Alongside some famously failed products such as the Betamax video cassette and the DeLorean DMC-12 sports car, there are also some highly unusual ones, such as the eau de toilette fragrance from a motorbike company or the pens developed “especially for women.” Some are strange, such as a “rejuvenating” mask that delivered electric shocks to the wearer’s face and others are just plain surprising. The Newton digital assistant, for instance, was a rare failure for Apple (it launched in 1993 but was cancelled in 1998); but, says West, lessons were learnt from it and it did, ultimately, lead to the development of the iPhone. Google Glass, a more recent, wearable tech innovation, is also on display after failing because it fell foul of privacy issues – although it’s been reported that Google is now in the process of reinventing it.
Before the opening, West found most of his artifacts online, but the success and publicity the museum has generated means he’s now often given donations from the public. Recently, for instance, he received a parcel containing cappuccino-flavor potato chips. “Every week, someone sends me another bad product idea,” he says.
There was, however, a nagging doubt in West’s mind before the museum’s launch. What if no one came? What if, ironically, it was a total failure? “I was terrified initially,” he says, admitting that there would have been a bizarrely pleasing circularity to the whole enterprise if it hadn’t been a success. “But I calmed down later when companies started visiting with their teams. That’s gone crazy, actually: I’ve had so many requests for tours from businesses – particularly ones in France, U.K. and Germany. I think they see that it isn’t just a funny and quirky museum, but a place where they can really learn something.”