The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Category: UI / UX

Stop being annoyed by three-way light switches that incorrectly both say “OFF,” yet the light is clearly on! Has the entire world gone mad??

Background:

A “three-way light switch” (i.e. two switches that control the same light) is useful when there are multiple places that need to control a single light, such as at both the top and the bottom of a staircase.

The issue:

Unfortunately, three-way switches are often out of sync with the actual state of the light (so the switches are both OFF, but the light bulb is on).

two-switch-light-diagram.png

Fig. 1: A three-way (two-switch) system is surprisingly straightforward. You can even add more switches, if you want! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiway_switching)

Proposal:

Ideally, the ON / OFF position would be correct indicated by the switch itself, instead of Instead of having the switch position indicate when

  • Easy and elegant solution, with one fatal flaw: just make the switch a press-able single button. Internally, the switch would just turn a wheel or something, to generate the required electrical connection.
    • Downside #1: Since it lacks an up/down state, you wouldn’t know whether the circuit were ON or OFF when the bulb is burned out.
    • Downside #2: Probably banned by electrical code for reasons stated in downside #1.
  • Electromagnet-based complicated solution: have each switch’s natural position be the DOWN position, which it will return to due to gravity when there is no electrical current. However, when the circuit is active, an electromagnet causes the switch to be held and/or pulled to the up position.
    • Downside: uses a tiny amount of electricity.
    • Upside: syncs the state of the switches. (If you turn on one switch, the other one will also be pulled up by the built-in electromagnet).

Conclusion:

Maybe you should rewire your house with this highly speculative and untested electrical suggestion! Consult an electrician today.

PROS: You will no longer be bedeviled by light switches that do not properly convey the state of the light. (Previously: the switches both say OFF, but the light is on? Ugh!!!)

CONS: May burn down your house.

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Are you tired of your computer MYSTERIOUSLY doing things in stony silence? Bring back 1980s retro charm and monitor your computer for malware and spyware with this ONE INSANE AUDIO TRICK! It drove an entire island of monks to madness!

Background:

In the past, you could tell what a computer was doing (to some extent) just by listening to it.

  • Disk access would be accompanied by a classic floppy disk sound (or the “click” of a hard drive)
  • The fan would spin up if the CPU was under high load.
  • You could actually listen to network traffic on a modem (or watch the network traffic light blink).
  • Sometimes, different operations would cause a high-pitched noise to emit from some mysterious component of the computer.

However, with solid-state drives and many entirely fanless computational devices (e.g. phones, most tablets), it is no longer possible to have an intuitive sense of what your computing device is up to.

computer-noise.png

Fig. 1: Historically, computers would make all sorts of sounds when operating. The monitor would emit an annoying high-pitched hum, the disk would click and clack during reads or writes, you could listen to network traffic over a modem, and fan noise would let you know whether the CPU was working hard.

Proposal:

The solution is obvious: the phone must generate artificial sounds so the user can figure out what’s going on.

Examples:

  • Heavy CPU use could result in the classic beeps of the “Star Trek computer sound“. Or for a subtler approach, a fan-spinning noise could be generated.
  • Disk access could always be accompanied by the audio of a floppy disk reading / writing / seeking to a new location.
  • The screen could cause a buzzing sound to be emitted when it was first turned on, and optionally at any time it was displaying a non-blank screen.
  • Network access could generate a modem noise.
phone-noise.png

Fig. 2: This phone is totally silent under normal operation, but we can add network noises, CPU fan noise, disk noises, and more.

With this simple change, people will become aware of what their computer is doing.

In particular, they will now easily realize if their computer is using a ton of Internet traffic or is infected with CPU-intensive malware.

Conclusion:

Demand this feature in your next phone! Or write and maintain a custom ROM for your phone. Easy!

PROS: Warns people about phone spyware/malware. Makes a phone harder to lose, since it will be constantly emitting annoying sounds!

CONS: None! It’s the perfect idea with no downsides.

 

 

 

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Does your city / state / country have an ICON, or just a flag? Vex vexillologists with this proposal to create ICONIC EMBLEMS to represent your favorite regional administrative division! This is the U.S. State Flag edition.

Background:

Every US state has a flag. But only a few states have an icon—something immediately recognizable (and ideally, easily drawn and memorable).

For an example of icons, we can look at Japan’s provinces (or “prefectures”), nearly all of which are represented by a distinctive single-color icon (Figure 1).

flags-japan.png

Fig. 1: Japanese provinces have iconic minimalist symbols associated with them. Compare these to the selection of American state flags in Figure 2.

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Fig. 2: Most state flags were not selected with visual clarity in mind. Additionally, many state flags look identical on a flagpole when there is no wind.

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Fig. 3: Some flags are visually distinctive, but these are the exception. (In reading order: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Alabama, Tennessee, and Washington D.C.)

Proposal:

The proposal is as follows:

  • Every state will get a supplementary icon, that can be easily rendered in a quick pen sketch (Figure 4).
  • When possible, the flag and emblem should be similar, to make them easier to remember.
  • A flag and an icon have different requirements. Some guidelines:
    • A flag should be visually distinctive even when on a draped piece of cloth. For example, the American flag (🇺🇸) is easily identified even when there is no wind.
    • A flag can make use of multiple colors (although there is such a thing as “too many” colors).
    • An icon should minimize or eliminate reliance on specific colors.
    • An icon should have relatively few fine details. It should be distinctive even at a very small size.
4-flags-graffiti-sketches-1.png

Fig. 4: Some sketches of icons that could represent specific states. Three of these are based on elements from real state flags: Tennessee (top left), New Mexico (left middle), and South Carolina (palm tree + crescent moon, top right). The top right one would probably need to be modified in some way to distinguish it from the flags of Turkey (🇹🇷), Tunisia (🇹🇳), Pakistan (🇵🇰), and others.

There is also no icon that represents the United States (although USA works as an easily-written shorthand). Figures 6 and 7 investigate some elements that could be incorporated into a flag-inspired icon.

 

5-air-force.jpg

Fig. 5: Although it is not a national icon, this existing U.S. Air Force insignia manages to elegantly incorporate the elements of the national flag.

 

Fig. 6: If someone only had 5 seconds to draw an American flag, they’d probably some up with something similar to these graffiti-like icons on the left. Isolating the iconic elements of the American flag leaves us with a number of possible emblems in varying levels of detail (right). The bottom-right one also indicates how the Chinese / Japanese character for “above” coincidentally appears in the negative space: this might be useful in a U.S.A.-and-China-centered science fiction future like the one in Firefly.

Examples:

Below (Figure 7) is a column of state flags (left) and some potential icons (right). The color is arbitrary—it can be omitted or changed to any other color (as in the Japanese example in Figure 1).

 

 

7-flags-us-plus-icons.png

Fig. 7: Left column: state flags. Right column: corresponding easy-to-draw icons for each state. Some of these have a very shaky rationale, and are not based on the existing flags. For example:  Illinois: rivers converging, also it’s the “Y” from the font “Malayayam Bold.” Florida: the shape of Florida, if it were exactly three pixels. Michigan: the bordering lakes. Louisiana: the Mississippi river delta. Vermont / New Hampshire: the icons fit together, like the states. See below for Washington State.

Conclusion:

You should come up with some icon suggestions of your own, and propose them to your state government. They love sponsoring things like state birds, state flowers, and state songs, so why not a state emblem? California even has a state lichen and state dinosaur!

PROS: Would provide the option for people to promote their state with an easily-recognized emblem.

CONS: Could increase intra-state rivalry if people become attached to their own state’s amazing icon.

 

washington-crossing-the-delaware.jpg

P.S. The hypothetical icon for Washington State is an abstract representation of Washington crossing the Delaware. Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but that never stopped icon designers before!

 

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P.P.S. Run out of icon ideas? Just draw a bunch of weird stuff on a sheet of paper and see if anything sticks. Try to avoid accidentally repurposing fascist iconography!

Your slide presentation / PowerPoint presentation can be improved ENORMOUSLY with this one incredible presentation tip. Get the promotion that you deserve!

Background:

Slide presentations are now a main ingredient in almost all lectures and presentations (Figure 1).

 

table

Fig. 1: A simple presentation setup: laptop plus projector/screen.

The issue:

Computers have made slide presentations extremely easy to make (example in Figure 2), but haven’t helped with one issue: presentations often go on FAR TOO LONG.

For example, none of these ideas for promoting short presentations are available in standard presentation software (e.g. PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides).

  • Not a feature: A timer showing the elapsed time on a specific slide. This timer would change color once the user spent over-the-allocated amount of time on the slide.
  • Not a feature: A “progress bar” showing the position of the current slide in the entire slide deck.
  • Not a feature: A per-slide time estimation: if a 15-slide presentation has a 30-minute scheduled time, it should be trivial to display “You have an average of 2 minutes per slide.” This could be updated as the presentation went on; if the user takes 20 minutes to go through the first 5 slides, the remaining slides could display “10 minute remaining for 10 slides; you only have one minute for each of these slides!”
  • Not a feature: Allowing the software itself to automatically advance the slide when the user has dwelled on a slide for too long.

 

presentation-top-half.png

Fig. 2: A standard presentation: slides are shown along the top. The timer bar along the bottom (showing the total time consumed vs. the specific slides remaining) is a hypothetical feature that does not currently exist.

Proposal:

This proposal is for a flexible method of encouraging presenters to remain on schedule: the slide advance fire.

In this method, the slide deck is metaphorically on fire: all the slides in the slide deck are slowly consumed by a fire effect that moves through the entire slide deck (see Figure 3 for illustration), rendering the slides un-usable after a certain amount of time has elapsed.

The presenter can stay on a blackened-and-charred slide as long as they want (so they can continue to discuss a slide, or field questions from the audience, even after it has burned away), but the contents of the slide will no longer be visible.

This will also discourage presenters from cramming a slide full of text and then slowly reading the slide to their (presumably literate) audience.

presentation-burned

Fig. 3: Top: the second slide from the left is in the process of being consumed by the “slide advance fire.” The timer indicates that two minutes (2:00) have elapsed in the entire presentation.  Bottom: the second slide has been entirely consumed by fire, and only a glowing ember remains on the right edge. Hopefully the presenter has moved on to the next slide. Active slides also contain a timer in the bottom right (the small circle / stopwatch / pie chart), showing the remaining time until that slide burns up completely.

Implementation details:

  • The slide deck begins as normal.
  • Once a slide has appeared for more than five seconds, a timer starts and the slide “ignites”: the slide is now “on fire” and has a fixed amount of time before it burns away. (The reason for the five second delay is to prevent the slide from starting to burn due to an accidental “next slide” mis-click that is immediately corrected.)
  • After the allocated time has elapsed, a fire effect appears on the screen, and the slide begins to quickly burn away. Over the next ten seconds, the fire completely consumes the slide, leaving behind only a charcoal-black rectangle.
  • The user can still switch between slides normally, but burnt-out slides remain charred.
  • In order to prevent the user from just restarting the slide deck to circumvent this restriction, a minimum of four hours must elapse before the slide deck can be viewed again.

Optional idea #1:

  • Each slide could have a timer on it that is visible to the audience (as described in Figure 3—the circular timers in the bottom-right of the active slide), which would give the audience more of an appreciation for the punctuality of the presenter (assuming they managed to advance the slide before the slide burned away completely).

Optional idea #2:

  • One common presentation mistake is to just read a slide verbatim to the audience. The presentation computer could have speech recognition software on it, and if it detected that the presenter was reading a substantial fraction of a slide aloud, it could sound a warning siren and automatically advance to the next slide.

Conclusion:

This new presentation feature should immediately be implemented in Google Slides, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Apple Keynote, in addition to any other presentation programs that may exist in the future.

PROS: Prevents lectures, presentations, and meetings from going over time. Allows a lazy presenter to set the burn delay very low, allowing them to make confusing and terrible slides and rely on the “slide advance fire” to save them from any hard questions.

CONS: Would make it difficult to take questions from the audience (“Could you describe the X-axis on…. oh, it burned away.”). Would make it difficult to do a practice talk and immediately revise a slide deck while audience feedback was still fresh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a fancy individual who hates being delayed in elevators by lowly commoners, yet can’t justify putting in your own personal elevator? This new “executive fingerprint override” elevator button guarantees faster elevator transit.

The issue:

Imagine this situation:

You are a high-ranking member of the royal family. One day, you drive your expensive sports car to your downtown office, park it in the garage, and head to the elevator. You get in, and press the “6” button, to take the elevator to your sixth-floor office.

But as soon as the elevator doors close, you notice that 5 other people in the elevator have already made floor selections before yours—the buttons for 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are already lit up (Figure 1).

Now, even though the other people are only peasants, you still have to stop on all five floors before you can go to floor six!

Surely this situation has happened to all of us. Read on for a solution!

Fig. 1: Left: A standard elevator panel (it might be European, since it has both a “G” and a “1,” or perhaps the illustrator made a mistake). Right: if the buttons for floors 1 through 5 are lit up, a person who wants to go to floor 6 would have to stop at all five intermediate floors. . . until now, that is.

Proposal:

In order to solve this problem, we introduce new “override” fingerprint sensors: one for each each elevator button (Figure 2).

Someone with authorization can put their finger on the on the override sensor for their desired floor, and the elevator will travel to that floor first (additionally, the elevator will not stop to pick up any passengers on the way).

 

elev-print

Fig. 2: Each floor button has a fingerprint sensor next to it: if a high-ranking individual presses the fingerprint button, then all other elevator actions are cancelled, and the elevator goes directly to the desired floor. Fingerprint sensors are shown as separate buttons for clarity, but the sensors could also be directly integrated into each button.

As an example, if (A) the elevator is on floor 1, (B) buttons for 4, 6, and 8 are pressed, and (C) the high-ranking individual wants to go to floor 7, then the elevator will do the following:

  • Go directly (up) to floor 7. This is where the high-ranking individual wanted to go, so the elevator skipped floors 4 and 6.
  • Then, resume its normal behavior, as if the buttons for 4, 6, and 8 had just been pressed.
  • Since the elevator was traveling upwards, it will go to floor 8 next.
  • Since 8 is the top of the elevator’s current route, it will now become a “down” elevator.
  • Now that the elevator is traveling downwards, it will go to floor 6 and then floor 4.

Conclusion:

This system could also be used to give priority to various individuals; for example, what if both a duke and an earl use their fingerprint overrides—clearly the duke would have priority. Some cases may be less clear; does a baron outrank an archbishop? Undoubtedly, a complex set of rules would have to be included in the unlikely event that multiple high-ranking individuals entered an elevator at the same time.

PROS: Allows the rich and powerful to project their power in a new and unusual manner.

CONS: May cause a proletarian revolution to break out, which would have negative ramifications for the individuals who would make use of this elevator system.

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!

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.