I have decided to start featuring stories about good and bad design. Let’s start off with the British electrical plug.

Read about it below or hear about it from Tom Scott in this lovely video [4:25]:

British Plugs As Explained By Tom Scott

The main goal of the British design is safety. Both the part that’s going in and the part being gone into are cleverly designed. Here’s what they did:

  1. Looking at the socket, we see they placed two pinholes for live electricity and an additional pinhole for grounding.
  2. They placed safety shutters on the live pinholes, to prevent you sticking anything in there and getting electrocuted.
  3. They made it so the only way to open the safety shutters is to plug in the ground pin first.
  4. Here’s what they didn’t do though: make it so that whenever the ground pin is inserted, and thus whenever the live pinholes are accessible, the only things that can reach in are the two life pins on the plug. As things are now, you can insert the plug “upside down” as it were, to insert the ground pin and open the shutters while the live pins just dangle about. But this too has it’s uses, in particular for troubleshooting. If you need to see if anything’s got logged in the live pinholes, inserting the plug this way would safely open the shutters so you could peer in.
  5. Looking at the plug we find insulation on the “top” half of the live pins, so that, in the event that the plug is not fully inserted, but far enough in to be live, you will only be able to touch the insulated part of the pins and thus avoid electrocution.
  6. Looking inside the plug we see extra slack on the ground cable, so that in the event of a powerful jerk, the live wires will come loose first and the ground wire has a greater chance of remaining connected.
  7. And my favorite: They put a fuse inside the plug! This way the house does not need complicated wiring. I love it!
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