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Examples of Bad Design in the Real World

Designs that are confusing, frustrating and just plain bad.

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Updated May 5 2021 Steve Benjamins Steve Benjamins

Sometimes the best way to illustrate the value of design is through examples of bad design. And sometimes those examples happen in the real world.

Good design often appears invisible— it doesn’t get in the way of the user. But the designs in this post do the exact opposite. They needlessly confuse users, they assume users already have pre-existing knowledge and sometimes they are just plain thoughtless.

Pant Labels

Why do pant size labels never indicate which number is waist and which is length? Not everyone was simply born with this knowledge.

All it takes is a simple “W” and a “L”.

Good design should be internally coherent to the user— it shouldn’t require an external explanation.

Which number indicates waist and which indicates length?

Which number indicates waist and which indicates length?

Bathroom doors that don’t clearly indicate gender

Sometimes restaurants make bathroom gender labels playful. That’s okay, so long as the sign does the one job it’s supposed to do: indicate the gender.

Unfortunately I’ve seen signs get too playful— and run the risk of confusing people (especially people who’ve had a few drinks at a pub).

After a few drinks these signs may confuse!

After a few drinks these signs may confuse!

Parking Signs

People read parking signs while they drive. So shouldn’t parking signs be readable at a glance? After all you don’t want to distract drivers but making them decipher confusing signage.

And yet parking signs are not at all designed to be read at a glance. Instead parking signs are more like the fine print at the bottom of an advertisement— they require intense focus:

So... can I park here?

So... can I park here?

Social Media Icons on Print Ads

Why are social media icons in print ads? A magazine is not a computer— no one can click icons!

Pedestrian Countdowns

Pedestrian countdowns are supposed to reduce accidents. But studies have suggested that they in fact increase accidents.

The study speculated the increase could be from motorists who speed up when they see they have little time left to cross an intersection.

Oops. Sometimes designs have unintended consequences.

ATM’s that spit out your card after the cash

ATM users are waiting for one thing: cash. So when the cash dispenses their immediate reaction is to leave.

That’s why it’s imperative that the cash comes out last— people are far less likely to forget their card if it comes out before the cash.

Doors that don’t indicate which side to push

You have a 50% chance of getting this door right— which side is the hinge on!?

Classes with exclusively right-handed desks

This design does not work for all users:


I like to think that one day, someone in a midwest board room figured out that that appliances that look complex also appear to customers as sophisticated (and thus worth being expensive). So they made appliances more expensive! That’s my only explanation for the mission control interface of most microwaves.

I mean does anyone know how to use every feature of their microwave?

What is a “Inverter Turbo Defroster”??!

What is a “Inverter Turbo Defroster”??!