Design meets human beings: the light bulb 10′ above the ground

The Covidcrats designed all kinds of systems for humans 2 and up to follow, e.g., Wash Hands, Stay Home, Mask On, Mask Off, Mask On, etc. As evidenced by the rate of plague in countries that applied these systems compared to Sweden, which didn’t bother, either the design was so badly flawed that it wouldn’t have worked even if humans followed the complex instructions perfectly or the designers got an education in human nature.

This came home to me the other day when investigating why there was a light fixture on a closet ceiling (10′ high), but no light was coming out of it. I got up on a ladder and found that the bulb was a burned-out incandescent (i.e., pre-LED age). It is possible that nobody had changed the bulb since the closet was built in 2003. An architect obviously thought that humans would be diligent about maintaining the system (otherwise, put a fluorescent light much lower), but he/she/ze/they was wrong.

Is it human nature to overestimate humans?

6 thoughts on “Design meets human beings: the light bulb 10′ above the ground

  1. > Is it human nature to overestimate humans?

    It is human nature to overestimate the extent to which other humans think like you.

    The architect is optimizing for aesthetics and cost of construction. The cost of maintenance might be a concern if the builder paying the architect will be on the hook for maintenance costs.

    A public health official assumes that other humans care as much about public health as he/she/it does. It does not occur to a public health official that a restaurant owner who faces bankruptcy might make a different policy choice.

    Aligning incentives is hard. We have a large classes of people who face no consequences for their choices. Lean to laugh at what they do: The alternative is to cry.

  2. I don’t know whether humans overestimate humans or if it’s simply that planners (including but not limited to engineers) often get “lost” in their heads with tunnel vision that and don’t think for a moment how difficult it will be for someone to work on their creations.

    To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut: “Everyone wants to build something new. Nobody wants to do maintenance.”

    Take a look at the engine compartment of a Ford F-150 with the 5.4liter three valve engine. Talk to any seasoned mechanic about how engineers and companies build things that are almost impossible to repair. Not to pick on Ford, but on a lot of their trucks and SUVs they built the PTUs (power transfer units, which route power to the rear axle on 4WD vehicles) to only hold 1 quart of fluid, which burns itself up after 30,000 miles, didn’t put a fill plug on them, and buried them in places where they are almost impossible to drain and refill.

    Both of us, I think, have shared some affection for Honda’s engineering and design over the years. A lot of that is due, at least apocryphally, to the influence and engineering sense of Soichiro Honda himself. I have read that when the original Gold Wing touring bike was in early prototype testing, he threw a cylinder head or some other heavy part across a room at an engineer who had designed it in such a way that it was almost impossible to work on once it was installed on the bike. I don’t know how much of his legacy remains at Honda, but it seems like quite a bit.

    • Addendum: Since you and many loyal participants here enjoy reading, there’s a lot of interesting reading about Soichiro Honda (“The Japanese Henry Ford”) at the Wikipedia link. I take it that he was not big on “credentialism” and instead cared more about what people could DO:

      “At 15, without any formal education, Honda left home and headed to Tokyo to look for work. He obtained an apprenticeship at a garage in 1922. After some hesitation over his employment, he stayed for six years, working as a car mechanic before returning home to start his own auto repair business in 1928 at the age of 22.[8]”

      And here is the sad story of Ford PTUs (warning! graphic! not for the faint of heart!):

  3. > Is it human nature to overestimate humans?

    It’s a human nature to be idiots. Engineers and architects aren’t an exception.

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