Behavioural Science
The Victims Of Bad Design

There have been some amazing pieces of design that have shaped behaviour. One of my favourites, from Dr Dan Lockton’s ‘Design in Mind’ collection, is that buttons at pedestrian crossings (in the UK at least) are put on the side of the road to encourage you to look at oncoming traffic before you walk. AAEAAQAAAAAAAAYAAAAAJGU4MjExMDM0LTc3OTAtNGZkMy1hZjViLWFlNGI1ZjM1YjVhNw

There have been some ethically dubious pieces of design (a grapevine story) that some supermarkets may have smaller floor tiles on premium aisles in order to reduce shoppers’ trolley speed and increase their dwell time.


And there have been some downright confusing pieces of design when doors that need a push come furnished with handles that encourage you to pull. AAEAAQAAAAAAAAOjAAAAJGFmZTU5MTdkLWZmNDAtNDAyMC05Nzc4LTBmMjJiMDRhOTU2NA

But there have also been some very dangerous pieces of design. The North American T6 fighter plane had a very counter intuitive cockpit – some of the controls were opposites. For example to control the flaps, forward is up and back is down. Whereas to pull the wheels in, forward is down and back is up. This led a big expense for the RAF when multiple planes were trashed as the pilots retracted the wheels whilst still on the runway. The motoring equivalent of this would be when you’re in a car and mistakenly clean your window screen when you mean to put on your indicator.


One of the biggest global TV cock-ups in 2015, stemming from one of the most embarrassing pieces of design, was the 65th Miss Universe competition where Miss Colombia was mistakenly awarded 1st place (at 2min 53sec in the clip below).

There are many explanations as to why this may have happened. The pressure on the presenters to get it right, the fatigue after a long show, or a poor sound quality in the presenter’s ear piece being drowned out by the excited crowd.

A closer inspection of the presenter’s prompt card reveals some challenging choice architecture to decode. Despite the winner being clearly written on the bottom right of the card, it’s the runner up labelling that is confusing.


Second place is labelled as ‘1st Runner Up’ and third place as ‘2nd Runner Up’. This is counterintuitive to what our automatic brain expects to see, where anything labelled ‘1st’ would immediately mean ‘winner’.

It is therefore no surprise that the presenter read out the ‘1st runner up’ (Miss Colombia) as the winner live in front of millions of viewers.

Maybe next time on Miss Universe, what might be ‘right here on the card’ is just the traditional 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.

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