Design Rule #1 | 2013-02-03

Design Rules is a series of posts I'd like to continue to make, where I focus on one aspect of design. This one is a mistake that is so obvious, and yet, it keeps happening in new products that come out. Hopefully I can worm my way into the backs of people's minds so that they will intuitively know that these designs are bad ideas.

Design Rule #1: Never install a lanyard into the cap

Imagine you purchase a product like a flash drive. It comes with a cap to cover the metal contacts that will connect to your computer. Also, for your convenience, the flash drive has a lanyard, or some sort of lanyard attachment hook, so you can connect the drive to your keychain.

The problem is, the lanyard is attached to the cap. This raises an obvious red flag for me. I immediately imagine carrying around a lonely cap attached to my keys, while my flash drive sits in an abandoned park. You see this kind of design constantly, and not just on tech products. Poor lanyard design is present on anything that one could conceivably carry on their keychain.

A good design for mace, on the left, has the keychain loop integrated into the product. Bad design on the right, has a separate carrying case for the mace. You may find yourself carrying only the case in a dire situation. Both products from mace.com.

Recently, I saw this design in a product very similar to the flash drive example. The Wonder Wires Portable 3in1 Cable is about three inches long and features a Micro USB port on one end, and a combo USB-A and MicroSD card reader on the other end. Since this resembles a product I've been interested in for a while called iStubz, I was intrigued by the possibility of adding a MicroSD reader into the mix. I was distracted, however, when the creator started talking about the cap.

The blue sections are caps that cover the connectors. You can see the lanyard attached to the cap on the left. Additional bad design in this product is the MicroSD which reader requires a physical switch to use. I used to have a Memory Stick for a camera that had 256MB twice. That is, it was a 512MB with a physical switch to go between each 256MB section. While this temporarily solved a problem (since the camera I was using only could handle 256MB) is was far from an elegant solution. Tiny switches are almost never the answer.

The worst part about the Wonder Wire, is that the creator repeatedly demonstrates how strong the cap is in the video. So he clearly thought that the lanyard cap could be a concern. Instead of attaching an eyelet into the body of the cable, he wasted resources developing a stronger cap.

Indeed, we might even glean an additional design rule from this. And that is to eliminate the cap altogether. The Transcend JetFlash T3 Flash Drive includes the lanyard socket in the body of the drive and has no cap at all. It doesn't need one because the connector is already dust and water proof. Now that's good design!

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