How to Butcher a Simple Message, example 3,912

October 1, 2011

Sent from Sarah in upstate New York …

She never made it to the lagoon, if you're wondering.

This gem of a sign was found in a hotel bathroom next to stacks and stacks of towels, I’m told. A bad sign. A confusing sign. Lord knows how many towels are used improperly.


Where am I going?

September 6, 2011

At least there's an insightful news ticker down there.

A nice find on, reposted here in honor of that last great milestone of summer — Labor Day. How much do we love these airport Departure/Arrival screens? Designed to fulfill such a simple need, most of them suffer from such a simple yet stifling usability gaffe. They cycle through the flights, gates, and city info waaay too fast. They mean well. They do. But it doesn’t matter how big the screens or the font size is, most of us still need time to sort out our ABCs.  “N is after L in the alphabet, okay.  Okay..  ah-ha! New York.”  But no sooner you find your flight it’s gone isn’t it, refreshed in a column over, or two, or three TV panels away.

Slooow down, Airport Flight Departure Information screens. We’re in a hurry but we ain’t going that fast. We’re not machines like you. Not yet.

And get that anti-virus updated. It’s a sick world out there.

Pushing Buttons in Odd Places

June 9, 2010

Few things command attention like the Big Red Button.

Throughout modern civilization, red buttons have generally communicated one of a few things, depending on who you ask. “Press in Case of Emergency”, “Press to Stop”, or “Don’t Press! (but if you do, you can be damn sure something’s going to happen)”.  But unless you work in a nuclear power plant, regularly operate heavy machinery, or are an elevator attendant, you probably don’t run into these very often.

Yet here’s one in the strangest of locations; a Citibank ATM, next to the door, actually controlling the door. Obviously (as I’m sure you guessed) it’s a trap… as this one seems to say “Press to Exit and Let us Record How Tall You Are”. Note the inconspicuous tape measure.

It’s a crafty yet unsettling ploy that seems out-of-place in Chicago’s uppity Gold Coast neighborhood. Was this ATM a frequent target for robberies because of all the big spenders in the area? Did something horrible happen here? Do I feel safer or less safe now? Are they recording my height to better target me as a potential new customer for a future ‘Join Citibank’ marketing campaign?

These are the questions I found myself pondering as I stood in front of that door, my wallet full of cash, eyeing that big red button.

The design lesson here — don’t mess with classic design conventions.

But the real lesson — as always — use your own bank’s ATMs.

New Song, Same Ol’ Dance

April 29, 2010

Yeah, I went there.  Timeless and wildly prophetic, the graphic tree sequence vividly illustrates an all-too-common pattern in today’s high tech development world. This version also demonstrates the power of enlisting an extra sense (that auditory one) to drive a point home. For the full effect of this diddly, play from your cube with the sound up, base up. Loud. Oh yes.

Neglecting the Entryway to the User Experience

August 16, 2009
You can't get in that way folks. You just can't.

You can't get in that way folks. You just can't.

You wouldn’t build a car with a hidden door, a website with a cryptic URL, or a train station with no entrance. Yet take a look at this CVS in Porter Square in Boston. The store-front curve on this particular corner is designed to showcase the merchandise inside, but it also insinuates there’s an entrance nearby. But there’s no entrance for a block in each direction. And that’s far away enough to be an issue in the thick of a New England winter (when this photo was snapped).

The lesson here? Don’t deceive users on entry points. The gateways to the experience are as important as the experience themselves.

So get with it, CVS! And I’ll go ahead and admit that I walked into the glass window because I wasn’t quite paying attention. Darn head cold.

A Novel Lesson in (Truckloads of) Consequence

April 6, 2009

The consequences of human factors neglect in design naturally range in severity by system and environment (think nuclear power-plant meltdown vs. a customer not buying a blender on your website). This video from provides a memorable illustration of consequence… I’ll let you decide where on the continuum of disaster it should fall.

It may seem like common sense to say something went horribly wrong here, but we can narrow it down to at least one of the following areas of design oversight:

1)     Use-cases: Was it considered that trucks might find their way under the bridge?

2)     Messaging: Where signs/roadblocks/warnings/deterrents adequately aimed at trucks and tested for effectiveness?

3)     System Limitations/Standards: Did designers forget to measure the bridge height or take into account standards for underpass height?

4)     Builder Error: Was the height of the bridge misjudged or simply measured improperly?

Regardless, one would think after the string of failures observed at least #2 would be revisited in the short term.  So many flayed trucks, and for what I ask… for what.

Stop That Train! (I’m Leaving)

January 12, 2009

A comical and compelling example of a classic design principle: the functionality/usability trade-off (sometimes called flexibility). Often we find that the more a product or system can do, the less likely it is to have smooth user experience – you know, like complicated remotes, super busy websites, restaurant menus with waaay too many options, etc.

So here’s a train that can transport large numbers of people (highly functional), but results in what seems like quiet an unpleasant experience for those boarding it. I think the footage speak for itself…