First Impressions

by francine Hardaway on November 30, 2006

First Impressions
“Lovely to look at, delightful to hold, and heaven to kiss,” is a line from an old song. More than that, it is a fair characterization of how we form opinions. In the initial three seconds of meeting someone, or some thing, we form a first impression that’s almost impossible to dispel. If somebody is lovely to look at, we will then give them a chance to become delightful to hold, and investigate whether they’d be heaven to kiss. In that order. We don’t usually hold them or kiss them first and look at them later.
That’s why makeup artists, wardrobe consultants, cosmetic surgeons, teeth whiteners, hairdressers, and fashions exist. But it�s also why product designers should be in the forefront of any product. Not industrial engineers, or product engineers, who I think are the ones who have the final say on how many familiar products look.
Most kids become aware of how we base impressions on appearances somewhere in elementary school. They beg their parents for brand name jeans, backpacks, and lunchboxes. They want the same haircut as the next kid. And they decorate their rooms to reflect their own ideas of beauty.
So why, when they grow up and become product engineers, do they totally forget all of this (unless they happen to work for Apple) and concern themselves only with utlity?
The number of products that work well but look ugly is legendary — from the Volvo and the Saab (better recently, but with very ugly duckling origins) to the PC, to almost any piece of electronic equipment not designed by Apple or Bose. When I first laid eyes on a Bose cordless telephone (in Europe) I nearly cried because I couldn�t bring it home to the US.
And then we get to the product I’ve been using for the past week: the “grabber.” The grabber is a cross between a claw and a giant tweezers. It is about three feet long, and is designed to help people who have limited mobility pick things up off the floor — like their cell phones and glasses–in the weeks following their titanium hip implants.
The top of my �Grabber� is bright yellow plastic, and functions as a hand grip from which I can control the bottom, which is metal and plastic, or metal and rubber, or something. The dual shaft is metallic.
You may have seen one of these in another color (red) on the infomercial for mobility carts that is currently being shown everywhere.
Never mind that the �Grabber� is downright ugly. It also looks unfriendly, like it would take time to learn to use. Although that�s not true, because it is not lovely to look at, I don�t find it delightful to hold. And then there�s the real problem. Where do you put the �Grabber.� when you are not using it? If you are recovering from surgery, as I am, wouldn�t you like to stand it next to your night table, so when you knock your glasses to the floor you can get them? Well, it kind of does, unless you brush up against it with, say, a pillow. And then who picks up the �Grabber�? I�ve finally figured out that the reason you need someone with you after surgery is just to pick up the �Grabber.�
Another truly ugly tool is the one that helps you put on the embolism-preventing socks. It is bright blue plastic, with a wide spot where you gather the sock (which comes up to your thigh), then slide your foot into the plastic piece, pull up the handles, and supposedly release the sock up your leg. This is a device into which no one has put a single moment of design attention. In fact, the inventor must have been anti-design.
And much like the PC, the sock tool continues to surprise the user. Every day it works a little differently.
When you consider that millions of Baby Boomers are approaching their hip replacements (I am just an early adopter), there will be a major market for these tools, because everyone goes home from the hospital with either one or both. Add to that the people who can�t put on their own socks for other reasons, or live alone and have high cupboards they can�t reach to put away their groceries, and a designed version of either tool would sell like hotcakes. Somebody out there read this and get on it!!!!

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