Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Unanticipated consequences of design decisions

I’ve recently been interested in the subject of unanticipated or unintended consequences. Most of my interest has been fueled by a sense that arguments of the “nobody could have predicted this massive, now-obvious consequence of actions I took” type are becoming more popular: think how often they’ve been deployed in the aftermath of the Iraq war, the financial meltdown, Deepwater Horizon, etc..

Of course, unanticipated consequences can be good things too, as I noticed this morning. We recently bought a new vacuum cleaner, one of the bagless cyclonic kinds with the transparent canister. I mainly liked the fact that there were no bags, and that it was less than 20 years old. But my kids turn out to really like too: so much so, in fact, that they’re actually cleaning their rooms when friends come over.

Why? Because as they vacuum their rooms, the canister turns into a “tornado of grossness,” as one of my son’s friends put it.

Making the canister transparent turns vacuuming into entertainment– and because it combines technology, loud noises, visual effects, and gross stuff, it’s irresistable to young boys.

I have no idea if the designers have kids, but: well done.

[To the tune of Rob Dougan, “Furious Angels,” from the album Furious Angels (a 3-star song, imo).]

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