Thursday, January 12, 2006

Introducing The Luddite Geek Award for Dubious Design

I was so inspired by reading "The Darwin Awards III: Survival of the Fittest," by Wendy Northcutt, I decided to launch my own award.

But I was even more inspired by the first award winner, the Bissell ProHeat 8910 Series upright carpet cleaner, which I purchased in October.

This machine is compact and economically priced. With the cost of 1/2 day rentals approaching $45, this thing would pay for itself after four uses. It includes an upholstery kit that can also be used on stairs. The website proudly displays the Consumers Digest Best Buy award.

So what's the problem?

The tank-in-tank, which enables the machine to be sleek and compact, is the problem. The tank-in-tank is clever, really. A flexible bladder sits inside a rigid tank. Fill the bladder with clean hot water. It expands when full and slowly shrinks as the water is used up and while waste water is dumped into the rigid tank.

At least, that's what it's supposed to do. Unfortunately, the bladder becomes permanently deformed from hot tap water. Once it's deformed, you need a funnel to fill it because the opening has shrunk. And it can hold only about a quart of water, enough to do about eight square feet.

When I complained about this to their customer service department, I was told that the maximum recommended water temperature is 120 degrees Fahrenheit. (By comparison, our home's hot water runs a bit hotter, because we use a dishwasher and heat our home with hot water. It's set to between 180 and 195 degrees.) I requested a new bladder made from a better heat-resistant material. They didn't have that. I explained that the manual doesn't mention any maximum temperature. (And if you check out the web page, it still says that it "...heats hot tap water up to 25 degrees hotter....") We compromised. I settled with them sending me a new tank-in-tank for free. So I cannot complain about customer service, at least.

Now I still have a bad feeling about the cleaner and the company. I can't help it. How am I supposed to make sure the water I put into the bladder isn't too hot? What troubles me even more is what kind of engineer or product designer would consider 120 degree water to be hot? I guess this is the result of out-sourcing. It was probably designed in some village where the water is heated with camel dung.

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