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10 Worst Design Failures of All Time

Jerry Cao
By Jerry Cao on 17th July, 2013 Updated on 22nd April, 2020

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Design faux pas happens. We all know that, we’ve all seen that. Somewhere in the world somebody always thinks that a slide that starts in the sensitive part of an elephant is an excellent idea.

The real problems start when design failures destroy products (Google Wave, Macintosh TV…), or whole companies (OQO). As consumers we care for design and more often than not failure of design is a failure of the whole product. Let’s take a look at 10 worst design failures of all time. There’s an important lesson in each and every one of them. Have fun!

10. Motorola ROKR w/ iTunes (2004)

Motorola ROKR

Author: Matt Ray. File licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Long forgotten device, launched back in 2004, was a first serious step of Apple into the smartphone market. Oh yes, iPhone wasn’t first. Motorola integrated iTunes player into the operating system of ROKR and announced cooperation with the Cupertino giant. Phone with integrated iPod…ain’t that great? Unfortunately the interface was a nightmare and there was software limitation when it comes to the number of songs that could be stored on ROKR. Although you could put 1GB of micro SD card inside of the device, only 100 were visible in iTunes. What the hell? Nobody knows. The reviews were terrible as well as sales. Soon after launch Motorola accused Apple of undercutting ROKR sales with announcement of iPod Nano. Their relationship suffered and the next version of Motorola’s phone lacked iTunes. The rest is history.

9. OQO Model 1 (2004)

OQO Mode 01

Author: Philosophygeek. File licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Tablets, unfortunately, weren’t started by the launch of the first iPad. Let say that there were different approaches to the problem of mobile computers. OQO an american hardware company created Model 1 – „world’s smallest Windows XP computer”. Great. Unfortunately classic Windows XP interface on a small screen and small, hardware, buttons, created an user experience nightmare. 5 by 3 inch screen made it almost impossible to read text on Model 1. OQO tried to improve the device but without any luck. In 2009 it ceased to exist. Deadly design.

8. Eyetop Wearable DVD Player (2004)

eyetop wearable dvd player

Surprise, surprise, Google Glass wasn’t first as well. Imagine glasses with LCD screen (320-240 px) attached to one side that let you watch DVDs. Awesome right? You probably never tried to walk and watch movies with your one eye. And that’s not the end of the story. To watch DVDs you actually needed to carry the DVD player in your backpack. Serious cases of motion sickness were reported.

7. Google X (2005)

google x

Time for online interfaces! Google introduced, for just one day, totally crazy Apple’s OS X style dock above the search bar. Ugly icons, architectural mess, lack of connection to any use case. Dropped in less than 24 hours. Not the first design embarrasement for Google, not the last…

6. Google Wave (2009)

google wave

Author: Akae. File licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Launched in 2009, announced failure in 2010, killed in 2012. Google Wave was an interesting project that supposed to improve collaboration. I remember how excited I was to get access to the Wave. Unfortunately Google forgot about user experience. What a pitty. What a design nightmare.

5. Macintosh TV (1993)

Macintosh TV

Author: Ben Boldt. File licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Apple isn’t without a design sin as well. Long before charming Apple TV they’ve tried to mix a TV and a computer in one body. The result: horrible computer and ever worse TV. Its design reminds me of old russian TVs. Canceled after producing of 10,000 units.

4. Nokia N-Gage

Nokia N-Gage

Author: J-P Kärnä. File licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Nokia N-Gage is one of the most famous examples of design shortcomings. Although the concept of a phone combined with a gaming console proved to be a winner (right iPhone?) the clumsiness of the design doomed Nokia’s plans. Examples? To change the game you needed to remove the battery (?!). Speaker and microphone were placed on a side of the phone, so you needed to actually speak to the side of the device.

3. Sony Remote for Google TV

Google TV remote

Author: Special*Dark. File licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Take a look at the picture. Any doubts? I thought so.

2. Windows Mobile

Windows Mobile

Photo Credit: James Cridland via Compfight cc

Long before excellent Windows Phone Microsoft used Windows Mobile (6.5 version) as an OS for mobile devices. I was damn unlucky to be forced to design an app for this platform (don’t ask). The start menu, contextual menus everywhere, ugliness of every single piece of it… I think I still didn’t fully recover. Windows Mobile was definitely the worse operating system (in general) I’ve ever seen.

1. Shutdown process in Windows 8

Windows 8 shutdown

I was challanged recently to turn off a pc laptop with Windows 8. I know one or two things about interfaces, so I thought that this will be an easy task. And I failed. Really Microsoft? Seetings? Power? That’s the most ridiculous, suboptimal process I’ve ever seen. Well deserved first place in the „design failures” category.

Any other idea for a terrible design failure? Mention it in the comments!

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