is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
This is the rice cooker that my parents bought for me when I went to college in the fall of 1989. It’s been with me ever since, through many roommates, girlfriends, and lonely spells as an eligible bachelor. And it’s been a reliable workhorse for my young family too, regularly serving up fresh, hot, perfectly cooked rice for all five of us.
That’s twenty-five years of loyal service. Along the way it acquired some unbecoming yellowing on its painted sides and a nasty dent along the rim of the pot itself (you can see the way the pot sits unevenly as a result). But it never let me down, not once, in all that time, until finally it succumbed to age a few months ago and cooked its last pot. A sad but noble end to an illustrious kitchen career.
The point of this post has been made many times, but I make it again here partly out of sentimentality: simple appliances like my old rice cooker have become complicated by digital technology. In some instances, they’ve been made worse. This is what I encountered in the instruction manual of the newer model we brought home to replace the old one.
Granted, some of these steps are necessary for primitive cookers too — putting the rice in the pot and plugging in the cooker, for instance. But the old cooker had one button that worked all the time, and I always knew when it was on and I never had to consult a manual to figure out how to use it. The new one is practically inscrutable in comparison. You might argue that the new one does more, of course; there are at least a half-dozen modes, and maybe some of them are useful, even. But I’m willing to bet that it’s not going to last me twenty-five years.+