Improving the Everyday: 8 Useful Objects that Need Fixing

Casting a critical eye on the commonplace, a cast of influential design figures selects items in need of work.

Fixing and reformulating seems to be the ambition of the moment, now matter your field of interest. Jessica Helfand, an editor at Designer Observer, surely had this in mind last month when she posted a list of items that she feels needs reworking. Putting aside larger issues, like healthcare and political chicanery, she listed her picks for everyday things that could stand some revamping, a checklist that includes lottery tickets, hearses and IRS forms. In the comments field following her post readers took issue with some of her choices (who knew the hearse is so popular?) and added their own pet peeves, including lower back tattoos, rain pants and Gov. Rod Blagojevich's hair, among others.

Political figures and designers tend to take opposing paths to the improved world we imagine for ourselves. Instead of large undertakings, like tax reform or nation making, designers are inclined to work on a small scale, the scale of serifs and moldings. As Mies van der Rohe said, "God is in the details."

With that in mind, I asked some distinguished design figures to come up with their picks for everyday objects in need of improvement:

plastic chairs

Maya Lin, designer and artist.
Plastic Furniture
"Plastic lasts forever, so why not create amazing furniture designs that are collectible and made from all of our old plastic bottles and bags?"


Chip Kidd, author and graphic designer.
TV/DVD Remote Control
"Why does it all have to be so impossibly complicated? It makes one long for the good old-fashioned boob tube with its single channel knob."


Fritz Haeg, designer, artist and environmental activist.
"We are ready for a well-designed, simple and sexy clothesline worthy of both front and back yard. It could be really sculptural, or it could disappear altogether. Instead of offending the neighbors, it should inspire envy (and help eliminate the need for the nasty gas/electric dryer)."


Julie Lasky editor of Change Observer, a forthcoming web magazine affiliated with Design Observer.
Wire grocery cart
"Clumsy, child-unfriendly (despite kiddie seats), and hard to pull out of their clumps. I'm sure we can do better."

hammer and nails

Stefan Boublil, founder, The Apartment, a design agency.
Nail and hammer
"It seems that we've been banging away for years without ever giving a second thought to all the bruised thumbs and unstable material marriages brought about by the unholy duo. There's got to be a better way to stick two pieces of something together or hang a picture on the wall, isn't there?"


Mitchell Owens, executive editor, Elle Décor
Plastic Lids for Take-Out Coffee
"No matter how well-designed such lids appear to the naked eye, they always end up leaking or dribbling when in use; the latter reaction could be a design flaw related to my own mouth, but I don't believe so."


Paul Gunther, president, Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America.
Airport Security
"As the world zooms toward the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I'm astonished at how little progress has been made with the design of airport security stations, portals, gateways—call them what you will. Even the new Jet Blue terminal at JFK, conceived and built in the post-attack age, features a surprisingly haphazard, seemingly ex post facto superimposed line-weaving corral leading to collapsible tables set up for standard issue plastic tubs."

hearing aids

Justin Anthony, publisher,
Hearing Aids
"I'm hard of hearing and wear hearing aids, and the one thing I've been waiting for my entire life is to be able to use the telephone! More specifically, I've been waiting for a videophone that actually works in real-time. I'm a lip reader, so I need to be able to see whom I'm talking to. Cell phones could have a web cam built-in like a lot of laptops have nowadays. What would be even better is a wristwatch videophone like in the old Dick Tracy comic books."

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  • George Tirebiter

    Who is the largest group of consumers with the most money? Baby Boomers. And who is getting on in years and can't see so good any longer? Baby Boomers. Yet the font on every product is getting smaller and smaller. Or maybe it's just me.

  • Scott Henderson

    Re: Airport Security - The Indianapolis International Airport just opened its completely new terminal - the first designed and built post-9/11. Since its my home airport and I've traveled thru it numerous times this year, I can attest to the fact they have made the most efficient design to date. However, it's not a revolutionary departure from plastic tubs and snaking passenger corrals.

  • Sabine Mclain

    These are good ones, but here is one more - stop making BLACK electronics - especially PC towers. Why? Because it is impossible to see buttons, text, USB plugs etc. Add to that the lid - opening up - that hides USB plugs on towers. Most people put towers in the floor and we all have lie down to try and find were those holes are. Put them on top. Rearrange things and make it easy to see.

  • Tom Kelsey

    RE: the plastic lids, how about coffee creamers and teapots used by restaurants? You know the ones that can't be poured without dripping all over the table top? Are restaurants looking to keep people employed cleaning up the spills? Isn't there a solution to this endemic problem?

  • David Goldsheft

    Mr. Haeg - I'm pretty sure it is the clothes, and not the line, that offend people. It doesn't matter how elegant or attractive the clothesline is if the clothes hanging on it are what create the eyesore.

  • Haewon Kye

    Completely agree with Julie Lasky on shopping carts. At a department store in Korea, I had the pleasure of driving a kid's shopping cart that looked like a Stokke stroller; elevated seat facing the front with a big enough basket hanging below it. The ride was so smooth and quiet that my 2-yr-old daughter fell asleep comfortably. I can't wait for an upgrade.

  • Nicolas Monnet

    Plastic lids: it's not the lids that need fixing, it's American (and English) coffee. If you didn't serve it so diluted, you wouldn't have to hold it for so long and hence would not have so much of a problem with spilling it. On top of that, it would taste much better. Well, in fact, it would have a taste to begin with.

    Remote controls: it's hard to believe how poorly designed most remote controls are, even when coming from reputed companies. Take Sony, they've got to have some designers around, how come their remotes are such criminally unusable pieces of junk?

  • Ron Woloshun

    Chip Kidd's comment about the remote control touches on a lot of the issues we addressed in creating the product concept for the SpacePoint pointing remote -- which not only moves functions off the remote and onto the GUI, but enables 3D gestural control: (scroll to the bottom of the page)