Examples of positive unintended outcomes of design?
April 12, 2021 7:47 PM   Subscribe

Designers of the world do you have any examples of positive unintended outcomes of design?

For example, I heard the anecdote that ramps on sidewalks were originally build for people with disabilities and as an added benefit it helped people who pushed strollers. I have lots of examples of designs meant to exclude people (like uncomfortable benches for homeless people) - or designs that fail to take different people into account. I am looking for the opposite - something where a design (any design architecture, urban planning, technology) was intended for one thing but had a happy, surprising, and/or beneficial outcome that could not be foreseen.
posted by turtlefu to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

Benefits of accessible design
it will also help:

People developing their English language skills
People using older technologies to access the internet
People in very loud or very quiet environments where speech is difficult or impossible to understand
People using mobile devices

NPR: In helping those with disabilities, the ADA improves access for all - example 1, an elevator was put in to meet ADA requirements but is also used by elderly people, people with strollers, small children, heavy bags, etc.
posted by bashing rocks together at 8:43 PM on April 12 [5 favorites]

Googling "curb cut effect" may help you. Also, recommend checking out this 99% Invisible podcast episode.
posted by Paper rabies at 9:13 PM on April 12 [4 favorites]

Ha, there's another episode of 99% Invisible that fits the bill too -- this one, about how a civil engineer's arbitrary decision of how far to space the beams underneath a bridge ended up creating a perfect habitat for bats.
posted by mekily at 9:30 PM on April 12 [9 favorites]

Joseph Beuys' 7000 Oaks in Kassel is an interesting instance of an outcome beyond the design. In Kassel a large basalt stele/block was placed next to each tree (as part of the installation) at planting time.

As time progressed people notice that the trees with boulders did better through droughts - the basalt was either acting a reservoir and/or attracting water to the site (more likely from what I've seen elsewhere). I do not have a ref. for the basalt/water/tree relationship and think it came to me when I shared an office with several Kasselites once.

And if you want your mind opened w i d e, go down some of the Joseph Beuys rabbit holes out there. That said LOGON mag is quite odd, but the article's useful.
posted by unearthed at 11:23 PM on April 12 [4 favorites]

The champions in this category are the great technology triumphs of the age, GPS, for example. The 10,000 unexpected uses of the system came about when the GPS receiving was (unexpectedly) reduced to an inexpensive chip. The same sort of thing could be said about the combination of the smartphone and the internet.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:02 AM on April 13

Ubiquitous cellphone cameras were certainly never intended to make police actions more accountable, but here we are.
posted by scruss at 5:36 AM on April 13 [6 favorites]

OXO Good Grips - designed for people with arthritis but they quickly found that produced tools better for all users.

We’ve been living this for so long–but the OXO line was universal design, or inclusive design, long before either had a name. Inclusive design is a much better term, I think, because it means including more people. With inclusive design, you never know when you might have the need for a product like this. You could injure your hand playing sports, or your grandmother could be dropping in for a visit. Just this idea of making a product that was better for anybody, and be for everybody!
posted by Gortuk at 5:45 AM on April 13 [9 favorites]

Some years ago, we painted the bedroom a warm taupe-y gray. and fought less. Not enough less for the marriage to survive, but the bedroom was def. nicer.
posted by theora55 at 12:23 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]

I read almost exclusively large print books now, which were initially designed for those with low vision. Officially, I'm not considered low-vision, but I'm quite nearsighted (and will need progressive lenses soon) and I find the larger print means I can read for longer without eye fatigue or cognitive fatigue. Though I can't find it now, I am positive I read an article recently that said people with regular vision benefit from large print too because they can read for longer periods of time without fatigue.

On the technology side: I love my e-reader because I can adjust the font size myself and make any book "large print."
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:29 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]

I heard that wheeled suitcases only really became a thing after the ADA.
posted by lokta at 4:47 PM on April 13

Comic Sans started out as a "make these help balloons look less formal" thing, and incidentally is more easily readable for many people with dyslexia.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:07 PM on April 13

Skateboarding seems to take this idea as an approach to urban design.
posted by sepviva at 7:35 PM on April 14

The Victor Papanek quote I was looking for in this posted question refers to the necessity for universal design (and the consequentially wider use of universal design solutions).
posted by BrStekker at 7:15 PM on April 15

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