The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Category: UI / UX

Incredible user interface tip to increase user engagement—make your software challenging and don’t let a user “auto-pilot” through an easily understood interface.

Background:

Supposedly, the proliferation of ubiquitous GPS has lead to humans being worse at navigating, the presence of calculators has rendered most people incapable of doing even basic mental math, and the existence of written language has made humans worse at remembering things more generally.

Proposal:

In order to combat this “things are too easy” trend, we recommend that software become intentionally harder to use. The open source community is already on top of this trend, as are late-2010s mobile app developers (perhaps most famously, Snapchat).

Specific issue: Color pickers

This proposal is limited to a basic enhancement of color pickers (Figure 1): by rearranging the location of colors, we can cause users to spend more time trying to find the color they are looking for, which both 1) promotes brain development and 2) increases engagement with the app. For mobile apps, increased engagement (i.e., time) also translates to more opportunities to show ads to the user.

apple-color-picker

Fig. 1: This color picker used in some built-in Apple software is totally unchallenging and unremarkable.

office-color-picker

Fig. 2: The Microsoft Office color picker is also sensibly arranged, although it has an unconventional muted color palette.

An “enhanced” color palette could look like the default one from 2014 LibreOffice (Figure 3): the seemingly random arrangement of strange and uncommon colors (with a few duplicates) means that the user will need to be fully engaged with the color picker panel in order to make sense of it.

libre-light-blue

Fig. 3: LibreOffice’s 2014 color picker doesn’t spoon-feed the user. Additionally, some colors are labeled counterintuitively to really force the user to understand what they are doing (for example, “Light blue” is  not the correct term for the blue square in the top right).

 

Fig. 4: LibreOffice has, strangely, refashioned their interface; the 2016 default (at left) is now arranged in a fashion similar to other software’s color pickers.

Conclusion:

When designing a commonly used user interface element (for example, a color picker, “save file” dialog, list of email addresses, a phone dialer, etc…), you should try to consider: how can I make this element “more engaging” to the end user? Don’t let the user’s brain coast on auto-pilot—make them work for every interaction with your interface.

PROS: Improves neural connections and promotes a hard-working self-reliant attitude.

CONS: Entitled end users will whine about your decisions!

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Does your business require customers to agree to a “terms of service”? Run this incredibly illegal “INFINITE LENGTH CONTRACT” idea by your legal department! They will be impressed with your legal acumen.

Background:

Many web sites require a user to agree to a long and incomprehensible “terms of service” before they can use the site.

Since these contracts are dozens (or hundreds) of pages, everyone just scrolls to the end and clicks “AGREE.” (See two examples in Figure 1).

While you’d think that a company could slip in some secret contract clauses somewhere (e.g. “you agree to give up your first-born child to MegaCo Inc.”), this isn’t usually feasible—someone will EVENTUALLY find these clauses and cause a public relations disaster.

legalese

Fig. 1: Left: a relatively short contract that fits on one page. Right: a longer contract that no one will ever read.

Proposal:

Here is a secret method for putting totally unreasonable terms into a contract and preventing the user from being able to read them.

The secret is: the contract is literally INFINITE in length, so no one can read it all!

Details: the terms of service operates as follows (see Figure 2):

  • The first N pages are the real contract.
  • After the real contract is over, additional pages are randomly generated with legally-valid but meaningless legalese.
  • The contract has no scroll bar, so the user has no idea how long the contract is.
  • To accept the contract, the user clicks the “scroll to end and accept” button.
  • Thus, anyone who accepts the contract cannot have read the whole thing, since it is infinitely long.

Using this dirty trick, when a user has agreed to the contract after reading M pages, the company that wrote the terms of service can simply start putting the super-unreasonable contract terms on page M+1 and beyond.

 

legalese-infinity

Fig. 2: The “infinite contract” looks almost exactly like a real contract, except that there is no scroll bar or indication of how many pages the contract has. (This is because new randomly-generated “legalese” pages are created whenever the user clicks the “next page” button, so the user can never legitimately scroll to the end.)

Conclusion:

The only downside to this plan is that it is almost certainly totally illegal in every jurisdiction.

PROS: Would probably be an interesting “future law school textbook case” if it were ever tested in court.

CONS: You will probably go to prison if you implement this idea.

Throw away your current barbaric programming language! Programming Emoji is the future of computation.

Background:

Essentially all major programming languages exclusively use keywords written in English. (For a couple of exceptions, see the addendum at the end.)

But this doesn’t have to be the case!

Proposal:

By using symbols instead of words, we can convey a concept both more concisely and more easily across languages.

See below for a few suggested changes:

while-true

Fig 1: This image of a snake eating its own tail is a much more visceral and obvious representation of an endless cycle than the words “WHILE TRUE.”

if-else

Fig 2: “IF” and “ELSE” have specific meanings in English. But “Else” is also a Scandinavian name! By using these unambiguous symbols, we avoid any existing meanings that might confuse people.

data-types

Fig 3: Data types (“integer” / “floating point number” / “text string”) can be replaced by these intuitive images instead. This also avoids the issue of having multiple synonyms for each type. For example, a non-integer number could be called a “float,” a “real,” a “double,” etc.—but there’s only ONE symbol to represent this concept.

 

foreach

Fig 4: Some languages use “for” to create a loop, while others use “foreach” (or “forEach,” or “for (item) in (set)”). To prevent confusion, we can standardize on a single symbol (above) to convey the idea of iteration through a loo.

Conclusion:

Don’t write another line of code in your old-fashioned text-based programming language! Programming emoji is the future.

PROS: More easily seen at small font sizes. Works across languages, and prevents any misunderstanding arising from a word having an existing unrelated-to-programming meaning (e.g. “float” meaning “to rise to the surface of water” in addition to “a ‘floating point’ number”).

CONS: Requires new custom fonts and/or Emoji support.

programming-emoji

Fig 5: An extended set of proposed replacements for basic programming terms. Color is optional, but recommended.

Addendum:

Here are a couple of programming languages that can make use of non-ASCII symbols:

  • APL,” a language created in 1964, is well known for making use of a special set of symbols. Here is an example from Wikipedia: (~RR∘.×R)/R1ιR . It is actually possible to order a keyboard with these symbols printed right on the key caps!
  • Perl 6 supports numerical characters like “” (a fraction) or “” (a Roman numeral), as documented here.

 

 

Fight back against “big deadbolt” with this amazing new style of home door lock! Burglars hate it!

Background:

The humble door-locking deadbolt has suffered from a severe failure of innovation and imagination in the last 100 years.

Specifically: most deadbolts have exactly two positions (Figure 1):

  1. Open (door can be opened from either side)
  2. Closed (door requires a key to open from the outside or a switch to be operated from the inside)

In some locations, especially in Europe, the deadbolt is even worse, as the closed position is:

  • 2b) Closed (door requires a key to open from the INSIDE as well). Somehow this is allowed by the fire code.

In either case, a key is required in order to lock the door, which can be annoying if you’re leaving in a hurry.

Fig. 1: A regular mechanical door lock (deadbolt) has two intuitively obvious—but primitive—settings.

Proposal:

Many door locks (but not deadbolts) also have a setting where the door can be set to automatically lock when pulled shut.

Additionally, many doors have two locks: a deadbolt and a regular door-handle lock. But there’s no reason we can’t combine the two locks into a single multi-function “dual lock” (Figure 2).

three-lock

Fig. 2: This updated “dual lock” handles both the deadbolt and door handle lock functionality, together in one convenient location.

Now the home’s occupant only needs to operate one lock when they want to open the door (instead of needing to unlock the deadbolt before using the key in the normal lock).

There’s no reason we can’t update this lock with even more options. See Figure 3 for an additional proposal.

four-lock

Fig. 3: This lock for the truly security-minded allows the door to be completely secured from the outside.

When the lock is in the lower-right position (as depicted), even the key cannot open the door from outside.

While this is not a common lock setting, the front door to the British Prime Minister’s office (10 Downing Street) works in this fashion (it can only be opened from the inside).

Conclusion:

Next time you’re thinking of doing some kind of home improvement, consider upgrading your door locks!

PROS: Simplifies the state of door locks and reduces the otherwise ever-expanding number of keys that are present in daily life.

CONS: Puts “big deadbolt” out of business.

Five easy improvements to the despised “four-way or all-way” stop sign! End your confusion about road signage, and never get a ticket for rolling through a stop sign again!

Background:

The stop sign, for all its utilitarian simplicity, has a severe and critical shortcoming: it has two different roles, both marked by the same sign (Figure 1).

The two situations, and what the driver must do in each case:

  1. All-way stop: driver can casually check for other cars right there at the intersection, and then proceed.
  2. Two-way stop: driver must look far down the road for quite some distance to identify any fast-traveling cross traffic.

These two situations are TOTALLY DIFFERENT, but the sign marking them is the same (Figure 1).

 

stop-big-plain

Fig. 1: Is this an all-way stop or a two-way stop? Who knows! See Figure 2 for the answer.

stop-intersection-two-way

Fig 2: Oh, it was a two-way stop. I hope the driver looked far down the road before proceeding!

Previous attempts at solving this problem:

This is a recognized problem, and sign designers have attempted to (poorly) solve it before, as shown in Figure 3.

So far, they have been completely unsuccessful.

Fig 3: Some (but not all!) signs specifically indicate “Cross traffic does not stop” or “All-way stop.” But just the fact that a subtitle is required is an admission that these signs are fundamentally flawed.

Proposal:

The “all-way” and “partial-way” stop signs need to be clearly different at a glance.

See Figure 4 for a proposal that is backwards-compatible with existing stop signs.

Fig 4: Proposal A (“Four leafed clover”): The traditional “octagon” stop sign (left) will now indicate partial-way stops: its meaning is now upgraded to “be EXTRA CAREFUL, because the cross traffic does not stop!”

The new “four leafed clover” stop sign (right) indicates an all-way stop, where the driver only needs to look for traffic at that stop sign before proceeding. Because existing stop signs are all the “be extra careful!” kind, we don’t need to worry about immediately replacing all existing stop signs.

stop-big-cut

Fig 5: Here is an alternative form of the “four leaf clover” sign proposed above.

Fig 6: Substantially altering the silhouette of the stop sign would make the difference even more obvious, as shown in this “emphatically on-fire” stop sign.

 

Fig 7: Sometimes it may be insufficient to just indicate whether or not an intersection is all-way or partial-way. For example, in a (rare) partial-way intersection with more than four intersecting streets, a driver may entirely miss a street.

Here, the number of dots on the stop sign indicates the number of non-stopping incoming roads. This allows the driver to know how many roads they should be looking out for.

So the five-dot sign would indicate a (very rare) 6-way intersection with only one stop sign, the three-dot one would be a four-way intersection (again, with just one stop sign), and the no-dot sign would indicate an all-way stop.

(A reflective yellow border would indicate that this is a “new style” stop sign, to avoid confusion with the previous no-border signs—otherwise, every old-style stop sign would seem to indicate an all-way stop.)

Bonus idea: It has been shown that humans have a deep-seated primal reaction to certain stimuli, such as a silhouette of a spider or of a snake about to strike. In order to make the stop sign stand out even more, so no one would ever miss it out of the corner of their eye, perhaps it could be fashioned into the likeness of a cobra, poised to strike.

PROS: May reduce traffic accidents, especially if a simple backwards-compatible system like the one in Figure 4 is adopted.

CONS: People might start to treat the partial-way “four leaf clover” stop signs like “yield” signs, and roll right through them.

Stop missing out on life because you’re wearing headphones and playing music, and your comrades have all gone off to experience something truly incredible, but you are abandoned because you didn’t hear them leave!

The issue:

If you’re wearing headphones, it can be difficult to hear when someone is trying to get your attention.

(Similarly, it can be heard to get the attention of someone wearing headphones without startling them.)

Proposal:

Headphones could have a small microphone on them with a processing unit that could listen for certain words.

When the headphones detect a specific trigger word (for example, the user’s name, or important phrases like “free food in the break room” or “someone’s breaking into your car”), the headphones would temporarily reduce playback volume.

headphone

Fig. 1: These headphones have a microphone that listens for certain user-specified key phrases that will cause playback to be temporarily muted.

The user would need to specifically configure a set of phrases of interest. For example, a user would most likely want their own name to mute the headphones, but probably they wouldn’t want their a co-worker’s name to also have this effect.

 

 

 

mute-action

Fig. 2: Here is an example for a headphone-wearer named Joe. The headphones would most likely incorrectly reduce the volume in situations F and G, unless sophisticated linguistic processing was performed to determine that they do not actually refer to the user “Joe.”

Conclusion:

This seems like a product that could actually exist. It might be annoying to configure the headphones for your specific name, however.

PROS: All of them!

CONS: If you have a name that shares syllables with common words, this set of headphones might not work too well. It is recommended that you change your name in such a situation.

With these five amazing steps, you can stop stumbling about in a mad and fumbling rage while you try to determine which light switch controls each light in your house!

The issue:

In many houses, certain rooms—especially kitchens and living rooms—have a half dozen or more light switches that control a wide array of lights and other accessories.

Often, even after many years, the house’s occupant never learns which switch is which.

Proposal:

Instead of just randomly picking a switch to toggle until the correct light is activated, light switches should be labeled. Easy!

Ideally, this should be done when the house is built, so that the labels can be laser-cut and/or printed onto the switch panels in a way that matches the overall interior design.

But in a pinch, you can just use a piece of white paper and double-sided tape.

Label your switches 1

Fig. 1: An example of a standard confusingly-designed set of light switches. Each switch toggles a seemingly random set of lights. But now that they are labeled, it’s clear what each switch does.

Conclusion:

You should label your lights if your house has confusing wiring (which is probably the case).

Label your switches 2

Fig. 2: Some switches may have a non-light-based effect, such as starting a gas fireplace (far left) or performing a mystery function that only the original electrician understands (far right).

PROS: Probably a sensible suggestion!

CONS: Labels may negatively impact your home’s minimalist aesthetic.