Last Updated September 8 2020
Sometimes the best way to illustrate the value of design is through examples of bad design. And sometimes those examples happen in the real world.
Good design often appears invisible— it doesn’t get in the way of the user. But the designs in this post do the exact opposite. They needlessly confuse users, they assume users already have pre-existing knowledge and sometimes they are just plain thoughtless.
Note: My work is supported by affiliate commissions. Read more »
Why do pant size labels never indicate which number is waist and which is length? Not everyone was simply born with this knowledge.
All it takes is a simple “W” and a “L”.
Good design should be internally coherent to the user— it shouldn’t require an external explanation.
Sometimes restaurants make bathroom gender labels playful. That’s okay, so long as the sign does the one job it’s supposed to do: indicate the gender.
Unfortunately I’ve seen signs get too playful— and run the risk of confusing people (especially people who’ve had a few drinks at a pub).
People read parking signs while they drive. So shouldn’t parking signs be readable at a glance? After all you don’t want to distract drivers but making them decipher confusing signage.
And yet parking signs are not at all designed to be read at a glance. Instead parking signs are more like the fine print at the bottom of an advertisement— they require intense focus:
Pedestrian countdowns are supposed to reduce accidents. But studies have suggested that they in fact increase accidents.
The study speculated the increase could be from motorists who speed up when they see they have little time left to cross an intersection.
Oops. Sometimes designs have unintended consequences.
ATM users are waiting for one thing: cash. So when the cash dispenses their immediate reaction is to leave.
That’s why it’s imperative that the cash comes out last— people are far less likely to forget their card if it comes out before the cash.
You have a 50% chance of getting this door right— which side is the hinge on!?
This design does not work for all users:
I like to think that one day, someone in a midwest board room figured out that that appliances that look complex also appear to customers as sophisticated (and thus worth being expensive). So they made appliances more expensive! That’s my only explanation for the mission control interface of most microwaves.
I mean does anyone know how to use every feature of their microwave?