Do we adapt to bad design and make it work for us?

I’ve heard a few stories of people buying products that don’t operate as they should but they adapt and change the way in which they do that operation to suit the product rather than the other way around.

Interesting… does this matter?

i agree…or ask any left handed person to use your scissor or canopener

Ask any designer using a CAD package up against a deadline when that fillet won’t work the way you think it should, or you can’t get that continuity just right…

When your mobile phone battery dies, do you blame the product or yourself? The reality is that we’re all trained to be “technology apologists.”

might depend on who you are asking…

but i say no. things rarely ever REALLY work optimally, for everyone, for a prolonged period of time. and we are adaptable creatures, who for better or worse, adapt our surroundings to suit our needs…

it is not really interesting, to me anyway, that people adapt things to suit their needs, every creature on this planet has always done that (if not they die). it is cool, to me anyways, to see what and how people adapt things, moreso than the fact that they adapt things…

Not that we haven’t beaten the iPod horse to a pulp the last few days, but to riff on junglebrodda’s beat…

I find it cool how if you design something so simple that people come up with unique ways of using your device in ways you never dreamed of. iPod is the best example I can come up with on short notice. iPod is a music/mp3 but has been turned into something more via pod casting.

Any other examples?

I think it is in our nature.

I might be getting this story wrong (not unusual for me) but I think the QWERTY keyboard layout was designed intentionally to slow typists down in the days of the old typewriters that got jammed up. All these years later we still use it even though that functional constraint doesn’t exist.


We adopt to everything, including the physical limitations of our own bodies and minds.

The design challenge is not to eliminate adoption (impossible?) but to rather facilitate adoption to the greatest possible degree. Technology is making this possible like never before.

It seems like that might be THE marketing challenge?

I think THE design challenge is probably doing great design. A lot more difficult because it is subjective, compared to a sales number which is easy to read and objective.

What defines great design is going to vary a lot from product to product, industry to industry. Some products are briefed to be low volume, concepts for sale, building brand buzz. Others are designed to sell maximum amount of units.

I guess in that way you could say that they all are designed to sell successfully, whatever the specific definition of that is… but that would be misleading… you wouldn’t want to do that would you?

There’s one product category where designing hard to use products is profitable. I’ll hide the answer in the link.

I heard that’s why it’s like that also. But I believe you can get other keyboard layouts that are supposed to let you type incredibly fast since we don’t have to worry about jamming anymore. But then you have to learn how to type all over again.

The “faster” typing keypad is the DVORAK…I believed named after the inventor, as opposed to the QWERTY which is named after the top left row of letters.

Isn’t that what design is all about. Finding the problems in our society where people have to adapt based to their products, and the IDers try to adapt the products to the wants and needs of the people.

PS- I type in Dvorak. It is definitely much more comfortable and faster. I guess people are just stubborn or lazy for staying with Qwerty. I’m sure there are a multitude of other examples of products that have stayed in popularity even though more efficient products have been available. Renewable energy sources are taking far too long to get mainstreamed into society. Instead countries are still developing hundreds of new nuclear power plants even though supposedly in the whole world theres less than half a century of uranium left to power these stations.

Meh, welcome to our world…

wow, only 50 years of uranium?

so, is the simple defintion of “bad design”, “something we adapt to”? and if so (or not), could you also say (or not say) that if you didn’t have to adapt to something it is “good design”?

what do we not adapt to?

I think it is a case of working within our means, stemming from generations before - realistically are you going to go out and buy a product for every eventuality, for every other product, for every time another product doesn’t function. If you did you either have too much money or only do it in a specialised area. One example I’m thinking of (maybe a poor one…) is in the kitchen, unless you are a fully trained all-singing, all-dancing chef you aren’t going to have a shed load of serving and cooking paraphernalia, instead you use a knife for opening something that you shouldn’t, or drain something using the side of a knife on the tin etc… The point being that you will adapt other objects out of sheer convenience if you have the means to do it, or what is just easier. The moment you do have to start modifying a design that much it defeats the whole point or warrants too much investment for a ‘bodged’ design, many of us would probably go out and buy the proper piece of equipment or whatever.

Whether I’ve got the wrong end of the stick here or what, but hopefully I’ve explained that alright.

Davo, you could argue that good design are pieces that you don’t see, they blend perfectly into the functions you use them for. It is only pieces that stop you in your tracks and think “that is really stupid… Why doesn’t that work properly…?” So you wouldn’t even have think of not adapting something if it were good design because you wouldn’t give that object a second thought.

A 50-year world supply of uranium? That is news.

What about breeder reactors using plutonium?

I type in Dvorak.

You are the exception.

How much efficiency would be gained if we switched over to a more efficient keyboard? I don’t think that the bottleneck on typing on a QWERTY keyboard is what is holding back overall effectiveness of the individual keyboard-weilding worker, though.

I gotta agree with you, and the problem is not with industrial designers, its with software designers [and the general joe blo]. There are a lot of software solutions we use day in day out which we have to adapt to or “trick” into doing what we actually want it to do. A good example of this is that most people with laptops at uni use word to enter notes, where it is definitely not the most efficient or structured way of entering notes. People send 100s of emails per day relating to their work leaving the collaborative notes for a project littered over tens of mailboxes. Instead companies could use common forums or online hierarchical notepads such as or to more effectively communicate with other workers in a collaborative project.