Are simple, rugged, reliable systems better or are fancy, sophisticated, complex ones better?

The article goes in with a preconception, analyzes suitcases, cars, hiking gear, food, cups, space pens, people, startups, soccer, headphones, weight, rockets, rockets, ships, and banks, and comes to the conclusion: 

I hoped that this exercise would show that simple, rugged, reliable systems are systematically better than fancy fragile ones. But it didn’t. Sometimes rugged wins and sometimes it doesn’t.

It says more about trends and patterns he found. Go read the short article to find out more.

I liked that it notices confusion and babbles lots of interesting categories.

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4 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:03 PM

I'd be interested in seeing a similar article for legible versus illegible systems. (I wouldn't be shocked if Scott's already written that and I've forgotten it.)

What's wrong with four wheeled suitcases? Can't you just use them like a two-wheeled if you want? They seem to have taller wheels which I guess has advantages and disadvantages, but they don't strike me as obviously worse.

Having used both, I can confirm that the four-wheelers require smoother surfaces and any small obstacle requires some small conscious effort, while two-wheelers are much more forgiving of obstacles.

Interesting, do you happen to know why? Naively I'd have thought the taller wheels would be better at obstacles (less likely to get the case itself caught on something, though this ~never happens with my two wheel so whatever), plus in my head the wheels are bigger which should also help. But I guess they're also on casters, maybe those are bad at obstacles? Looking at wikipedia I could imagine flutter being a problem. Also the weight is further away from the ground, but my guess is not enough to make the case significantly less stable.

For me, four-wheeler means four wheels like those on an office chair. The suitcase stays vertical and is directed by the pull-out grip. Two-wheeler means two fixed wheels, and you pull the suitcase angled 45° on a somewhat longer pull-out grip like a cart. The wheels can be the same size, but I also had ones where the two fixed wheels were larger (2x?). Larger wheels are more forgiving of obstacles as people who use both roller skates, scooters, and bicycles know. But even if they are the same size, the ability of the four wheels to go into different directions causes them to budge on small obstacles, while the two fixed wheels necessarily follow you along.