Tunnel vision


There are many different variations on the theme of tunnel vision in our daily lives, ranging from the trivial to the very serious.

That designers are not immune to a narrowing of focus to a point where you lose track of the original targets you set yourself. What made me think of this was a wee accessory karabiner that Pascal dug out of the depths of his rucksack this morning.

What can you say about it?

Ok, so it is nice and compact. It is branded and has ridges on the top part of the body that look like they mean business. But these tools are not about being just another pretty face, rather the design should follow functional considerations.

Or does it?

Well, first off, let us have a quick look at Petzl’s US Patent No: 7082647, snap-hook for carrying accessories…

The abstract of the patent states that:

The body of a snap-hook for carrying accessories is equipped with a guard lug attached to the top part and extending facing the lateral branch opposite the finger so as to define a groove designed to be inserted on a support element, in particular a belt, to achieve immobilization of the snap-hook.

So the tab facing the gate that locates the karabiner onto the webbing is a patented feature.

Black Diamond got around this with their Ice Clippers by replacing the tab with a very short stubby protrusion and using a piece of rubber to locate the webbing. DMM’s Vaults are clamped onto the webbing using a hinged double back design… there are a number of ways to address the issue on how to locate a racking karabiner onto webbing that are not in conflict with Petzl’s patent.

The solution that Mammut’s designers decided to go with was simply to switch the tab onto the back of the karabiner.

Now, if you spend about five seconds thinking about this, you realize that there is a bit of an issue here: In the other solutions the webbing is held captive within the karabiner, whereas with the Mammut solution, the karabiner straddles the webbing – the net result being that should the tab snap off, you lose the karabiner and everything you racked onto it into the bottomless abyss.

This to my mind is a case of target fixation: the end product shall look good, display nice finish and styling, shall instill a sense of purpose and getting-the-job-doneness… even when this is de facto not the case.

Do not let nice design blinker you and stop you from questioning the actual degree of functionality inherent to a tool – sometimes this is blindingly obvious, other times it takes a bit of discussion and working with the tool in question to establish this.

Function should be the prime objective, rather that a nice finish… if the two can go hand in hand, all the better. But a focus on design cannot be allowed to supplant function.