The cost of bad design and the “ghetto of inattention”

14 November 2018

From the “Wireframe” podcast, “Good Design is Human”:

KHOI: […] It’s the idea that design should make tech comfortable for people. It should put people at ease. So you have all these little cues that make people feel like they can explore the tech, they don’t have to worry about being caught in a trap or inadvertently triggering a nuclear meltdown.

AMY: But while human-centered design had permeated the world of consumer technology, not every industry has been as quick to adopt it.


AMY: In January 2018, an employee at The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency mistakenly issued a state-wide alert that went straight to residents’ cell phones. “Ballistic Missile Threat inbound to Hawaii,” it read. “Seek immediate Shelter. This is not a drill.”

[…] This was supposed to be a safety drill. But the guy at the controls clicked on the wrong link. And you kind of can’t blame him… when you see the screen that he was looking at.

KHOI: I mean, on the one hand, technology that consumers interact with has gotten so much better. We don’t have manuals anymore. Everything is much, much more intuitive. And so, design has really come a long way in that respect. But there’s this whole other sector of technology – the stuff that you and I don’t get to interact with everyday. The stuff that– power plants or emergency centers. That stuff still is pretty rough still.

CLIFF: The stuff that really needs to be redesigned is not apps and things like that. It’s the gnarly ugly enterprise software out there that sort of has escaped real scrutiny right? So, let’s say some piece of software for managing a trucking fleet.

AMY: Too many of these kinds of tools still aren’t streamlined and friendly and easy-to-use the way our smart phones and laptops are. They have not yet, in other words, received the benefit of human-centered design.

CLIFF: All these things actually, they exist almost in this kind of like “ghetto of inattention”. The greatest opportunities are within those things, this like gnarly machinery of everyday commerce that really powers the world we live in, but that has escaped notice.