The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Category: Design

The one investing tip that “fat cats” don’t want you to know—invest in crazy startups that make Frankensteinian hybrid appliances!

Background:

You’ve probably heard of a “washer-dryer” combination, an existing one-stop-shop appliance for cleaning clothes. What if we extended this philosophy to other categories of home appliances?

Proposal:

Sometimes, a frozen food requires a lengthy defrosting period. So if you want to eat that item, you must laboriously:

  • Remove the item from the freezer
  • Place the item either into the fridge compartment or on the counter
  • Then, eventually move that item to the microwave

However, we can reduce these unnecessary steps to a single step with the following combination appliance: the “fridge-ro-wave” or “microwave-fridge,” as illustrated in Figure 1.

fridge-microwave.png

Fig. 1: This futuristic fridge can automatically move food items to areas of different temperatures on a pre-determined defrosting schedule. It can even automatically start the microwaving at a certain time!

By allowing the fridge-microwave to operate on a pre-determined schedule, this appliance could also help you avoid over-eating; perhaps it could be upgraded to a laboratory-grade fridge that chills ALL your food down to a brisk -80°. Then, you would be unable to casually snack without waiting for the fridge to heat something up according to its schedule.

PROS: You can come home to a perfectly defrosted Thanksgiving turkey every single work day!

CONS: None! The perfect accessory for the modern home.

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Incredible user interface tip to increase user engagement—make your software challenging and don’t let a user “auto-pilot” through an easily understood interface.

Background:

Supposedly, the proliferation of ubiquitous GPS has lead to humans being worse at navigating, the presence of calculators has rendered most people incapable of doing even basic mental math, and the existence of written language has made humans worse at remembering things more generally.

Proposal:

In order to combat this “things are too easy” trend, we recommend that software become intentionally harder to use. The open source community is already on top of this trend, as are late-2010s mobile app developers (perhaps most famously, Snapchat).

Specific issue: Color pickers

This proposal is limited to a basic enhancement of color pickers (Figure 1): by rearranging the location of colors, we can cause users to spend more time trying to find the color they are looking for, which both 1) promotes brain development and 2) increases engagement with the app. For mobile apps, increased engagement (i.e., time) also translates to more opportunities to show ads to the user.

apple-color-picker

Fig. 1: This color picker used in some built-in Apple software is totally unchallenging and unremarkable.

office-color-picker

Fig. 2: The Microsoft Office color picker is also sensibly arranged, although it has an unconventional muted color palette.

An “enhanced” color palette could look like the default one from 2014 LibreOffice (Figure 3): the seemingly random arrangement of strange and uncommon colors (with a few duplicates) means that the user will need to be fully engaged with the color picker panel in order to make sense of it.

libre-light-blue

Fig. 3: LibreOffice’s 2014 color picker doesn’t spoon-feed the user. Additionally, some colors are labeled counterintuitively to really force the user to understand what they are doing (for example, “Light blue” is  not the correct term for the blue square in the top right).

 

Fig. 4: LibreOffice has, strangely, refashioned their interface; the 2016 default (at left) is now arranged in a fashion similar to other software’s color pickers.

Conclusion:

When designing a commonly used user interface element (for example, a color picker, “save file” dialog, list of email addresses, a phone dialer, etc…), you should try to consider: how can I make this element “more engaging” to the end user? Don’t let the user’s brain coast on auto-pilot—make them work for every interaction with your interface.

PROS: Improves neural connections and promotes a hard-working self-reliant attitude.

CONS: Entitled end users will whine about your decisions!

TITLE: The secret to making THE BEST ART MUSEUM possible and acquiring a collection for less than 1% the normal price of famous art. The secret ingredient: ART FORGERY.

The issue:

It’s difficult to fully appreciate certain types of art from just a photo, especially large pieces or three-dimensional works like statues.

For example:

Unfortunately, these famous works are spread throughout the world, and are not all easy to access (especially if you’re on a budget).

Proposal:

Let’s start a new art museum called “THE BEST ART MUSEUM.”

This is no idle boast—the museum really will contain the best art in the world, for one simple reason: all the art in the museum is a FAKE.

Actually, let’s revise that: “fake” has a negative connotation, but really, who can even tell the difference between an original work and a high-quality forgery? (See Figure 1.)

So let’s say that each piece in this museum is an extremely accurate copy of a famous work.

Fig. 1: Which of these two incredibly accurately drawn M.C. Escher works is the original, and which is the copy? Only the most detail-oriented art historian will be able to tell. And sometimes there isn’t even a distinction: if 100 numbered prints were made from a carved wood block, is there anything that really separates those 100 “official” prints from a 101st print made by museum staff decades later? (Answer: yes, millions of dollars.)

Since the vast majority of art is old enough to be out of copyright, there are no legal hurdles, either!

Additionally, we know that a skillfully-made forgery can fool even well-informed art scholars, so there should be no doubt that the works are every bit as valid from an art-appreciation standpoint as the originals.

This has five huge advantages:

  1. By obtaining only copies of expensive artwork, we free up an enormous amount of money (copies will be cheaper than the originals).
  2. Impossible-to-obtain works of art can be “acquired” in this fashion. (No matter how much money a museum has, the original Sistine Chapel ceiling cannot be purchased.)
  3. Works can be thematically arranged without regard to budget / availability of an artwork.
  4. Duplicate (triplicate?) copies of a work can be placed in multiple locations. So Michelangelo’s David can appear in both the “statues of dudes” and the “Renaissance sculpture” galleries.
  5. Security and insurance can be reduced; there is no need to insure a painting for hundreds of millions of dollars if it can be easily re-created.

Additionally, since none of the pieces in the museum are one-of-a-kind, they can also be offered for sale: the museum can serve as an enormous art showroom. So an art aficionado who really likes a specific painting can just take it right off the wall and purchase it at the gift shop.

Fig. 2: Modern art and abstract impressionism would be a great topic for this museum, except that most of the pieces from 20th century will be copyrighted for the next 100+ years. The museum will need to focus primarily on art from before the 1920s.

blue.png

Fig. 3: Abstract art would be extremely easy to replicate; an art student could easily copy several famous out-of-copyright pieces during a summer internship.

PROS: Obtaining famous works of art for a museum no longer requires daring art heists.

CONS: You will have to endure many negative reviews of your museum in high-society publications.

Does your business require customers to agree to a “terms of service”? Run this incredibly illegal “INFINITE LENGTH CONTRACT” idea by your legal department! They will be impressed with your legal acumen.

Background:

Many web sites require a user to agree to a long and incomprehensible “terms of service” before they can use the site.

Since these contracts are dozens (or hundreds) of pages, everyone just scrolls to the end and clicks “AGREE.” (See two examples in Figure 1).

While you’d think that a company could slip in some secret contract clauses somewhere (e.g. “you agree to give up your first-born child to MegaCo Inc.”), this isn’t usually feasible—someone will EVENTUALLY find these clauses and cause a public relations disaster.

legalese

Fig. 1: Left: a relatively short contract that fits on one page. Right: a longer contract that no one will ever read.

Proposal:

Here is a secret method for putting totally unreasonable terms into a contract and preventing the user from being able to read them.

The secret is: the contract is literally INFINITE in length, so no one can read it all!

Details: the terms of service operates as follows (see Figure 2):

  • The first N pages are the real contract.
  • After the real contract is over, additional pages are randomly generated with legally-valid but meaningless legalese.
  • The contract has no scroll bar, so the user has no idea how long the contract is.
  • To accept the contract, the user clicks the “scroll to end and accept” button.
  • Thus, anyone who accepts the contract cannot have read the whole thing, since it is infinitely long.

Using this dirty trick, when a user has agreed to the contract after reading M pages, the company that wrote the terms of service can simply start putting the super-unreasonable contract terms on page M+1 and beyond.

 

legalese-infinity

Fig. 2: The “infinite contract” looks almost exactly like a real contract, except that there is no scroll bar or indication of how many pages the contract has. (This is because new randomly-generated “legalese” pages are created whenever the user clicks the “next page” button, so the user can never legitimately scroll to the end.)

Conclusion:

The only downside to this plan is that it is almost certainly totally illegal in every jurisdiction.

PROS: Would probably be an interesting “future law school textbook case” if it were ever tested in court.

CONS: You will probably go to prison if you implement this idea.

Throw away your current barbaric programming language! Programming Emoji is the future of computation.

Background:

Essentially all major programming languages exclusively use keywords written in English. (For a couple of exceptions, see the addendum at the end.)

But this doesn’t have to be the case!

Proposal:

By using symbols instead of words, we can convey a concept both more concisely and more easily across languages.

See below for a few suggested changes:

while-true

Fig 1: This image of a snake eating its own tail is a much more visceral and obvious representation of an endless cycle than the words “WHILE TRUE.”

if-else

Fig 2: “IF” and “ELSE” have specific meanings in English. But “Else” is also a Scandinavian name! By using these unambiguous symbols, we avoid any existing meanings that might confuse people.

data-types

Fig 3: Data types (“integer” / “floating point number” / “text string”) can be replaced by these intuitive images instead. This also avoids the issue of having multiple synonyms for each type. For example, a non-integer number could be called a “float,” a “real,” a “double,” etc.—but there’s only ONE symbol to represent this concept.

 

foreach

Fig 4: Some languages use “for” to create a loop, while others use “foreach” (or “forEach,” or “for (item) in (set)”). To prevent confusion, we can standardize on a single symbol (above) to convey the idea of iteration through a loo.

Conclusion:

Don’t write another line of code in your old-fashioned text-based programming language! Programming emoji is the future.

PROS: More easily seen at small font sizes. Works across languages, and prevents any misunderstanding arising from a word having an existing unrelated-to-programming meaning (e.g. “float” meaning “to rise to the surface of water” in addition to “a ‘floating point’ number”).

CONS: Requires new custom fonts and/or Emoji support.

programming-emoji

Fig 5: An extended set of proposed replacements for basic programming terms. Color is optional, but recommended.

Addendum:

Here are a couple of programming languages that can make use of non-ASCII symbols:

  • APL,” a language created in 1964, is well known for making use of a special set of symbols. Here is an example from Wikipedia: (~RR∘.×R)/R1ιR . It is actually possible to order a keyboard with these symbols printed right on the key caps!
  • Perl 6 supports numerical characters like “” (a fraction) or “” (a Roman numeral), as documented here.

 

 

The secret of SMART JUSTIFIED columns of text. This strange formatting tip will make ONE HUNDRED TIMES more employers look at your resume! Stop formatting your resume so amateurishly, and await your reward of gold and rubies from your future employer.

Background:

Columns of text in a book or newspaper are generally formatted in the fully justified style (Figure 1), where the text always lines up exactly on both the left and right edges.

justify-text-icon

Fig. 1: The “justify text” button (circled in red) can be found in nearly every text editor.

The issue:

Justified text works well if columns are wide and there are a lot of words to fill out each line.

But it becomes aesthetically dubious if the columns are narrow or there aren’t enough words, which result in either:

  • Extremely wide spaces between words if there are too few words (example: “this______column”)

or

  • Excessive spacing between letters if there is only one word (example: “c__o__l__u__m__n”)

In the worst-case scenario, a column of text may look like:

  • This____is_____a
  • n__a__r__r__o__w
  • c__o__l__u__m__n.

See figure 2 for a comparison of fully-justified text and ragged-edge (flush left) text.

justify-text-heres-the-problem.png

Fig. 2: Part A (left) shows a few problems with fully-justified text: “the age of” has excessive spacing and the between-letter spacing in “w i s d o m” is aesthetically questionable. Unfortunately, the ragged edge of the text in part B (formatted as “flush left / ragged right”) is not a huge improvement either.

Previously, a publisher would at least know how wide a column of text would be, so they could manually adjust the text to fit in an aesthetically-appealing fashion.

But with modern web pages and e-books, font sizes and column widths can be changed by the user—so there’s no way for a publisher to plan around it.

Proposal:

This problem can be fixed by using semantically-aware SMART justification to make each line of text an optimal length.

This is accomplished as follows:

If a line of text is too short, it can be lengthened by the following steps:

  • Add meaningless filler words (e.g. “um,” “like,” “basically,” “you know”)
  • Add superfluous adjectives (like “very” or “extremely”)
  • Replace words with longer synonyms (e.g. “rain -> precipitation”—this can also be used in reverse to shorten a line)
  • Replace pronounces with their antecedent (e.g. “her scepter” -> “Queen Elizabeth’s scepter”)

Figure 3 shows the performance of each method of text justification. The “meaning-aware SMART justification” is the only method that avoids ragged edges while also keeping a fixed amount of whitespace between words.

justify-text-annotated

Fig. 3: Left: a traditional example of fully-justified text. Middle: flush-left text, with an unappealing ragged right edge. Right: the vastly improved “smart” justification method, which has been recently made possible by advances in computational technology and machine learning.

Application of this method to famous books:

  • Original: “But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” (The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway)
  • Modified with superfluous filler words and synonyms:  “But man is, generally, not made for defeat,” he stated. “Basically, a man can be destroyed but, as you know, not forced to surrender.” 

 

  • Original: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” (1984, Orwell)
  • Modified:  “War is peace. Additionally, the state of freedom is slavery. Finally, in conclusion, ignorance is strength, it must be admitted.”

 

  • Original: “In general, people only ask for advice that they may not follow it; or, if they should follow it, that they may have somebody to blame for having given it”.” (The Three Musketeers, Dumas)
  • Modified: “In general, people only make a request for suggestions, that those same people may not abide by it. Or, if they should in fact follow it, that those people may have somebody to blame or hold responsible for having given it”.” 

 

PROS: This is the ONLY text-formatting method that both 1) preserves inter-word spacing AND 2) aligns text in neat columns.

CONS: None!

Your chair is KILLING YOU! With its lack of artistic sophistication, I mean. Throw all your useless and harmful furniture into a huge bonfire, then replace it with eco-friendly low-polygon furniture for the health-conscious and trendy consumer.

Background:

Early 3D games used a relatively small number of polygons to create a blocky “low-poly” approximation of a game environment.

Three styles that occasionally come close to the low-poly look are:

But none of these styles are specifically aiming to minimize the number of visible surfaces in a building or interior.

Proposal:

In order to bring the “1996 Playstation graphics” look to interior design, the following easy-to-assemble low-polygon furnishings are proposed:

 

low-poly-chair

Fig. 1: At left, we see a normal chair. On the right, the number of visible surfaces has been reduced to almost the bare minimum. The chair on the right could easily be rendered by a Nintendo 64.

chair-trianglesFig. 2: Even this blocky chair still consists of 32 triangles. For computer-related reasons, surfaces are counted in triangles (the most minimalist polygon) rather than rectangles. Note that this chair essentially consists of three stretched-out cubes. Normally that would result in 36 triangles (3 cubes * 6 faces/cube * 2 triangles / face = 36 triangles), but we have saved a few triangles by merging the cubes in this way.

lamp-low-poly

Fig. 3: The standard lamp (left) can be converted into a low-poly lamp (right). The cord is unaffected—a segmented low-poly cord would unfortunately violate the electrical safety codes in most jurisdictions.

 

lamp-triangles

Fig. 4: The lamp above can be reduced to 21 surface-facing triangles if we allow the base (labeled “1*”) to be a single triangle.

PROS: This never-before-seen look combines minimalism with early-3D nostalgia in a way that is appealing to everyone.

CONS: Only slightly different from existing furniture you can get at IKEA, so differentiation of this style from “the cheapest possible furniture” style may be difficult. Safety regulations prevent the use of low-poly stylings everyone (e.g. in electrical cords).