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Human Error or Bad Design?


— #UX #Design #UI #Case Studies #human-centered design

As part of the Interactive Design Foundation, we’ve been discussing how bad design can lead to human error but how it is normally pinned on the fault of the user, not the original design.

“Over 90% of industrial accidents are blamed on human error. If it was 5%, we might believe it.”

When you take a step back and start learning the history of a topic, or really examining a product you’re familiar with, you wonder why these flaws were not so obvious the first time around. 

When we look at wider design, and not just that of a website, human-centered design can’t be ignored. Sometimes this can be disastrous.

4 good examples to illustrate this point were:

Panasonic Mobile

Below are two mobiles from the 1990s, the Panasonic on the left is the focus. In order to turn on the phone (left), what do you have to do?


You press and hold the red button. Why is this silly?

  • Red is the universal colour for stop. 
  • The button used for hanging up or ending a call is also the same way to turn on the device and start a call. 
  • The user has to guess to press and hold the button, there is no instruction

Windows Start Button

In early version of Microsoft Windows, in order to shut down your computer the user must select the ‘Start’ button.

Butterfly Ballot

Used in 2000 in Palm Beach County, Florida presidential elections. 


The Democratic Party are listed second in the column on the left. However, if you press the second button in the yellow column of buttons, you will actually vote for the Reform Party, listed in the right column.

Start/Stop Car Button

In 2015, the American brand Lincoln had to change the placement of their Start/Stop button. 

The Start/Stop button is below the “S” in the image (Sport button). As drivers will be concentrating on the road whilst driving, the wrong button is easy to press. Look at the placement of the start/stop button on the central module. It is so close to and similar to the other driver controls that users were inadvertently shutting off the engine whilst driving.

In Summary

Design is important; poor design can lead to your users or product owners being confused and/or frustrated. When it comes to seemingly simple website buttons or car controls, psychology, sociology and technology all need to be considered.

Useful links

Interaction Design Foundation - www.interaction-design.org

Don Norman, Human Error? No, Bad Design - http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/human_error_no_bad.html

Butterfly Ballot - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/americas/2000/us_elections/glossary/a-b/1037172.stm

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