Analog Angle Blog

When your design solution becomes the user’s problem

Sometimes, you wonder about the “small” decisions that a design team makes, and if they really understand the implications to the user. Then again, maybe they did, and decided the tradeoffs were acceptable or inevitable.

I recently purchased a TomTom GPS model ( with a nicely rounded backside to the case. It looks sleek, that's for sure. But as a consequence of that shaping, the USB connection access is cramped and awkward, so the vendor supplies a USB cable with a right-angle micro-size connector to make it fit, as the photo shows:

I have no problem with their micro-USB choice, although I would have preferred the more-common mini size, since I have several of such chargers around (I do have a mini-to-micro adapter, which cost $3 and is pretty useful).

What I don’t like about this setup is that it's nearly impossible to fit the more common, straight-line USB connector into the receptacle. As a result, all of my other USB chargers and cables are useless, and I am pretty much stuck with the vendor-supplied one. That's not good if you need to charge it away from your normal routine, or misplace the supplied cable (yes, that happens).

What I suspect here—but for which I have no evidence, of course– is that the electronics designers were faced with the challenge fitting the PC board and connector in the curving case design. As a consequence, they had to go to this somewhat unusual style of USB connector to make it possible. In effect, intentional or not, they solved their problem by making it into my problem.

Regardless of the motive or rationale—whether it was done because of the enclosure styling or just because it seemed like a good “esthetics” idea—I'm not happy about it. Sure, a design team does what it has to do balance among the various design objectives, constraints, and tradeoffs—that's not news. It's just that that sometimes the end user has to deal with the implications, and that is unsettling.

Have you ever had to knowingly make design decisions which diminished what is called the “user experience”? Alternatively, have you ever been at the receiving end of the same??

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