My editorial on bad product design clearly struck a chord out there (“Mike's Hard Lemonade, Rust and Bad Product Design,” DN 10.23.06). It could be that some of you experienced that delicious feeling of schadenfreude reading about me battling an appliance from hell. (My problem this week: Rusted blades on my ice maker.) But most of you who wrote in had your own wretched tales to tell about the precipitous decline in product quality.
Andrew Farkas, for example, described his experiences with an oil filter wrench he bought that snapped on the first use (the pivot pin sheared through the band). “Obviously the designer had a K-Mart Blue Light Special Degree and had no clue about sheer stress,” writes Farkas. “One of the biggest problems I see is that the people who decide to sacrifice quality for cost or time don't bear the heat of their bad decisions.” Wouldn't that be great if the people responsible for the crap out there also had to man the customer complaint desk?
Rick Mainhart pointed out that we can thank the MBAs running the companies for all those lousy products. “The common theme in today's manufacturing environment is to 'take the cost out.' This means that instead of designing a part that will last a decade, that part is engineered to last just until the warranty expires and no longer.”
Charles Bartel reminisced about the “good old days” when buying a brand name product actually meant something. “Now I watch the refrigerators in the neighborhood on trash day. The average life seems to be about five years. What happened to the 15 years or more my parents got out of their appliances?”
Many readers also bemoaned the fact that they no longer can make quick fixes themselves (something engineers take special pride in being able to do), and are unavoidably sucked into the Black Hole of the service call. Chase Calvin described his frustrations trying to get a faulty timer assembly fixed on his Kenmore clothes washer. “We called in a Sears' repairman. He had it back working very quickly, but he told us that we needed to buy maintenance insurance as he thought the problem 'might' return. We refused. And, yup, two wash cycles later the timing was messed up again. Now I was suspicious. I removed the timer assembly and found a tiny plastic spring clip, which locks the rotor and control handle shaft in sync, was broken. Unfortunately I couldn't buy the clip, so I wound up replacing the timer three times in the next eight years. But it still cost less than the insurance.”
Bob Spofford's related his four-week exercise in frustration getting his Bosch dishwasher repaired. “I called the service hotline, which scheduled the appointment for a week later. The service person didn't show. He called and asked again what the problem was, telling me he would have to order a part. Part arrives 10 days later. I had to call and make another appointment for the following week. One week later, he called me at work after completing another job. As I was nearing home, he passed me going the other way on my street. I called the Hotline immediately, which informed me I was late, their repair person can't wait, and I would have to reschedule for the following week. After some steamy conversations with the hotline manager, they expedited my service to four days.”
Let me tell ya, the idea of a washboard is sounding better and better.