Many companies, as they navigate the tumultuous vagaries of the market, focus on building out the most well-designed products & services for their customers. Or so you would think.
Sometimes, the most well-designed products are not the best things for the company’s bottom line. That’s where anti-design comes in. In this brief article, I enumerate a few case studies of how companies adopted anti-design (and you might too) to futher their bottom lines. Whether or not you consider that ethical or just ‘business’, I leave up to you to tell me in the comments!
Anti-Design #1: Get them to use more
- Step 1: Make the hole in your toothpaste tubes bigger
- Step 2: Bombard your customers with ads that show the entire bristle surface covered with paste; put “use pea-sized amount” as fine print on the tube
- Step 3: ???
- Step 4: Profit
Also a tactic used by shampoo manufacturers (Lather. Rinse. Repeat.), detergent manufacturers, etc.
Anti-Design #2: Get them to buy more
- Eschew Standardization: Standardization can be a mess. It let’s your customers switch out your expensive products with cheaper ones!
- Apple products and their charging cables are such a prevalent meme that the EU is considering forcing a common charging cable standard. Of course, there’s only one reasonable response to this. Don’t have wired charging as an option, at all! Come join us in the future, by using this proprietry wireless charging technology.
- The only reason we have standardization of lighting sockets is because of the Phoebus Cartel’s efforts (balancing out all the other damage they did to consumers?, I don’t think so). But imagine a world where your house was wired with specific sockets that could only work with Ikea. That’s exactly the opposite of what Spotify & their Joe Rogan Podcast acquisition is trying to do by stomping all over RSS’s emaciated corpse.
- Planned Obsolescence: is the “policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, so that it becomes obsolete (i.e., unfashionable, or no longer functional) after a certain period of time.”
- Apple is fined for intentionally slowing down iPhones in France (2020)
- Mobile OEMs like Samsung, Huawei etc. give limited OS updates
- Textbook publishers launch new editions with minor tweaks and different page numbers to make the older books ‘obsolete’
Anti-Design #3: Get them to pay more
- Artifical Scarcity through Cartelization: Do you know why diamonds are so expensive? Because one company controls all of the supply and has spent a lot of money in marketing to convince you that diamonds are essential for getting engaged.
- Artificial Scarcity Through Information Assymetry: Airline bookings & the constant cookie-clearing & incognito mode. ‘Nuff said.
- Artificial Scarcity through psychology: Exploding discounts on digital services (‘only 10 min left to redeem your 15% discount’) prey on our poorly wired brains to make us spend that moolah. Such is life.
- Anchoring bias: Show your product’s price next to a higher price either next to a model/service you wouldn’t really sell or is clearly a worse offering; with perpetual “discounts” and people will fight every rational impulse and make the purchase
Anti-Design #4: Keep the non-paying customers out
- Subscription Models: Back in the heydays of the desktop computer, you would buy a software in perpetuity. Then soon, software as with all digital products, started to get pirated. Subscription freemium models became the answer for app developers around the world. Mobile software manufacturers keep breaking backward compatibility in this new mobile-first world, leaving developers to continuously struggle to keep their apps alive. Now you can’t charge a one-time fee, because your efforts are continuous. So, get another subscription. This time for a recipe scraper.
- An example of a pervasive homeless deterrence technology is benches designed to discourage sleeping. These include benches with vertical slats between each seat, individual bucket seats, large armrests between seats, and wall railings which enable leaning but not sitting or lying, among many other designs. There are even benches made to be slightly uncomfortable in order to dissuade people from sitting too long. Sadly, such designs are particularly common in subway, bus stops, and parks that present the homeless with the prospect of a safely public place to sleep.
Have more types of anti-design to discuss? Comment below!