At the Ref Desk (8/13/18): Complaints upstairs about someone playing the trumpet in one of the computer labs. Oy. [more...]

When Design Kills

Submitted by Leo Klein on Sun, 11/16/08 (10:07pm)

I had a very pleasurable time at the Garfield Park Conservatory on Chicago's West Side several weeks ago. Finding it however included a mishap due in part to this extremely poorly constructed map which I found while wandering around looking for directions.

You can see a larger version of the entire billboard here -- plus a close-up of the map itself.

I was at the "Gold Dome Fieldhouse", looking for the main Conservatory building. Can anyone guess why I started heading (incorrectly it turned out) west?

Time's up: You can make a map in a thousand different ways (just look at mass transit maps from various cities), but one of the few conventions is that the top generally points north, the bottom south, the left west and the right east. That's how maps are laid out.

Unfortunately, the person who designed this one, decided to ignore the convention and turned the thing 90 degrees counter-clockwise. This way, it may have been easier to fit in with the rest of the information on the board -- that's probably why they did it -- but it's really going for convenience of composition at the expense of comprehension.

Nobody looking at this is going to instinctively tilt their heads sideways to figure it out. Instead they'll do what I did and head off in the wrong direction.

I was saved by friends who, lucky for me, drove over and picked me up. Others might not be so fortunate. The whole point however is that bad design happens when it doesn't take user assumptions into consideration. The result can be not simply making things harder to find but causing users to make incorrect and possibly disastrous decisions. Just ask the person who designed the "Butterfly Ballots" in Florida.