This post may be funny, but it is deadly serious. How do we design for stupid people?
On this blog we have discussed many of the latest ideas and trends in design, but that does not mean they are always appropriate, or understood by those trying to practice them. Design thinking never ends, and must be backed up by common sense and a diverse team, whose members feel safe to speak out when they see a problem.
First, let me be clear that what I mean by “stupid people” is not people of low intelligence, but people who are experiencing cognitive overload*, a very common experience, even for some highly intelligent people, in today’s hectic and hyper-connected world.
Colgate-Palmolive, the makers of Fabuloso, a line of household cleaning solutions, obviously took some of the 21st Century trends to heart and did some design thinking, and considered customer-cetricity.
All great ideas, right? Yes, but here is the big BUT:
But they seemed to have stopped thinking there, and failed to take into consideration that:
Fabuloso household cleaners sold on shelves next to Welch’s fruit drinks (from The Deadly Results of Flawed Design – Pro Publica).
The result was that in Texas alone the Poison Center Network reported 94 cases of people accidentally ingesting the household cleaner.
Granted some of those were foreigners who may have assumed it was a drink, based on the packaging, rather than take the time to read it, however there is also partial blame on store managers who either placed, or allowed, Fabuloso to be placed on shelves next to actual fruity drinks. But the main fault lies with the design of the packaging.
Unfortunately poor produce placement on shelves is not an uncommon occurrence. How might design help solve this problem?
There are other legitimate reasons for packaging that makes the product appear like something else.
Nothing wrong with either of those, but where is the necessary and responsible further thinking?
Was this design for radiator coolant done for similar reasons as the window cleaner above? Or was it an attempt to make the radiator coolant appeal to the energy drink generation?
Perhaps the reason for making this bug killer look nearly identical to cooking spray, was for Black & Gold brand consistency?
For these fuel additives, at least someone was thinking, in this case the store manager.
The importance of diversity: These mistakes also show the limits of human thinking, and the importance of diverse teams, where each member feels safe to bring up potential problems and their concerns are listened to and taken seriously.
Even Einstein and Steven Hawking made mistakes. No matter how smart of a designer or manager you are, or how smart and capable your team is, you cannot think of everything, and must assume you have missed something and trouble-shoot for blind spots.
Don’t just design for people in the middle of the bell curve, design for those at the extreme ends. (For example, for the really smart people and the really dumb people, we can learn the most from them).
Not all people read labels. In fact, these days many do not, especially when they are in a hurry, hungry, thirsty, tired, etc. In fact many may also be reading text messages while shopping. Many may have another first language and find it easier and faster to go by the familiar look of a label.