Learning From Failure: What L.A.’s New “Museum of Failure” Has to Tell Us

There’s something awfully catchy about the title of L.A.’s new gallery, “The Museum of Failure”. It taunts my inner bully and I know I’m not the only one ready to feast. Last weekend, there was a line out the door when I visited the gallery myself.

Museums are spaces dedicated to preserving the cultural artifacts of our times. Fabulously failed products not only give us a glimpse into a designer’s (bad) assumptions in the past, but also allow us to reflect on how far we’ve come as entrepreneurs, designers, citizens, and more. They can even represent cultural inflection points, showcasing when a product was too early or too late for its time.

Dr. Samuel West, a Swiss organizational psychologist and researcher, started the Museum of Failure in Helsingborg, Sweden to sold-out crowds. He tells me in an e-mail that in order to make it into this exhibit, a product must be a failure and innovative at the same time.

West tells the New York Times, “Literature is obsessively focused on success, but 80 to 90 percent of innovations actually fail. Why don’t these failures get the attention they actually deserve?”

He adds, “Every failure is uniquely spectacular, while success is nauseatingly repetitive.”

In the name of failure, here are a few of the most important design principles this gallery teaches you.

1. Gendered marketing doesn’t make sense for most products.

Over the last few years, brands have become more cautious of the marketing they use to sell their products. People have made their point loud and clear — they don’t need you telling them what to buy. Our society has collectively moved towards gender neutral language, which has allowed us to focus on what really matters about a product and not arbitrary marketing fluff.

Take the following line of pens, for which BIC received a lot of humiliation.

(Image: helpfulsnowman)

(Image: helpfulsnowman)

If you’re not laughing already, take a look at the Amazon reviews below.

(Image: Buzzfeed)

(Image: Buzzfeed)

Is there anything wrong with pink pens and flowery details? Of course not! However, there’s nothing inherently male or female about that pen, so the marketing should focus on its qualities and not the made-up stuff.

2. Brands have expectations to use or lose.

Take a look at this image and think about what makes this so nauseating.

(Image: Buzzfeed)

(Image: Buzzfeed)

With brand name, comes expectations and memories. So, Colgate managed to make this Beef Lasagne taste like crap before even opening it.

I’d be shocked to see a brand repeat this incredibly stupid mistake. However, there’s a simple solution to this. Brands only need to create new brands (or purchase old ones) in order to start over, since most people won’t ever find out anyway. For example, did you know that Lamborghini is owned by Volkswagen or that smartwater is owned by Coca-Cola? There are fresh starts available for everybody.

3. Be aware of your costs and design for manufacturability.

(Image: Brickipedia)

(Image: Brickipedia)

Between 1999 and 2003, LEGO suffered terrible losses and almost went bankrupt by the end of it. LEGO designer, Mark Stafford, took to Reddit to explain:

The LEGO company at that stage had no idea how much it cost to manufacture the majority of their bricks, they had no idea how much certain sets made. The most shocking finding was about sets that included the LEGO micro-motor and fiber-optic kits — in both cases it cost LEGO more to source these parts then the whole set was being sold for — everyone of these sets was a massive loss leader and no one actually knew.

After analyzing all its costs, LEGO was able to cut expensively designed lines like the Fiber-Optic set pictured above and focus on its core construction sets. For toys that have thousands of parts, it must not be easy keeping an organized cost portfolio, but the difference could be the death of a company.

A more recent example highlighting the importance of designing for manufacturability is the massive failure of Juicero, the device made for fruit and vegetable juicing. Juicero initially priced its juicer at $699 but if that number doesn’t scare you, this will — it also raised $120 million in venture capital funding.

(Image: The Verge)

(Image: The Verge)

The astronomically-expensive juicer was overly-complicated for a device that had one simple function. Chris Evans, the company’s founder, said that the juice press wielded four tons of force — “enough to lift two Teslas”. With hundreds of custom injection-molded parts and fancy electronics like QR-code scanning, the Juicero likely had a high price point to make up for its expensive manufacturing costs.

Between the $699 juicer and the $7 juice packs, consumers had no reason to purchase this over any of the much cheaper alternatives, like fresh juice from the local bodega. Ultimately, a lethal Bloomberg article published the discovery that was the final nail in the coffin — squeezing the bag with your hands yields nearly the same amount of juice as the juice press itself.

Laugh at it, then learn from it. These hilarious failures are the cultural artifacts our generation deserves.

Visit the Museum of Failure

When: 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, through Feb. 18.

Where: A+D Architecture and Design Museum, 900 E. 4th St., Los Angeles

Admission: $8-$15, includes admission

Information: 213–346–9734. http://aplusd.org