that the means of regulating the flow and heat of potentially scalding water would be either standardised - like headlight switches on cars - or at least made blindingly obvious to the first-time user of the shower. But no, it seems that every time I step into an unfamiliar shower I have to try to work out how the controls operate and then risk being burned by hot water. This appears to be because shower designers are more interested in the appearance of the controls than in safety of the user.

I recently bought a pair of new cordless phones from a reputable manufacturer. However, after a couple of weeks I discovered that there was a fault that necessitated me returning them. But, I'd have returned them anyway because the clarity of the voices I heard through the earpiece was simply not good enough. When I, temporarily, plugged in a corded phone - a low-cost model from a no-name manufacturer - voices could be heard as clearly as anyone could wish. Of course, the old-style phone didn't have a light-up display, a choice of ring-tones or a built-in directory. Nor did it show me the name of the caller and the time etc, etc ad nauseam. No, it simply fulfilled its primary function of letting me hear my callers clearly, something that many modern cordless phones seemed to have relegated to a secondary concern behind a cluster of inessential gimmicks. I bought a replacement pair of cordless phones from a less well-known manufacturer, not quite as feature-laden, but which made a selling point of audibility. They work fine.

I was reflecting on progress (or lack of it) in design when I was looking at inshore fishing boats recently in Boston and King's Lynn. Among the steel hulled craft were a few, older timber-built boats dating from the the 1960s (according to the searchable database of UK Fishing Boats LN95 in the smaller photograph was built in 1969). Were the newer vessels, I wondered, better designs than the older boats? Would they last as long and give as good service? I don't know the answer to those questions but I do know that it isn't a given that they will be better in every respect.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 18mm (49mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On