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On design error

Adam Oxford
Adam Oxford

I first came across the story of Alphonse Chapanis in Matthew Syned’s excellent Black Box Thinking. Quick precis: Chapanis revolutionised industrial design while investigating the question of why American bomber pilots were unusually prone to crash landing B-17s during World War II. He observed that pilots were mistaking the landing gear lever for the flaps, and proposed changing the shape of the controls so they couldn’t be confused, saving thousands of lives in the process. Wired makes a bit of a sycophantic Apple-loving leap to connect Chapanis (and his nerdy collaborator Paul Fitts) to the design of the Mac, but the history of user friendly design is quite the read (and expanded on in a book from which this feature is an extract).

Adam Oxford
  • Adam Oxford is a freelance journalist, media consultant and civic tech enthusiast. He also works closely with startups developing solutions to access to justice problems.

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