Overdesigned Give-aways

2010-05-25 00:00:00 +0000 — Bolton Hill, Baltimore, MD<

My girlfriend returned from a stay at a “W” hotel while on some business. After the usual small-talk accompanying the end of a trip, she presented me with the pen from her hotel room. What a beauty, and what utter insanity.

This pen is aesthetically amazing. It is square — a very unique & interesting choice in the pen world — and is coated in a fabulous matte-grey, rubberized substance that is wonderful to both look at and hold. The text and accents are in a striking metallic silver. Aesthetically this pen is a wonder, but does all this window-dressing make for a “great” pen? The short answer is no … it’s basically just a Bic in fancy clothes.

A pen like this must cost several dollars each to manufacture. It is a free (read disposable) item, and even in a high-class hotel it seems like a waste to freely give that much away (especially when you are paying triple or quadruple markup for so much else — $20 dollar pay-per-view, $6 bottled water … seriously?). Then there is the square shape. It is actually a pain to hold and write with — there is a reason that almost every other kind of writing implement is rounded in some way.

Are the people staying at overpriced hotels this hard up? Are they aching to be impressed by a branded writing utensil? Why does the W hotel chain spend so much on what basically is trash?

This is the sign of a greater problem in the design world (and western culture in general). Some industrial designer or team got hired to put that pen together for W. Now, there is nothing “bad” about the aesthetics — it looks amazing — but form was allowed to become the leading driver at the cost of function as well as questioning whether or not a fancy disposable pen is a necessity at all.

In this sort of situation, a design team probably gets themselves fired for telling W that their pen is a stupid idea. However, this is the sort of move we are going to need more of in the future.

When a culture loses its ability to see quality over flash we have a problem. This is what seems to be happening in American society. We’ve stopped exercising our powers of observation beyond simply “oh look, a cool object.” Designers are often now hired to dress up otherwise dim products, but don’t question the actual manufacturing of the thing in the first place.

If W hotels really wants to impress me they should then not give away meaningless, disposable objects and focus on just making the experience of being in a W hotel the best thing possible. Besides, everyone staying at the W has an iPhone, so what do we even need pens for anymore anyway?