The most over designed light switch? Or useful complexity?

There is a perennial debate about how much design is too much. We all want simpler things, except when we don’t.

Here’s an entertaining example. How complex can you make a light switch? And is there an amount of complexity that so complicated you can’t imagine a situation where the complexity would be useful to someone?

This photo by Steve Portigal shows one candidate for the most sophisticated switch design of all time.


Challenge: What is this UI for?

Traveling to foriegn countries is always fun for designers. You get to see entirely different ways to solve familiar problems, or to see designs that try to solve problems you’re not sure are problems at all.

Here’s a great example. We found this design: Can you guess what it’s for?

(Photo by Jill Stutzman)japan-ui

Play games while waiting to cross street (Streetpong)

This student project from Germany raises as many design issues as it solves. It keeps you occupied while waiting for the light to change, and also indicates how much time is left. The project was for a course in interactive media.

The good: it likely prevents jaywalking. It’s a thoughtful use of design to fill dead time. It’s interactive.

The bad: the wait isn’t quite long enough to justify it.

Watch the video anyway. There’s some clever thinking here.

How to dial a (rotary) telephone

The irony of this instructional diagram is it would be needed today for anyone who had never seen one before.  The rotary UI reached is primacy in the late 1970s, before push button phones took over. For anyone born today, and never saw it used in a movie, would have a hard time figuring it out.

The problem of course is the diagram fails to explain the most important thing: how to actually dial a number.

The design itself had the curious side effect of making 0’s the most expensive number to dial, as it took the most work and the most time.

(Source: unknown)

Password requirements torture


It’s bad enough the criteria for a password are kept secret, only shown after I’ve tried to enter something.

But it’s worse when the criteria are so complex for no good reason.

This site asks for:

  • 7 characters
  • And 3 of the following:
    • Uppercase
    • lowercase
    • number
    • and special character

If only 3 are needed, they should drop one requirement, eliminating a choice the user has to make.

At minimum, the UI should offer me a unique autogenerated password that meets the criteria that I can use if I wish.

There is consistent advice about how secure passwords need to be. Yet it’s fascinating how some sites define their own similiar but different criteria. Also see: OnePassword.

Over-designed Car Parking UI

In Walla Walla, WA, drivers are not entrusted with determining how much space they need for parallel parking their cars.  The city does it for them, by marking off spaces of pre-determined length.  I’m suspicious this wastes space (as not all cars are the same size) when the spots are back-to-back – and I’m definitely sure it does when the spots have additional space left between them (see photo below).