My award for the worst, dumbest, most asinine, idiotic product innovation ever goes to a ball-point pen.
If there is one product in our society that does not need any more innovation, it’s the pen. Yet, marketing companies seem to be hell-bent on creating ever more clever designs and add gimmicks to pens so they can be sold in bulk to company marketing departments in order to be given away at conferences. There must be 100 pens to every human in the United States, and that’s not counting the ones still in boxes at Costco and Staples.
I found several of these pens in our company’s cabinet in the conference room where we keep extra supplies. I don’t know where they came from, and I can’t identify the manufacturer. They also have no marketing message. Perhaps they are teaser products to get us to buy lots of them – which we definitely won’t do.
When I first looked at this pen in the image above, nothing struck me as unusual. It felt particularly light, being made all out of plastic, but otherwise I didn’t think it was anything special – until I started using it.
When I clicked on the button at the end, the point came out in the front, so far so good. However, I was not able to retract the point again by clicking on the button, as is customary with about all other pens in the universe. The designers of these pens wanted to be clever.
As you can see in the image above (blue arrow), the point extends and the pen is now ready to write. The button (green arrow) is pushed in. I had to check the pen carefully to figure out how to retract the point again. Then I noticed that the pen was transparent, and I saw a little clear plastic triangle attached to the clip (red arrow). When I pressed on the clip, it released a little spring in the body of the pen, which in turn retracted the point and the button popped back out, ready for another cycle.
I thought that this was a fairly complicated mechanism to accomplish the simple task of retraction and it would certainly confuse the user by forcing him to resort to pushing on the clip to make this happen. That would be like making a car user recline the seat to open the gas tank. Huh?
Then I realized that the little triangle would probably get in the way of using the clip to put the pen into a breast pocket or the inside pocket of a jacket. The little triangle would certainly get in the way.
So I tried it.
Pop! The clip broke off the first time I tried to put the pen into my shirt pocket, because I had to pull out the clip with my fingernail for the fabric to slip over it. The little triangle point release mechanism got in the way.
So now I have a pen that’s trashed. The clip is broken off and will soon be lost. The plastic stub where the clip was now has a sharp edge that scratches the hand when I use the pen to actually WRITE. I cannot clip the pen into my pocket anymore – it has no more clip. And worst of all, with the clip gone, the retract mechanism is broken. Now I must use my fingernail just right where the little triangle used to go to retract the point.
In summary, this little clever innovation made sure that the pen would be totally destroyed pretty much the first time anyone actually would use it to write – which is exactly what happened to me.