Design fail! Our top 10 PC product peeves

Bad industrial design can single-handedly ruin an otherwise solid product experience. Whether it results from the cardinal sins of sloth or greed, sheer disregard for users, or simple stupidity, it can drive me into a Hulk-smash rage.

The following aggravations made my top 10 list—or should I call it a worst 10 list? Hit the comments section below and sound off about the product “features” you love to hate.

On the left, a good ol' fashioned reusable twist tie. On the right, a plastic imposter that's good for one use only.

10. Twist ties that can’t be reused. These fasteners were once made from coated wire that could be re-used again and again, but now many companies are wrapping annoying plastic twist ties around cables when they package their products. The newfangled ties are exceedingly difficult to extricate from the cable they’re wrapped around, and when you finally manage to unwind them, they remain “sprung” and utterly useless.

9. Ethernet patch cables that aren’t labeled as to whether they’re CAT5, CAT5e, or CAT6. Call me a pedant, but these categories exist for a reason. You’ll want to use at least CAT5e cable to move data over your network at gigabit speed. CAT6 cable is better at reducing crosstalk (electrical signals bleeding into adjacent wires), and it can support throughput up to 10 gigabits per second. CAT6 is backward compatible with CAT5 and CAT5e.

Loyd Case
If you know your product will be picked up by its edges, please fabricate those edges from a material that won't show every greasy fingerprint.

8. Glossy, lacquer-like finishes that show every fingerprint and speck of dust they collect—and then suffer from scuffs and scratches when you try to wipe them clean. This is especially annoying on hardware that’s meant to be handled frequently and on products that are horizontally oriented. I’ve seen these fragile finishes applied to everything from routers to speakers to all-in-one computers with touchscreens. Note to manufacturers: If you must wrap your product in yards of thin plastic film to protect it from the cardboard box you ship it in, you’re using the wrong material!

7. Buttons located right at the edge of a laptop, monitor, or other device, so that you inadvertently press the button every time you pick up, move, or reposition the hardware. The optical drive trays on laptops are particularly vexing. Maybe PC manufacturers follow Apple’s example and make the eject button a key on the keyboard.

6. Laptop keyboards with spacebars that travel so deep into the well that your thumbs slam painfully against the edge of the well.

Lenovo
Lower the Lenovo IdeaCentre A720's display into a usable position, and you'll need to squeeze your hand between it and the top of your desk to reach the Blu-ray drive and memory card reader. 

5. I/O ports and optical drive bays that are difficult to access, because they’re recessed too deep, are in a hard-to-reach spot, are partially blocked, or are covered by a flimsy plastic panel that gets in the way when you plug a cable into one of the ports (and eventually breaks off, leaving those ports exposed).

4. Power bricks and AC adapters that aren’t labeled with at least the name of the company that manufactured the device they’re intended to power. I’ve resorted to writing the product names on strips of gaffer tape and affixing them to each adapter so I know what goes with what. Ugly? As sin, but it’s better than guessing wrong and destroying hardware by connecting the wrong power supply.

Is this a computer or a race car?

3. All-in-one computers, laptops, and tablets plastered with difficult-to-remove stickers bearing various manufacturers’ logos. Look, I knew there was “Intel Inside” the laptop when I bought it. I don’t really care that this all-in-one can decode Dolby. And you mean to tell me this desktop rig runs Windows 7? Amazing!

2. Keyboards with unconventional layouts. There’s a reason I learned to type by touch. If your “improved” design forces me to look down at the keyboard to find something as essential as the arrow keys, you have failed.

1. Bet you saw this one coming: Power adapters that consume more than one spot on the outlet strip or wall receptacle. In this example, I was able to plug just three adapters into a seven-outlet surge suppressor. Granted, the angled plugs would take up just one spot each if the receptacles were oriented differently, but if the plugs were narrow and tall—like the plug on the end—it wouldn’t matter how the receptacles were stacked. The plug on the end would be perfect if only its USB port were located on top of the plug, instead of the side.

Due to the way these AC adapters are designed, just three consumed this entire seven-outlet surge suppressor.

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