Yesterday I saw an interesting idea:

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What are some potential reasons why so few cables have a coil in their middle - like old telephone cables? I know that we don't want all cables to be like that, but for cables that easily to be messy, keeping them short will makes thing looks neat. For example, this is my desk:

image description

You see, all the terminals of cable 1 and 2 are very close to each others, but the length of the cables themselves need to be long, in case they need to be far away. You can argue that I can tie cable 1 so that they won't be messy, but in case I need to move my laptop in to somewhere (say to my bed next to the desk), I need to untie the cable, and when I move it back, I have to tie it again. And sometimes, messy causes accidents.

  • 3
    I don't see how a coiled cable in any way prevents the problem the ad is talking about. Also, if you are over 30, you'd likely know why coiled telephone cords weren't the greatest thing, either. :)
    – DA01
    Feb 18, 2015 at 6:52
  • Why not? It the cable doesn't have extra part, it won't get intangled by the feet. But it need to have extra part in case the terminals it attaches on aren't near
    – Ooker
    Feb 18, 2015 at 6:59
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about User Experience. Feb 18, 2015 at 7:01
  • 3
    That's why: dl.clackamas.edu/ch106-08/images/68044.jpg
    – peterchen
    Feb 18, 2015 at 8:00
  • 1
    @MichaelLai yes fair point. Perhaps I was a bit brash. I've removed my downvote.
    – Wander
    Feb 19, 2015 at 11:54

3 Answers 3


The design introduces other problems

  • They tangle more than straight cables. Try putting 20 of those in a box, moving house and leaving it six months, or imagine what a work cable cupboard might be like with 100 in not stored carefully. This means the user has more of a headache to extract and use the cable they require.
  • You can't wrap them up neatly like straight cables, making it more difficult for the user to store them.
  • Putting the cable through a hole, such as one that is often drilled by users into desks etc. becomes significantly more difficult
  • They are much more difficult to bunch, as you might with five or ten and some cable ties at a work station or in a studio

There are already other solutions that solve the problem of tripping

  • People use gaffer tape to flatten cables to the ground, or these, or they put them under rugs
  • Cable tidies and desk designs (either professionally designed or improvised)
  • Magnetic connections as mentioned elsewhere

None of these ubiquitous and cheap solutions would work any where near as well with coiled cables and they already solve the problem of tripping.

And ...

Just because you put a coil in a cable like that doesn't mean you won't trip, the springiness will make the cable cling to the caught limb (making it more difficult to reactively unhook your foot mid step, as I'm sure many of you have done) and if moving fast you'd only have a split second longer before falling over or yanking a piece of equipment off a desk. That isn't even considering the effect of a stretched spring - with a straight cable you can catch yourself before disaster strikes, with a coiled cable you'd just watch as the springiness yanked your iphone off the table.

So, it's not purported as a good solution to the problem of tripping over cables because it's not actually a good solution to tripping over cables.

  • Thanks for your answer, but after you answer me, I realize that I had written a misleading question. I have improved it, hope you come back and see.
    – Ooker
    Feb 20, 2015 at 7:51
  • 3
    Just a general safety tip: NEVER put power cables under rugs or carpets. They become a fire hazard.
    – DA01
    Feb 22, 2015 at 7:37
  • 2
    @DA01 - indeed, but people do, I think a major part of UX is taking into account the fact people will do alsorts with any given product lol
    – Toni Leigh
    Feb 27, 2015 at 22:10

Coiled cables are in tension as soon as you stretch them beyond their at-rest state. This has two problems:

  1. It puts strain on connectors. Connectors in this case are in danger of being pulled out of their sockets and can, if plugged in at an angle to the direction of the cable in tension, put strain on the socket.

  2. Smaller devices will be pulled around by the cable in tension. External hard drives, small external audio devices, phones, tablets, etc: none are heavy enough to prevent the cable from pulling them around. This means that the cable is effective only at it's at-rest state, rendering the benefits of the coil moot.

What you really want is either just shorter cables or a retractable device on the cable (like you see in this images search). These devices let you set the length you want without the tension problems outlined above.


The keyboard cable on mid 90s Apple Macs ( ie pre USB ) actually came with a small coiled section in the middle - so if you pulled the keyboard towards you it provided some 'cushioning' before you yanked hard on the connectors:

Apple Macintosh ADB Keyboard Cable

The design may have been to keep things tidy - or it may have been to protect the connectors.

Putting the coil on a cable to a component which is intended to be moved - is rather different to using it on static cables.

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