Accidents by Design

January 15, 2023

Don Norman's book "The Design of Everyday Things" has a masochist's teapot on the cover. This teapot has the handle and the spout on the same side. When a user pours hot tea on themselves using this pot it is not an accident; it is the teapot working as designed.

This is true about more complex systems as well. Mike Monteiro of Mule Design talks about Facebook privacy settings in the same way. When personal information about a user is shared without their permission, sometimes with extraordinary consequences, it's not an accident; it is Facebook privacy settings operating as designed.

Hot take: The work we do as designers is no different. The designs we introduce to the world will do exactly what they are designed to do. They do not accidentally cause harm. If our work causes harm it is because it was designed to cause harm.

To be clear, I'm not accusing anyone of malice, but I am accusing many (including myself) of naivety. We as designers need to do a better job of making sure we do not accidentally create work that is designed to cause harm. Let's ensure our products are designed for good.

© Copyright 2023 Casey Yates