Essays & Articles


When Bugs Become Features

Ah, the misplaced creativeness of designers never fails to amaze. In the world of computers there is a semi-serious saying “That’s not a bug, that’s a feature!” which refers to the fact that one can often disguise a bug — a mistake in design or in programming — as a “feature” — claiming that it is worthwhile and even deliberate. (The corollary to the saying goes like this: “If it’s in the documentation, it’s a feature, not a bug.”)

Over the years, alert readers of my books have frequently sent me photographs of amusing examples of poor design. Doors are the most common culprit, and to my dismay (and secret pride), really poorly designed doors are often called “Norman doors.” Well, this morning, Alexander Oberdörster sent me a lovely example of buggy doors at the Institute of Applied Sciences, part of the Albert Ludwig University in Freiburg, Germany. Doors where someone (the architect?) had turned the poorly designed handles into a feature by making them into works of art.

These are glass doors that only open in one direction. But as is typical of unthinking builders and architects, the identical looking “pull” handles were installed on both sides of the door: see the photo.

Mr. Oberdörster described the doors like this:”As you can see, it’s not clear whether to push or pull the door to get inside. Nothing new so far; and of course, the door has its manual written on it (even in multiple languages!), but with a twist this time: The words are etched into the glass from opposing sides, so you can read both “ziehen” (pull) and “drücken” (push) from either side. Really confusing.”

Amazing, rather than construct the doors properly – with different kinds of handles on each side of the door — they have used the confusion as an excuse to create art — where the art is almost as confusing as the original, but at least is aesthetically pleasing and even a source of conversation.

Confusing? Who cares? After all, now it is art, and art doesn’t have to work — it simply has to be appreciated.