Simplifying a Design Doesn’t Always Make It Better

[Intro music]

Lauren Goode: Hi everyone. I’m Lauren Goode. I’m a senior writer at WIRED, and you’re listening to Gadget Lab. I’m joined by my cohost, WIRED senior editor, Michael Calore.

MC: Aloha.

LG: Michael’s a little sick.

MC: Just a little bit.

LG: Just a tad. Originally he was supposed to host this show. We called an audible last minute. He said, “Would you mind stepping in?” And I said, “Anything for you, Mike.” But I am sorry that your voice is not up to par.

MC: I appreciate you, Lauren.

LG: Yes. Today we’re going to be talking about wild concepts and realities in product design. These are big ideas that are impacting the way you live right now, though you may not realize it, like the way you drive or the way you ride your monowheel. Yes, we’re going to spend an entire portion of the show talking about one-wheeled devices and why people would ride them when there are plenty of perfectly good two-wheel transport options out there. We’re also going to be talking about buttonless phones, why phone makers are designing them right now, some of the pros and cons of both of them, some of the things you might not think about when it comes to products without buttons. And our colleague, Julian Chokkattu is going to join us later to talk about that.

LG: But first I’m really excited because we’re bringing on our very own Boone Ashworth for the first segment about electric unicycles. Boone is normally our podcast producer. He’s now a writer on our team at WIRED, and he’s joining us for the pod. Thanks for joining.

Boone Ashworth: Hi. Thanks for having me.

LG: Boone, you wrote a story about why people are obsessed with single-wheel devices. Tell us about this.

BA: OK, so single-wheel devices, you’ve probably seen these if you’ve ever been in a major city. If you spend like 10 seconds in San Francisco, you’ll have a one-wheeled zooming past you on the sidewalk. So the biggest one is probably one wheel. It’s like a skateboard with just one giant, fat tire right in the middle of it. There’s also electric unicycles, which you basically stand on them and face forward and just kind of zoom down the street like a cyborg. And these have gotten really popular along with other electronic personal vehicles like scooters, electric skateboards, things like that. And they kind of come from a long history of single-wheel devices. People have been interested in these for since like the late 1800s hundreds. At least that’s when the first patented monowheel came out. And monowheels were these giant contraptions where basically people sat inside one giant wheel and peddled it and tried to move around, and it was kind of unwieldy and gigantic and inefficient. And there was something about them that captured our attention, though.

They got big in the 1920s and ’30s, and you would see them on the covers of like popular science magazine. They’d be these giant concept drawings of like one-wheeled tanks, one-wheeled like plane, boat things, just a combination. And even today you see them in movies. You see them in Star Wars, people riding in one-wheeled vehicles, things like Men in Black 3, I think. The one-wheeled vehicle is kind of a shorthand for futuristic technology, something that’s just beyond our grasp. It kind of looks impossible, but it seems like it should kind of work because we have two-wheel vehicles, so what if we could just take one wheel off? So there’s been this sort of fascination with it for a long time. And we are now in a point where people are actually riding them, and they’re a viable means of transportation, and people are on the streets with them.

Choose your Reaction!