So, you bought that painting half a year ago and you were quick to decide where to hang it; then why is it still standing on the floor leaning towards the wall?
And those new wooden panels you installed over a year ago, why haven’t they been painted yet?
And why didn’t you fix the gears on your bike? Or the creaky door hinge that bothers you so much?
These are examples of something that bugs you on a daily basis, but it doesn’t bug you enough to actually make you do something about it. Even though the amount of time and work you would have to invest is fairly small, you still don’t do it.
Then at some point – out of the blue – you overcome the obstacle and you fix ‘the bug’. It only takes you a couple of minutes, and then you’re done. Bug fixed.
This point is called ‘The Bug Factor’:
[WORK/TIME] << [IRRITATION/BUG] x [THE BUG FACTOR]
It is – in other words – a point in space and time where the irritation (or ‘bugginess’) is so much bigger than the work and time you have to invest (by the factor of ‘bug’) that it seems reasonable to fix the bug. Since irritation builds over time, the bug factor also tells you how long you can expect a bug to remain unfixed.
Right, so how is this tranferred to product design? Not in any way particularly. But it’s strikingly often that you find yourself using a product that bugs you A LOT. Whether it’s a wine opener, a stereo, a printer, a hair dryer etc. you’re often never quite happy. Something bugs you. But – and this is the important part – it doesn’t bug you so much that you go out and replace the product! The product is, in other words, kept below ‘the bug factor’.
Now, a lot of companies actually meassure their products by this: they know they haven’t created a great product, in fact it’s barely good enough, but it’s below ‘the bug factor’ so they know that the consumers wont go out and replace it after they’ve bought it (and they will buy it thanks to all the marketing they’ve sacrificed on the product).
This is a consequence of rushed design processes and rushed go-to-market strategies – all of which is believed by a lot of people to be neccessary in order to make money and be succesfull.
Luckily not all companies think like this, and this is why it’s possible to find and buy bug free products.
More product design companies should make products that don’t bug us at all. They should make honest products that don’t pretend to be something they aren’t, that are easy to interpret and are easy to use. And they should make sure that this was the company backbone.