• Akshayta Rao

Bad design is everywhere

People make mistakes. That’s one thing we can count on all humans to do. Either it’s a mispronounced word or a text sent to the wrong person, maybe it’s a bad haircut or the decision to devour that chocolate cake after a strict diet – our lives are bursting with blunders, some big, some small and some too evident to ignore (Damn you, chocolate!). And then there are those mistakes that we encounter each day, yet we don’t push to rectify them. Why? Because we aren’t the ones committing those mistakes. So why do they matter? They matter because they’re forcing us to expend more time on a task than what is required. Really? Wouldn’t we know if we were wasting our time? Let’s find out.

Ever tried plugging in a USB cable into its socket? If yes, then I’m sure you’ve experienced the torture of mistakenly inserting the wrong side into the port. Ah, those 3 seconds of severe frustration! You then realize your mistake, correct it and move on with your life. But let me ask you this – haven’t you found yourself committing this error more than once? If mistakes are to be learnt from, why didn’t you learn from yours? Maybe you thought the product was poorly designed, or maybe losing those 3 seconds didn’t quite matter to you. But what happened here is that you encountered an example of bad design, yet continued to use the product as though nothing had happened. Ever wondered how many such seconds of your life have been wasted on a design that could so easily have been fixed? Surely, the iterative users would have deduced that there is a small, almost invisible icon on the side that faces upward, but is that icon obvious enough? How is it indicative of the direction to insert? Maybe there are users who weren’t aware of the intent behind the icon and are just learning of it now. Maybe there are some who noticed the icon, but couldn’t connect the dots. Whatever the case, the design has failed because it forced you devote more time to using the product than what was necessary.

Now the above example may not have been as obvious so, let me suggest something closer to home – a major design flaw that’s IN your home. Notice how switchboards have no indication of their application. You know which contraption a particular switch operates because you rely on memory. You’ve used the same product over and over again, so it’s etched in your memory. If I were to put you inside a strange room and offer you the same switchboard with identical lights, could you tell me which controls what? The switchboard is a massively flawed product that you interact with on a daily basis, but until today, did it bother you at all? No, and that’s mainly because the time invested in using the product is practically negligible. The same goes for your airline boarding pass. Haven’t you noticed how the content is so poorly laid out? If I gave you 5 seconds and asked you to identify your gate and seat number, would you be able to? No, because most normal users find these numbers terribly hard to locate. But because you have an ample amount of time between the counter and your boarding gate, it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to crack that number. If you still can’t manage it, you have attendants who will guide you in the right direction. Yes, your problem is solved, but not in the way that it should have been. And if that’s not a blatant disregard of design, then I don’t know what is.

Bad design is all around us and in fact, more visible than good design. As human beings, when we are exposed to good design, very rarely do we stop to absorb the full weight of it. That is because good design is so seamless, so invisible that its presence is only felt, not realized. Bad design, on the other hand, is screaming at you, demanding to be noticed. Any time you interact with a product by hitting the right controls but the output is not what you desired, know that the design lacks worth. If you have to scout for details on how to use a simple product, know that is has failed in its duty. Your realization will not instantly change the poor design, but it will generate relevant feedback that designers can use to improve the product. As a user, it is vital to recognize and give feedback on bad design, because how else will you fuel better future if you don’t first remedy the present? And I promise you, once you’ve had a taste of good design, you’re always tempted to go back for more.

Just like chocolate cake.

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Welcome to Tryst with Design. This blog has added immense value to my life, and I love having the opportunity to share my musings with you. Read on, and enjoy.