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Design Mistakes to learn from

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Design Mistakes to learn from

Four Design Mistakes That Made History…

“Design should be an unobtrusive foundation for the experience it supports. When it becomes the experience, something has failed,” says Marta Olszewska, Senior Content Strategist of Content With Marta.

The internet has an uncanny ability to catapult flawed designs into global infamy. From confusing website layouts to unintuitive product packaging, even the simplest design missteps can quickly achieve viral status. The question is, why does this happen, and what can designers learn from such debacles?

The Anatomy of Design Disasters

Several factors can turn a seemingly harmless design choice into a viral sensation:

  1. Complexity: A LinkedIn blog states that overly intricate designs that prioritize form over function can frustrate users and invite derision. For example, a website with too many menus, buttons, and unnecessary animations might provide a negative experience, fueling negative commentary.
  2. Lack of User-Centricity: Design that ignores fundamental user experience principles risks alienating its intended audience. Designs that lack clear navigation, intuitive controls, or accessibility features often garner significant criticism.
  3. Cultural Misalignment: Faster Capital emphasizes the importance of cultural sensitivity, highlighting its role in preventing misunderstandings and conflicts that may arise from misinterpretations. Designs that overlook cultural norms or expectations risk backlash, as seen in instances where offensive symbols, language, or disregard for audience values provoke online outrage.
  4. Unexpected Functionality: Designs that behave in an unusual or counterintuitive way can lead to widespread confusion and negative attention. One famous historical example includes the “butterfly ballot” design of Palm Beach County in the 2000 US presidential election, which baffled voters and potentially altered the election’s outcome.

The Viral Potential of Bad Design

The internet amplifies criticism of bad design, and social media fuels the fire. People are quick to share their displeasure with poorly conceived products or interfaces. Starbucks learned this lesson back in 2015 when their annual festive holiday cups were replaced with a simple red design.

While Starbucks intended the plain cups as a canvas for customers to personalize, the minimalist approach sparked an unexpected backlash. Conversations exploded on social media, giving rise to the #MerryChristmasStarbucks trend. This collective venting can fuel the virality of bad design, turning individual gripes into social phenomena.


Key Takeaways for Designers

Viral design failures hold valuable lessons for creators:

  • Prioritize usability: Functionality should always trump aesthetics. Designs that are simple to use and navigate are less likely to generate negative attention.
  • Extensive user testing: Getting feedback from potential users throughout the design process can help identify potential flaws that might later lead to widespread criticism.
  • Empathy: Designers must understand the needs, expectations, and cultural sensitivities of their target audience to create culturally appropriate and inclusive solutions.
  • Embrace constructive criticism: Sometimes a design mishap going viral is inevitable. In these cases, it’s best to acknowledge the flaws, learn from them, and make adjustments.

“Design, when poorly executed, has the power to disrupt, disorient, and even anger. Yet, with skill and forethought, it can also delight, empower, and simplify experiences,” says Marta Olszewska.

While the internet loves to amplify the shortcomings of bad design, these viral moments can be instructive. They provide valuable lessons for designers, emphasizing that a thoughtful, user-centred approach is crucial in creating successful and impactful designs.

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