Apple Iphone charging cables.
Apple Iphone charging cables.
Image: Solen Feyissa/Unsplash

In that instant, a couple of hours of holding the phone at a precarious 45-degree angle that somehow got the charging cable working seemed eminently reasonable. Could I conduct a day’s work with only my right hand while its opposite number carried out this essential task? A loo break would be impossible, as would getting water, but where phone-battery life is considered, needs must. Such is the lot of an iPhone user.

At some point, sooner rather than later, your charger cable will go bust. Splitting at the point where the cable and lighting connector (the head that slots into the phone) join, perishing at a point of pressure, internal wires snapping because of “rough usage”. The longevity of said electrical lifeline is brief. This quasi-obsolescence might or might not be planned by the gods over at Apple, but it’s one that would be easier to stomach if said flimsy rubber cell-phone accoutrement did not cost R500 to replace each time.

Of course, you could buy a cheaper, non-Apple version and take your chances on it working. Mentioning this possibility to an iStore salesperson only adds to the agony. The disappointed eyes, the tut-tuts, the cautionaries about faux products damaging battery life. They have perfected a subtle, fear-based guilt that would have made my Catholic grandmother proud. I bring this technological irritation up not because I have turned into a consumer crusader for the not-insignificant 19% of South Africa’s 20-million smart-phone users who have iPhones, but because it illustrates a good point: you often only notice the design of something when it is poor.

Those iPhone cables might be aesthetically pleasing in their minimal Apple whiteness, they do the job (when they’re not perishing) simply and usefully, they are unobtrusive — in fact, they’d tick a whole lot of points on design guru Dieter Rams’s iconic Ten Principles for Good Design. But they fail spectacularly on one — that “good design is long-lasting”.

This is all especially distressing because otherwise I am a complete Apple devotee. I love everything else about their hugely slick and intuitive phones and tablets and computers, so I willingly stay tangled up in my web of terrible cables. Like Elvis Presley, I’m caught in a trap and can’t walk out because I love them too much, baby.

Wretched wires aside, I mentally collect examples of poor design as I stumble through life. These are designs that vex — ones just off enough to annoy. Soup ladles made for right-handers that render lefties like me lame in the face of a vichyssoise, for example. You laugh… until you end up covered in molten butternut liquid, that is.

My current pet hate can best be described as the slow lane outside Standard Bank’s Rosebank Wealth and Investment offices on Bath Avenue in Joburg. It (the entire lane) has become a de facto drop-off and pick-up spot — presumably for bank employees. The resulting mess of backed-up traffic dodging the strip of tar is only outdone by the potholes and dubious architecture on Oxford Road. It’s also a design nightmare that could easily have been avoided, given the miles of paved pedestrian concourse in front of the building.

It harks back to the Gautrain station in Sandton and its decade-long lack of proper roadside pick-up area — and the ensuing, fluctuating bottleneck of cars on West Street. Both are examples of urban design that don’t take into account who uses a space and how they do it. Bad, in other words. I could go on. And on. But you’re lucky — I’ve kept it short because typing with two fingers while holding a charging phone is not as easy as you’d think.

 From the July edition of Wanted, 2023.

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