Sadly, Richard and Dick weren’t alright on the night

Something went seriously wrong with Seymour and Powell’s recent escapade with supermarket trolleys (Better by Design, Channel 4).

There wasn’t much indication in the programme of the vast range of simple dynamics involved in handling, and the viewer was left with two designers trying to convince both themselves and the client that the basic basket and a couple of extra castors with spring loaded detent mechanisms fitted centrally on the frame had hit the Eureka button. Sorry guys, but if the ‘physics’ had been done you’d have binned the proposal at the start.

In the past I have met many independent inventors, mortgaged to the hilt with patent fees born of optimism, who had similarly invented various add-on devices in an attempt to halt the latest wonky trolley epidemic.

These people had real passion for the problem they were trying to solve and the unique solutions they had developed and invested in heavily.

But the tested reality was that each solution had its own compromises or behaviour characteristics, resulting in extra cost and no net gain.

In the programme the client assured us trolleys were a perennial problem and source of complaint they were keen to address. What they didn’t say was trolley costs come off the bottom line and whatever the solution, they shouldn’t cost more and preferably cost less! They should be minimal maintenance – preferably maintenance free. If the client was really serious about solving the problem we might have had a more constructive programme.

The reality is that better attention to hard landscaping treatment and detailing would solve many of the trolley problems associated with exterior use. In the store, the biggest offenders are trolleys with wonky or damaged castors. Why not develop a procedure which benefits a customer identifying a problem trolley. For instance, the damned thing’s generally half full by the time you realise you’ve got a dog and what’s the point in complaining when the odd dog has been finding its way into the system for years!

Better castors with improved geometry and durability have been on the market for several years, but cost about 40 per cent more than the conventional castor.

Although they don’t solve all the problems they do provide a significant net gain in ease of use, without changing the underlying essential handling characteristics of the trolley.

This programme should have been consigned to a designer version of ‘It’ll be alright on the night’ – a good example of how both client and designer can miss some of the obvious; generate a flawed brief; miss out on existing knowledge; and get drawn into a one way techno-wheel re-invention route.

Shirley Taleto

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