Buyer Beware

Buyer Beware

By James Nestor
Bad design can be not just unattractive but unhealthy. Steer clear of this trio of second-rate offerings.

Under $100

Torchiere halogen lamps

Introduced in 1982, torchiere halogen lamps were an inexpensive and potentially energy-saving alternative to incandescent lamps. By the mid-1990s, 40 million had been sold in the United States as the lamps became the default accessory in college dorm rooms nationwide. That is, right before they started killing people. The flaw is in the tungsten metal filaments of halogen bulbs, which consume significantly less electricity (good) yet burn at over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to do so (bad). By 1997, the lamps were responsible for 189 fires and 11 deaths. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the halogen lamp industry cooperatively called for a recall of over 40 million of these lamps.

While many of their functions are admirable (they’re inexpensive and conserved energy), torchieres broke the prime directive of product design: They were dangerous (not to mention ugly). Today, hundreds of millions of pounds of torchiere lamps sit alongside head-cracking lawn darts, bottles of unused fen-phen, and explosion-prone fuel tanks of Ford Pintos in landfills nationwide as examples of lethally bad product design.

Over $100

Maple baseball bats

In Babe Ruth’s era, ballplayers used bats made from hickory, a solid, heavy wood that rarely breaks. But hickory’s weight led many players to switch to lighter white ash-wood bats. Though ash tends to flake or crack, it seldom shatters into large pieces, and these bats have been in heavy rotation for over 50 years with few incidents of injury-causing breakage.

In the late 1990s, however, maple bats gained popularity as Barry Bonds’s tool of choice in his record-breaking home-run streak. Today, half of all professional players use maple bats. Though lighter than hickory and ash, maple breaks in a more dangerous way, with a tendency to explode upon impact, sending large, jagged shards hundreds of feet into the air.

In 2008 alone, Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach Don Long suffered nerve damage when his cheek was sliced open by one of these shards, fan Susan Rhodes’s jaw was cut in two places while sitting four rows back in Dodger stadium, and umpire Brian O’Nora left a game bleeding profusely from the shrapnel of a shattered maple bat. After review in 2008, a Major League Baseball safety committee decided to allow their continued use.

Over $1000

French bulldogs

I am not trying to make you hundreds of thousands of French bulldog owners mad. You are beautiful people. I adore your loving pets and admire your beautiful shoes. In fact, a friend’s French bulldog is at my feet now. (This is true.) Damn, it’s cute. But please, for a moment, consider the following.

French bulldogs are bad design. Their production is costly, environmentally damaging, and, worse, inhumane. Most Frenchies cannot be naturally birthed and require Caesarean-section deliveries, which are expensive and can permanently damage the mother. As a pure breed, French bulldogs are not cost-efficient and are not user-friendly. Centuries of inbreeding have made them genetically inferior in nature and susceptible to many congenital conditions, including severe breathing impairment, eye infections, irregularly sized digestive systems that make them vomit, impaired thyroid function, eye proptosis (i.e., eyes popping out of their heads), and a laundry list of other cruel and costly ailments.

If Frenchies were store-bought products the EPA, FDA, and UN would ban them. These dogs are a real dog.


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