Riffing on Worse is Better

I’m declaring today “Worse is Better” day. Everybody seems to be wondering why crappy designs win.

Seth writes that almost everything is lousy, especially Phillips screws.

Hamish is considering switching to a Dvorak keyboard layout given Jared Diamond’s account of the undeserved success of QWERTY.

Lispers have spent years struggling with the question of why C, a programming language that is inferior to Lisp in so many ways, is so much more popular. The most famous guess came from Richard Gabriel in 1991: Worse is Better.

I’m not about to try to explain how bad design succeeds — Jared (am I allowed to refer to a Pulitzer prize winner by his first name) and Richard’s articles do a much better job of it than I ever could — but I would like to to offer some observations.

Americans no longer have to drive to Canada to buy Robertson screws. They can order them from McFeely’s.

Typist no longer need to buy a new machine or retool an old one to switch over to the Dvorak layout as they did in the days of the manual typewriters. A few clicks of the mouse, and they’re there.

Programmers, as they move to web applications, are no longer bound by the choices of their operating system vendor. They are free to choose the language they feel is best for their application.

Everywhere you look, the old barriers to good design are coming down.

Are we looking at the Fall of Worse is Better? Will only good designs succeed from now on and bad ones no longer become entrenched? Probably not, but it might mean that those who care enough can bypass the crap and use what they find best.