Human error or bad design?

hawaii emergency alert bad designemergency drop down menu bad design

Remember the poor guy who got blamed for mistakenly sending the alert about the incoming ballistic missile? It’s not all his fault.┬áBad design is at least partly to blame.

The emergency alert system in Hawaii apparently is tested by selecting the correct message from a drop-down menu (see the second image). In this case, the wrong message was selected. This is not hard to do. Have you ever used that kind of menu to select the name of your state and accidentally got the wrong one — usually the one above or below?

Drop-down lists often lead to these kinds of errors and should not be used in situations like sending critical messages. As Don Norman, director of The Design Lab at University of California, San Diego, says in his Fast Company article,

“When choices are life-threatening, there are several easy options to avoid the problem. The main, elementary design rule is: never do a dangerous (or irreversible) action without requiring confirmation, ideally by a second person who is separated from the person doing the action.”

The entire article is well worth a read.