Failure, it turns out, is an option.
The Museum of Failure, a traveling pop-culture show presenting commercial products and services that rank as epic fails — beef lasagna frozen dinner from toothpaste maker Colgate, anyone? — has opened at downtown L.A.’s A+D Architecture and Design Museum. The show, a hit in Sweden this summer, was organized by Samuel West, a Swedish clinical psychologist and self-described “innovation researcher,” who has brought “Failure” to Los Angeles for a two-month run.
At the opening-night party Friday, guests nibbled on shrimp cocktail, snapped pictures of business ventures gone wrong and otherwise made a success of a place that celebrates the freedom to fail.
With 17,000 visitors in about three months in Helsingborg, Sweden, and with plans to tour internationally, isn’t there an inherent contradiction in the Museum of Failure?
“It’s hilarious to think of the Museum of Failure as a success,” West said. “I didn’t expect it. I was, and still am, shocked that I’m opening my little museum in Los Angeles. It’s surreal. It’s a nerdy exhibit — a collection of innovation failures — and I’m still getting used to the fact that people are interested in it.”
The museum resonates in an age of social media where we’re saturated with picture-perfect lifestyle imagery, he said.
“When people are presented with a perfect image of something — whether a product or a perfect person — it doesn’t feel authentic,” West said. “And the Museum of Failure, with its artifacts, feels — and is — completely genuine and authentic. And that’s something that’s not so common today.”
Here, in no particular order, are West’s picks for some of the biggest failures from the more than 100 flops at the Museum of Failure.
I’m Back and You’re Fired! Trump, the Game
“This one’s not really an innovation, so it doesn’t really belong, but it’s such a failure I made an exception,” West said. “It failed twice — once in 1989, and it was re-launched when Trump became a celebrity with his reality show. And it failed again. That was around 1994. It’s simple: It failed because it’s a lousy game.”
“This came out in 1996. Coca-Cola saw people were buying premium coffees, and they wanted that market, and they were seeing people buy energy drinks, so they thought: ‘Let’s combine it into one drink!’” West said. “It’s coffee mixed with Diet Coke. It’s disgusting. I remember buying it when it came out — I bought one in Paris — and I poured it out in the sink because it was horrible.”
The DeLorean DMC-12
“This was a big scandal, super spacey-looking, futuristic,” West said. “It was supposed to be revolutionary with its gull-wing doors, all high-tech. The problem with it was they took such a long time to get it into production, the competition had already released cars that were cooler than this one. It looked cool — it was in ‘Back to the Future’ — but it was under-powered, the motor wasn’t very exciting, it was full of problems. It was a huge misadventure in car manufacturing.”
Colgate beef lasagna
“This is the only product we have that’s a reconstruction because we don’t have the original,” West said. “According to the branding literature, Colgate launched a line of frozen dinner entrees in the 1980s. It’s a total branding failure by Colgate. They put their logo on frozen entrees, which is misaligned with selling toothpaste.”
Apple MessagePad, a.k.a. the Newton
“It’s the iconic technology failure from Apple,” West said. “Where to start? It was 1993 when it was launched, and the revolutionary thing about it was that it didn’t have a keyboard. You used the stylus; it had a handwriting recognition feature. Only one problem: It didn’t work. It totally misunderstood what you wrote. You could write, ‘Lunch with my mom,’ and it would enter ‘Take a taxi to town.” I’m making this up. But you get the idea. It became synonymous with expensive technology that didn’t work.”
Failure confession booth
“We created a place where you go in and confess your failures anonymously in the booth,” West said. “And then you post it for everyone to view. It’s fun and liberating to see all these big, multinational companies fail and also, alongside, that people can also fail — in small ways, big ways, personal ways, sad ways. You realize it’s not so horrible to fail. We shouldn’t be afraid of it. We should be more open to discussing our own failure.”
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Museum of Failure
Where: A+D Architecture and Design Museum, 900 E. 4th St., L.A.
When: Wednesdays-Sundays, through Feb. 4
Info: (213) 346-9734, failuremuseum.com
Follow me on Twitter: @debvankin