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Worst Of 2017 Awards

Worst Of 2017 Awards

| On 14, Mar 2018

Darrell Mann

Finding bad things to write about increasingly feels like shooting large fish in small barrels with large Howitzers. That said, 2017 felt a bit like a year of flux. The focus of the rubbish-ness is shifting. Customer service seems to be getting better and fewer truly awful patent applications are making it through the system. That’s one side of the equation. On the other, it’s been a bit of a humdinger of a year as far as new product screw-ups from companies who really should know better, and advertising messaging that comes across as increasingly desperate. Or deluded.

All that said, we’ve still managed to find winners in each of our five categories. Starting with…


Joint ‘It-Can’t-Be-KLM-Again Suck’y-Airline Of The Year’ and ‘All-Conversations-May-Be-Recorded-For-Training-Purposes Customer Service’ Awards

Now, if there was any justice in the world, I’d be looking to give this award to ParcelForce this year. And specifically our local ParcelForce delivery person, who, despite all of my attempts to ensure that any deliveries of necessary guitars this year were timed to coincide with the absence of my better half, nevertheless conspired to tell her after the event whenever it happened. So much for client confidentiality and guitar purchases being on a ‘need to know’ basis. In the end, the only reason I can’t bring myself to give him the Award is that I can’ be entirely sure my better half hasn’t paid him to inform on me more than I’ve paid him to keep quiet.

So, if not ParcelForce, who to give the service award to? I was struggling for a long time to even think of candidates. No flights on EasyJet, WizzAir, KLM or Air France in 2017 so that clearly helped. And then not too many more than zero on British Airways, so that also helped now they’re attempting to cut any corner pertaining to human dignity they can think of. In the end it took until two days after we set up a new URL in early December before I knew what the answer was. Drum roll, please. The winners of the 2017 Service Award goes to every single Website Design company and SEO optimization service provider on the planet. I say ‘all’ because that’s precisely how many emailed me, phoned me, tried to contact me through LinkedIn, jumped in front of my car, etc, as soon as they got wind of my precious new URL. The volume of contacts made hit the level of ‘surreal’ within the week. No amount of swearing down the phone could shake them. Every website designer on the planet, we concluded, must currently be unemployed. That can’t be a good thing. But cold-calling prospective clients is way worse. Meanwhile, because we have a policy of never working with anyone that cold-calls us, and that every web-service company has now one precisely that, I guess we’re stuck with our bad websites for some time to come. No worries. I tell clients we’re too busy to fix them. What I didn’t say is what we’re too busy doing is fending off cold-calls from idiots.


The Depeche Mode Everything-Counts-In-Large-Amounts Literature Award

A couple of trends need commenting upon this year. The first is the exponential rate at which the quality of ‘ebook only’ is descending. The cost of production of such books being effectively zero other than the amount of time author’s have to invest in assembling the requisite number of words to justify in their minds calling it a ‘book’, the amount of damping in the publishing system is effectively zero. Which means there is no quality control mechanism at all. Anything goes. We promised a few years ago to not review such ‘books’ because the likelihood of finding something useful was already diminishingly small back at the beginning of the decade. Now we can go a step further and share the joke about just how bad things can get. Here are the two 2017 ebook literature award winners:

Who thought that sex didn’t sell anymore? Elon Musk coloring books. Genius. Not to mention the thought that if you’ve got absolutely nothing meaningful to say about innovation – nadir indeed – the easy way out these days is to remember that innovators are suckers for photos of attractive women sitting by the side of the author gene pool. Shallow end.

The second trend is perhaps the more sinister: the increasing reluctance of reviewers to say anything negative about any book. Part of this phenomenon stems, I’m sure, from the ‘play nice’ meme – if you don’t have anything nice to say about something, best stay quiet. I kind of get it, but it does come with an enormous downside. Almost everyone of the 4000+ innovation-related titles published in 2017 comes with a review average of 4.5 stars. Most get five stars. Not because they’re five-star books (nothing that came out in the year, as far as we can tell, merited such a rating), but because they’re reviews written by five-star friends, acquaintances and sycophants. The reviews themselves might just as well not exist because they don’t offer any meaningful insight to anyone that might trouble to open them. Which means that your next innovation literature purchase might just as well be informed by rolling dice.

That aside, since the beginning of the year, there was only ever going to be one winner of this year’s literature award. The AntiFragility Edge by Sinan Si Alhir provoked me to write my first ever Amazon review in order to try and warn people away from what I thought back then, and still think now, is the worst, most damaging piece of ‘literature’ of all time. As it happens, come September, the latest Henry Chesbrough ‘Open Innovation’ garbage ran it close. ‘New Frontiers in Open Innovation’ is all about how, despite having created a dysfunctional innovation monster, Henry Chesbrough continues running around in circles to try and work out why the whole idea doesn’t work. As it happens the ‘new frontiers’ are the same as the old frontiers’. Unless you count the small army of Chesbrough consultant-apologists whose job in life seems to be mopping the blood off the walls of the latest mis-match between naïve solution provider and corporate-NIH-problem-owner.

In the end though, Si Alhir’s tome and good sense prevailed, and he takes the Worst of the Year award by a five-furlong margin. Actually, the funniest part of the whole story is the rebuttal he sent following my review. The fact that it took him ten months to compile his response is probably as telling as it is funny. There’s nothing I can hope to do here to compete with his level of delusion, and so the best I can offer is to direct ezine readers to his story, where he very kindly also provides all of the necessary links to the things I wrote so you can revel in the whole story. Here’s the place to go: I especially love the convoluted logic of the ‘if you’re too fragile, please don’t buy my book’ climax. I’m guessing his main worry is medical claims from people splitting their sides. January 2018 and I’m still laughing.


The Necessity-Is-Not-Always-The-Mother Invention Award

Golf and pets continue to be the sweetspot zones when it comes to deluded inventors. US9,833,672, ‘foldable golf tee’ is probably the patent that made me laugh the most. Mainly because I can’t imagine ever overhearing golfers complaining about the amount of space their tees are taking up in the golf bag. But then, it turns out the punch-line doesn’t arrive until you look at the drawings and realise that, in its folded-position, the new tee design is about double the size of a non-folding tee.

Beyond that, we found ourselves debating the relative merits of US9,848,578 (‘Toy and app for remotely viewing and playing with a pet’ – left hand picture) and US9,826,718 (‘pet collar with collapsible bowl’ – right hand picture)… before concluding that it was impossible to determine whether the pet or the owner would go nuts first in either case.

In the end neither felt like it deserved the Award. Which, finally, then, brings us to this year’s winner, US9,636,593, ‘Jawbone Doll System, which was granted to lone inventor, David A. Dexter on May 2. It may just be the most surreal invention we’ve ever encountered. The tone is set quit elegantly in the abstract:

A doll is in a configuration to simulate a pet. The doll has a mouth with an opening with upper, lower, front and side edges. The upper and lower edges are in a U-shaped configuration. A clasp has an upper component with upper teeth and a lower component with lower teeth. A clasp has upper and lower handles. The upper handle is formed as an extension of the upper component and the lower handle formed as an extension of the lower component. The handles are located in the doll and diverge to form an angle. The upper and lower components are essentially parallel while the system is at rest with the upper and lower teeth in contact. The clasp has a hinge. The hinge pivotally couples the upper and lower components. Coil springs urge the handles away from each other while urging the components and teeth toward each other.

Nope. I don’t understand it either. And then the pictures don’t help either…

It’s a pit-bull. Well known focus for kid’s dolls. Other variants include alligators and sharks. Err, maybe they’re not supposed to be for kids afterall?  The ‘field of invention’ section doesn’t help clarify the rationale either: ‘The present invention relates to a jawbone doll system and more particularly pertains to grasping and releasably holding objects in a safe, convenient, and economical manner.’ I’m not sure whether this means the doll holds the child, or the other way around. Either way, those pit-bull jaws don’t convey exactly what I interpret from the ‘safe, convenient and economical’ intent.

Then we get to the rest of the invention disclosure text. Which I’ve read about twenty times now and still have no idea what’s really going on. For the full effect, readers need to look at the whole text. Here’s just a taster in case you need more convincing. Of its kind, I’d say it is an absolute masterpiece…

In view of the disadvantages inherent in the known types of clasp systems of known designs and configurations now present in the prior art, the present invention provides an improved jawbone doll system. As such, the general purpose of the present invention, which will be described subsequently in greater detail, is to provide a new and improved jawbone doll system which has all the advantages of the prior art and none of the disadvantages.

To attain this, the present invention essentially comprises a jawbone doll system. First provided is a doll. The doll is fabricated of a pliable material. The doll is provided in a configuration to simulate a pet dog. The doll has a body. The body has four depending legs. The body has a rear. The rear has a tail. The body has a front. The front has a head. The head has a muzzle. The muzzle is provided forwardly. The head has a base. The base is provided rearwardly.

A mouth is provided. The mouth is provided in the muzzle of the doll. The mouth has an opening. The opening has an upper edge. The opening has a parallel lower edge. Each edge is in a generally U-shaped configuration. The opening has a broadly curved front edge. The front edge is provided forwardly. The opening has side edges. The side edges extend rearwardly from the front edge. C-shaped connectors are provided. The C-shaped connectors join the upper and lower edges remote from the front edges. The side edges diverge rearwardly. In this manner an angle of between 5 and 20 degrees is formed. The side edges have essentially equal lengths. The front edges have an essentially equal length. The length of the front edges is between 25 and 75 percent of the length of the side edges.

Provided next is a clasp. The clasp has an upper component. The clasp has a similarly configured lower component. The lower component extends forwardly. The upper component has integrally formed downwardly extending upper teeth. The lower component has upwardly extending integrally formed lower teeth. The upper teeth include short teeth. The short teeth are of an essentially common size. The short teeth are provided along the lower front edge and in the side edges. The lower teeth also include larger longer teeth. The longer teeth are provided at juncture of the front edge and side edges. The lower teeth include short teeth. The short teeth are of an essentially common size. The short teeth are provided along the lower front edge and in the side edges. The lower teeth include larger longer teeth. The longer teeth are provided at the juncture of the front edge and side edges. The longer teeth of the upper and lower components are adapted to contact each other in overlapping relationship. The longer teeth are further adapted to hold the smaller teeth of the upper component in closely spaced proximity to the smaller teeth of the lower component.

The clasp has handles. The handles extend rearwardly. The handles include an upper handle with laterally spaced legs. The upper handle is formed as an extension of the upper component. The handles include a lower handle with laterally spaced legs. The lower handle is formed as an extension of the lower component. The handles are located in the base of the head of the doll. The upper and lower handles diverge equally and oppositely. The upper and lower handles further form an angle of between 20 and 40 degrees. The upper and lower components are essentially parallel when the system is at rest with the upper and lower teeth in contact.

The clasp has a hinge. The hinge pivotally couples the upper component and handle with the lower component and handle. The hinge has laterally spaced upper plates. The upper plates extend downwardly from the upper component and handle. The hinge has laterally spaced lower plates. The lower plates extend upwardly from the lower component and handle. The hinge has pivot pins. The pivot pins couple the upper plates with the lower plates. The hinge also includes coil springs. The center of curvature of the hinge is provided at the pivot pins. The hinge has fingers. The fingers contact the handles. The fingers further urge the handles away from each other while urging the components and teeth toward each other. The handles are adapted to be squeezed together by a user through the application of pressure to the head base from above and from below. In this manner the upper teeth and lower teeth are separated. Also in this manner any object may be received between the upper and lower teeth. Further in this manner the system may be attached to an object between the upper and lower teeth upon the release of pressure from the handles.

Simple when you know how. Or something like that.


The Slow-Fast-Moving-Consumer-Goods Design Excellence Award

2017 was definitely a bad year for the big tech companies. Samsung managed to achieve two monumentally embarrassing failures, first with the Galaxy Note 7, which it looks like will have cost the company over $5B when the flames are finally put out. Then there was their Bixby personal digital assistant, which, if you were English speaking managed to not understand pretty much anything you said to it. Eventually, the company offered users a special download app that finally allowed customers to disable the stupid thing. Former giant, Kodak, didn’t do much better when it launched its Ektra smartphone. The Ektra hit U.S. store shelves in May, to the sound of crickets. Who needs another smartphone option? Especially one with mediocre specs, low rent “faux leather” plastic construction, poor battery life and a massive camera bump to house a 21MP shooter that fails in its job to take great photos. Reviews note poor color reproduction, bad low light performance and autofocus that more often than not fails to work. On its face, it was a pretty bad idea. But at $445 a pop, its fate was sealed in under a fortnight.

Meanwhile, our two joint second-prize winners for worst product introductions of the year are both pioneers in the shady world of the Internet Of Things. First up, enter the ‘Smile Mirror’. Based upon conversations I’ve had with multiple women, one of the most obnoxious things that men do on a regular basis is order them to “smile” as if they (the women) have some obligation to look sweet. Similarly, in business, one of the most horrible management fads of all time is the insistence that employees smile while they work, even if they don’t have customer-facing jobs. Very creepy. Here’s the thing: forced smiles aren’t smiles, they’re grimaces. And a mirror that forces you to smile before functioning is a recipe for your face freezing into a staring, unnatural rictus grin. The ‘smile mirror’ is, according to its designer, a ‘concept’. Which should increasingly be translated into design language as ‘dumb-horseshit I dreamt-up when I was supposed to be working’.

On the plus side, speaking as someone who, simultaneously, would willingly spend the whole year without having to look into a mirror, and never have to smile, I guess you could say the Smile Mirror is some kind of super-innovation. Assuming it’s free.

Second-up comes another former great name in the tech world, ‘Nokia’. Or, actually, a collaboration between Nokia, L’Oreal and ‘hair geeks’ Kerastase. ‘Why doesn’t my hairbrush come with an app?’ was obviously a question bothering lots of us for a long time. Now, thanks to Nokia, we know the answer: its because putting a number to how bad a bad-hair-day you’re having doesn’t add anything to anything. I refuse to go to work if my tangling score passes 67% again.

The smart hairbrush offers up a clear demonstration of what we get when designers spend their time fiddling around with technology instead of thinking about customer needs. But, at the end of the day, what the paying public got exposed to was $200 worth of hair-brushing ‘advice’ about how to brush their hair more effectively. No-one got hurt.

Unlike at Yves Saint Laurent. Who, in past years have demonstrated they know how to make a good pair of shoes. For Anthony Vaccarello’s first season at the helm of the Parisian house he made a pair of stilettos with “YSL” as the heel, and who can forget his glittering shrug boots from the AW17 collection? They’ve already been worn by Rihanna and fashion’s latest icon, Céline Dion… they said that, by the way, not me.

The latest pair of killer heels might actually and have an extra element of danger: wheels. That’s right – not only are they sky-high stilettos but they also double up as roller-skates. Perfect if you’ve got a photo-shoot at 10pm and a roller disco at 11. The heels previously appeared in campaign images for the brand that were banned by France’s watchdog over allegations that the images were demeaning to women. The ‘fun’ shoe comes in a beginner-friendly trainer version too, but both styles are only available in store. So, if you’ve got £2k spare and you like pending the next four hours at your nearest hospital, these are the shoes for you. No doubt they will quickly sell out too so if you want to get your hands on a pair, you better get your skates on. Which is the part that really hurts. Collectors of high-fashion-crap, it seems, will throw their money away on stuff no matter how much the designers take the piss.


Let’s All Jump Off A Cliff Advertising Suicide Award

The world of big business didn’t fare much better when it came to advertising their wares than designing the wares themselves. McDonald’s probably created the biggest wave of customer-complaints-for-all-the-wrong-reasons with their ‘dead-dad’ advertisements around the middle of the year. The storyline goes something like this: a boy’s mother telling him what his father was like, which makes him sad because they don’t seem to have much in common. Until he eats a Filet-O-Fish at McDonald’s, which of course his mother tells him was his dad’s favorite too. People found the ad so distasteful that the Advertising Standards Authority ‘encouraged’ McDonald’s to pull the ad within a couple of weeks. Parental bereavement, fast-food and Yorkshire accents… who would’ve guessed they wouldn’t combine to create genius?

In a normal year, such a profound misjudgement of the public mood would have made the ad a surefire winner. McDonald’s, sadly, however, weren’t paying sufficient attention to the bad-taste wardens at Facebook…

Mark Zuckerberg put on an Oculus Rift on 9 October and used Facebook’s new virtual reality platform, Facebook Spaces, to transport himself to Puerto Rico, the Moon, and his house. He broadcast the moment live on Facebook in what turned out to be a rather strange demo of a social platform that doesn’t have a clear use yet. In particular, Zuckerberg’s choice of locations emphasized just how odd it’ll be to watch other people in any sort of serious situation in virtual reality. Zuckerberg’s first stop, along with Facebook social VR chief Rachel Franklin, was to Puerto Rico, where he stood in front of a 360-degree video from NPR documenting the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. He used the opportunity to discuss what Facebook is doing to aid relief — including donating $1.5 million and sharing data with the Red Cross — but it was all pretty strange to watch for what perhaps should have been an obvious reason: Zuckerberg was represented by a floating cartoon character. Cartoon avatars make plenty of sense for the typical use of Facebook Spaces, which is mostly just meant as a digital hangout spot for early adopters of the Oculus Rift. But it clearly isn’t an ideal way to discuss hurricane relief efforts, particularly for a Silicon Valley billionaire doing his best to stay in touch Americans outside of the tech world. It made lines like, “It feels like we’re really here in Puerto Rico,” stand out for clearly being so far off from the actual experience as to suggest that the trillionaire-baby is so far removed from reality that one feels compelled to sell their Facebook shares. Zuckerberg seems to have realized that the experience didn’t translate for viewers. He responded to comments a day later, saying, “When you’re in VR yourself, the surroundings feel quite real. But that sense of empathy doesn’t extend well to people watching you as a virtual character on a 2D screen. That’s something we’ll need to work on over time.” He added that his goal was to show how VR can raise awareness to what’s happening across the world. “Reading some of the comments,” he wrote, “I realize this wasn’t clear, and I’m sorry to anyone this offended.”