A Visit To The Museum of Failure in Los Angeles

The Museum of Failure is the brainchild of Swedish clinical psychologist and self-described “innovation researcher” Dr. Samuel West. Brought to Los Angeles last December for an initial two-month run, the temporary museum exhibition consists of a 100+ marketing failures from some of the world’s best known brands and companies such as Mattel, Apple and Nabisco.

Museum of Failure in Los Angeles

museum of failure in los angeles

The original exhibit in Helsingborg, Sweden received about 17,000 visitors in three months, garnering international attention. Joining the ‘pop-up trend’ like The Museum of Ice Cream, the traveling exhibition has come to DTLA (that’s Downtown Los Angeles for those who are still unfamiliar with the relatively new acronym) at the a+d museum and has been extended through February 18th.

Visiting the Museum of Failure with Drea Gronkowski (That’s her in front of the sign)

I went to check it out with my friend and fellow pop-culture enthusiast Drea Gronkowski last Friday. The museum’s temporary home at the a+d (Architecture and Design Museum) is in the rapidly expanding Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles.

The interior space for the show was small and yet it was arranged so that the flow of traffic didn’t bottleneck too badly. However, the presentation lacked a bit in the details. In some instances it would have been nice to know how much money had been put into the product and how great a financial loss was suffered. Nevertheless, it’s a nostalgic and intriguing trip through time and misfit toys.

The Edsel, transportation designs’ paragon of failure, was there.

Originally conceived of during Dr. West’s research on corporate success and innovation, the artifacts on view range from some of the best known failures, e.g. The Titanic and The Edsel, to more obscure finds like Mattel’s “Growing-Up Skipper”, a version of Barbie’s younger sis who sprouted breasts when her arm was wound.

Mattel’s Growing Up Skipper, Barbie’s little Sis, sprouted breasts when her arm was rotated.

Unisex products suddenly ‘redesigned’ for women, never seem to work – Take note Doritos. Remember the horrendously sexist Audi for women? Bic Pens For Her can be added to the list of ‘female-skewed’ products that never needed to be.

Bic pens ‘for her’ came in pink and purple and were said to be “dainty.”

Early adopters may cringe at the number of tech products in the show they themselves might have purchased – from the Betamax machine, the Modo, Apple’s Newton, Microsoft’s Zune… to the over-engineered, overpriced Juicero, one of 2017 biggest product failures.

The Atari ET Game and The Sound Burger were among the examples of failed technological consumer products
The $700 juice packet squeezer, 2017’s failed Juciero

In addition to several of the doomed technological innovations shown, food and beverage failures ranging from a wall of ‘favorite and failed’ Oreo flavors to Coca-Cola BlāK are on display.

A wall of packaged Oreos demonstrates flavors that both succeeded and failed.
Swedish Fish-flavored Oreos were not one of the Nabisco brand’s biggest hits
Colgate’s proposed line of frozen dinners was doomed

There’s even a section for President Donald Trump’s product failures including the Trump version of Monopoly from 1989, Trump Vodka, Trump Water and more.

One of the more engaging displays was the “Failure Confessional” where visitors could confess their own failures by writing on a post-it note and adding it to the wall.

Some of the funniest and most poignant include “I wore white after Labor Day”, “Moving to L.A.” and “My 1st Husband.”

“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.”

Museum of Failure

Where: A+D Architecture and Design Museum, 900 E. 4th St., L.A.
When: Wednesdays-Sundays, through Feb. 18
Look for Tickets here

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