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9 Terrible Designs that Plague Software

  • Jan 28, 2011
Proof that bad design continues to surround us, computers have given bad designers a new outlet for their creative evil. Time to drive out the demons of stupidity! Out!
Adobe Photoshop
Photoshop is one of the best pieces of software ever written, responsible for 25% of all entertainment on the web [citation needed]. But for all its deserved glory, our friends at Adobe have decided to disable many of the regular Windows shortcuts, such as being able to use characters in a combo control to select items without a mouse. It's probably some pro-Apple bullshit.
Password field
We all know somebody who hasn't mentally left 1985 and still has the password "Password", so it's probably only reasonable that software has some rules to enforce a minimum level of security.

But some sites take this way too far, requiring that your password...

- Fits neatly between 8 and 10 characters
- Is not a password you've used before. Ever.
- Has no spaces and begins with a number or small Batman symbol.
- Has numbers, punctuation and only ASCII character code that are prime numbers
- Includes symbols from both the Cyrllic and Mandarin alphabets
- Wouldn't feed a Gizmo after midnight

It's like the DMV decided to give everyone an LSAT test. It's also the reason I have about 1,200 passwords.
Windows Sounds
Windows occasionally chooses engineer-inspired confusion over simplicity, but one of the features that seems to get worse with each generation of the operating system is the "Sound" component. 

Usually I have one of two reasons to launch sounds:

- My headphones are too loud.
- My microphone is too quiet and nobody can hear my on Skype.

Windows Sound approaches this problem by showing me the 5 sets of device drivers installed, at which point I decide that my headphones will continue to be too loud and I'll have to start shouting on Skype.

Adobe Flash
Flash is another amazing Adobe technology that gives designers enormous power - but often it's the power to suck. Many intelligent people have been driven to create unnavigable and frankly strange websites just because Flash has enabled them to subvert every website rule imagine. Like this one.

There are thousands of dreadful websites on the Internet, but frequently the most common element is Flash. How do you know if your site has a Flash problem? Simple - use my checklist! Do you have...

- Music playing
- An intro splash screen
- Full screen video
- Navigation that moves around
- More than one click to get anywhere
- A desire to make computers more like the way they are in the movies?

... if you said "yes", "maybe" or "hmmm" to any of the above, you're abusing Flash and I'm sending Steve Jobs over to your house right now.

End-user license agreement
Proof that 99.99% of lawyerly contributions to society never get read, the ever-wonderful end-user license agreement (the "EULA") is showing up everywhere from cell phones to navigation systems and PCs. 

The EULA itself isn't that annoying - just check the box admitting guilt and move on. What is annoying is the disturbing trend towards making you scroll though the text to somehow prove you read it. What's next? A timed screen? A multiple-choice comprehension test?

Google Voice
Google Voice is a pretty neat little service that produces hilariously inaccurate transcriptions of voicemails for when you're bored. It never fails to produce howlers like this one today:

"Hi, James. I elf. On hand December trying fund diet cocaine pole. Bye."

It's almost like someone turned on the comedy mode, since there's no way it could derive the elf version from the original: "Hi James. Call me back."
See the full review, "This is going to be huge...".
Microsoft Office Ribbon feature
The ribbon was unleashed on the world in Office 2007 and is a great example of how designers think users are stupid and will warm to their terrible ideas. I've never met anyone who likes the ribbon, and I'm willing to bet that a sizable portion of Microsoft's hate-mail derives from this one awful feature.

The ribbon manages to do several things badly simultaneously, which is actually hard to do if you try:

- The most common features now require more than one click to find.
- It uses more screen real estate than menus.
- There's no way to go back to the previous menu system.

If anyone at Microsoft is listening.... forget it, nobody at Microsoft is listening.
See the full review, "Fail: the worst Office 'improvement' in its history.".

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February 01, 2011
Being in the computer field, I hear you loud and clear. Passwords have become an antiquated control as anyone with Admin privileges can usually run a cracker against them. I agree that I usually cannot make out all the letters in the CATCHA tests and I usually have to try 3 times before I can match what is required. I wonder how many people actually read the end user agreements. I usually don't. I have heard that Microsoft put a lot of interesting clauses in theirs.
February 02, 2011
Something you have... something you know... something you are...
February 02, 2011
I remember working at a bank and this was the mantra when first designing the internet banking site. The something you have (ex. ATM Card) took a long time to catch on in internet banking.
February 09, 2011
Believe it or not I keep my safe deposit box at a small bank that was very close to my home. About 10 years ago they finally got ATMs and they had the nerve to post huge signs at their branch saying "It was worth the wait." In the words of Wayne from Wayne's World, "Not!"
January 31, 2011
Yes, these things annoy me to no end! Especially the password thing! How the heck am I suppose to remember such a complicated password? I understand that for bank accounts and such, but then I encountered other sites that had the same requirements, yet it isn't as necessary. Chipotle, for instance. I love them, but does my password for their site have to be stronger than what my bank requires? Because god forbid somebody hack into my account and order a burrito.

CAPTCHA?  Bite me.

End-user license agreement?  Nobody actually reads those things.

Google Voice?  The most readable transcript I've ever gotten was from someone leaving me a message in Cantonese.

Thanks for putting me in such a cynical, bitter mood ;)
January 31, 2011
Yes, yes and yes! Cynical and bitter is a great way to start the week. :-)
February 01, 2011
Devora, your comments are hilarious!
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James Beswick ()
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