Monday, January 16, 2012

Bizarre Sinks

They look like works of art, but as practical sinks, they are largely worthless.

We are at a hotel in Atlanta which has recently been remodeled.  They put in new, high-tech looking fixtures which are very cool looking, but kind of useless.  Form here, does not follow function.

For example, a square sink from Kohler looks cool, being under-mounted and all.  But since it has a perfectly flat bottom on it, if you dump a cold cup of coffee in it, it takes about four gallons of water to rinse it all out - it does not drain naturally, having a flat bottom.

The moderne faucet fixture from Fortis is keen looking, but dumps most of its water on the counter, wetting down anything you've placed there.  Not very practical.

And the list goes on.  We rented a vacation home with one of those "bowl" sinks (like shown above) that look so cool.   But the perfectly round shape of it, combined with the placement of the artistic looking faucet, caused it to shoot a geyser of water into your lap, when you turned it on - the water went into the bowl and then right out the other side.

And since these bowl sinks sit on top of the counter, they collect dirt underneath.  And they are very easy to shatter or break.  What's not to like?

And then there is the cost.  They sound reasonably priced, at the home improvement store, where you can buy them, usually as a special order.  But they are, in reality, 3-5 times more in cost than a standard modern sink.

And a standard sink has a shape that has evolved over the eons - a shape that drains easily and doesn't act like a ski-jump for water.  Funny how that works - how simple shapes have evolved over the years to be usable and practical.

You see this effect in simple, everyday things - for example, the bucket.  Yes, the bucket.  You might think that after a few thousand years, the bucket has been pretty much optimized for design size and shape.  And you'd be right about that.  A typical bucket holds enough water to be useful, but not so much that you can' usefully carry it. 

And it is tapered in shape, so that, ironically, it tips over easily - you can "kick the bucket" as we say, and knock over a pail of milk or water.  Why is this?  It would seem to be a design flaw, at first.

With the advent of plastics, however, it was possible to make buckets in different shapes and sizes.  And quickly, the 5-gallon bucket became very popular, for carrying everything from pickles to sheetrocking compound.  The five-gallon size is larger than traditional buckets, which works well for shipping in this modern, motorized world.  But lifting one?  A generation of bad backs attests to the poor thought of the design.

And the straight sides of the bucket resist tipping - a feature which initially seems to be an improvement.  But, as it turns out, straight-sided tall buckets are baby-drowners.  Leave one outside your trailer home, let it fill with rainwater, and your baby or toddler will wander over to it, fall in, and drown.  The straight sides prevent it from tipping.  The tapered buckets of yore, would have tipped over, if a baby went in headfirst.  As it turns out, tippiness is a design feature we want - or one that evolved over time.  No doubt, in the middle ages, a non-tapered bucket would be viewed as evil, wicked, or possessed.

Modern design is not always an upgrade, and even with the simplest things.  Composite headlights or HID lights may seem really cool, until you have to replace them, and then suddenly realize that instead of paying $8.95 for a new sealed-beam light, you are looking at $1300 for a new HID assembly available only from the dealer.  Progress?  Perhaps - for the manufacturer.

Design should be useful, reasonably priced, functional, and an improvement over previous designs.  I had the privilege of doing a Patent for Phillippe Starck who designs everything from furniture to appliances.  Form follows function is one of his mantras, and yet, his designs are elegant, functional, easy to use, reasonably priced and durable.

You can have attractive things that are reasonably priced, durable, functional, useful, and still be works of art.  But a lot of arty crap out there these days is just the opposite, and these ridiculous sinks are a case in point.