Tragic Design

Tragic Design

The True Impact of Bad Design and How to Fix It

O'Reilly, 2016 more...

Editorial Rating



  • Eye Opening
  • Well Structured
  • Concrete Examples


Poor design isn’t simply unpleasant to look at or frustrating to navigate. It can cause irreparable harm. Designers Jonathan Shariat and Cynthia Savard Saucier present compelling case studies of design gone wrong, such as medical software so unnecessarily complex it caused a young cancer patient’s death or a plane that crashed into a mountain because it had an indecipherable display panel. In addition to design that can kill, the authors explain how poor design angers, saddens and frustrates users, causes injustice or denies people access and, therefore, opportunity. While the authors are heavy on explanation, they prove light on solutions. The main one they strongly recommend is conducting user testing and letting the results inform your design decisions. getAbstract recommends this thorough, well-informed overview to design students and professors, investors, software engineers, web developers, product designers, and anyone interested in design and its processes.


The Tragedy of Bad Design

Well-designed products, software and services aid and delight users. Bad design annoys, distresses and, in some cases, harms them. When designers fulfill business objectives at the expense of users, poor design is often the result. Good design improves and eases users’ lives. It enhances their experience, a result that smart companies want and often pay a lot to achieve.  

Design should make your product stand out, since your competitors usually can copy or match your features and services. However, design’s primary responsibility is to protect users from poor design, even when clients de-emphasize design quality in favor of other business needs. Under pressure, designers may acquiesce to client demands for speed or savings, but they also should educate their clients and follow a code of ethics. That will help them avoid the consequences of tragic design errors, such as what happened to Jenny.

A young cancer patient, Jenny started a new, aggressive treatment requiring intravenous hydration before and after receiving potent medicine. The nurses did ...

About the Authors

Designer and app developer Jonathan Shariat is Senior Interaction Designer at Intuit and co-host of the Design Review podcast. Director of Design at Shopify Cynthia Savard Saucier specializes in User Experience Design.

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