It’s been 55 years since Which? was founded. Over that time consumer trends have changed dramatically. Our tests have changed also – so what were we putting through its paces fifty years ago?
One of the most enjoyable parts of researching this month’s article on consumer trends was going through the archives to see how our product tests have changed over the years.
Not only are we all buying different things today, we also use products in a different way.
The tests we won’t be repeating
There are some tests that I can’t see us repeating. Here’s my top three:
- We tested zip fasteners in 1960, including putting 15lb weights on the pullers and end stops to see how they fared.
- In 1970 we turned our attention to instant potato, testing its Vitamin C content and how well the boxes stood up to ‘being bashed’.
- School geometry sets – as well as the obligatory lab test, we also got 100 14-year-old girls to try them out. Pencils ‘on the whole were not very good’.
There were other surprises in my search through the Which? archives. The teddy bear test in 1967 featured an x-ray scan of the bears’ joints, as well as a flammability test. All of them fared well, apart from a poor little teddy called Rose-bud that burnt quickly. Rose-bud’s manufacturers responded to our test by making the teddy flameproof.
Also in 1967 there was an article about ‘paper dresses’, all costing under £1. This included a section on what happens when these paper dresses get wet, with the question ‘do they trickle away into a pool of unpleasant goo like the witch in the Wizard of Oz?’
If you’re wondering, we concluded that all the paper dresses would survive a shower of rain without ‘acute embarrassment’. Though they didn’t do too well when washed, getting crumpled, going into holes and losing colour.
The evolution of Which? product testing
Here are a couple of products that we still test, but definitely not against the same standards:
- Computers – in 1987 we were obsessed with seeing how well PCs worked with a cassette player. Back then the maximum memory a PC could muster was 512K of Ram.
- Cameras – in 1983 we tested 35mm cameras, looking at loading, winding and even rewinding film. We also covered questions such as ‘where’s Aunt Edna’s head’ to help people with photo composition. And we deemed seven seconds too long to wait for the flash to charge up, but four was fine.
It’s questionable whether all the changes products have been through over the past fifty years have been positive. Camera viewfinders have fallen out of fashion for example, something we’ve worked to see return following your comments here on Which? Conversation.
So what products or features of the past would you like to see a resurgence of? Is there anything you’d like us to test in the future? And what do you think Which? will be testing in 55 years time?