Good design or just make it work?


Have you ever really looked at a roller coaster? Or, for that matter, the control panel of a roller coaster? You know, ever paid attention to what’s controlling that ride you’re going really fast on, up in the air, maybe even upside down? Well, I did. Last weekend I was in Chicago, just in time to see the leaves changing colors and to take my niece and nephew to a pumpkin patch for Halloween.

As it turns out, a suburban pumpkin patch has much more to offer than the urban ones I always went to: Junk food, farm animals, pumpkins, rides and tractors. I’m there with my neice and nephew and they love it. That’s where the roller coasters come in. The kids spot one with little tow trucks that they can sit in and pretend like they’re driving. It goes around in a circle with a few little bumps and twists. As I’m taking pictures I notice the control panel for the ride. The control panel is pure low-budget, sci-fi, carnie hokiness. It amazes me. It’s got a big red button (“stop,” right?) and a little green button (you’re with me now, that one’s for “go”) and then there’s a dial (who knows?). It’s rusty and ancient and is being used on this fancy little tow truck ride. Does it matter that it’s so low tech? I mean, this is what they’re using to control a ride that hundreds of kids ride on every day. So my question is this, good design (simple, functional) or does it just make it work?