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April 2005

April 29, 2005 12:01 AM

Broken: Heathrow Airport sign

100_0476_1Jerod sends us a classic from Heathrow Airport in London.

April 28, 2005 12:01 AM

Broken: Elevator... upstairs

John Marsh sent in a picture of a sign at the Continental Plaza Hotel in Seattle. The sign read "Elevator Upstairs", which was strange because it was located in a stairwell. There was even an arrow helpfully pointing up the stairs - the direction to the elevator.

John wrote, "It was strange, and I really noticed it because I had a very heavy suitcase."

Why the picture is missing: I originally uploaded the wrong picture, as 43 commenters pointed out to me, and then headed off to run my annual Gel conference (which went quite well, by the way). The error came at a bad time, because I had no chance to fix the error until after the conference - oh well. Thanks to all the people who pointed out that "This Is Broken is broken" - it's not the first time someone has come up with that quip (about the millionth, I'd say), but an A for effort.

April 27, 2005 12:01 AM

Broken: Elevator call button

Img_1332Joe Staffel writes:

This is an elevator call button in an office building in Pittsburgh.  Notice the up call button is located in the spot typically used for down.  Very amusing to both the tenants and visitors...

Everyone cracks up when they see this in person for the first time; it's so dumb! The upper button does nothing.  The photo was taken within the street level lobby--there is no lower floor, so there is no down.

April 26, 2005 12:01 AM

Broken: Business Week's internationalization

BusinessweekReuven Lerner writes:

I was recently living and working in Israel.  About four years ago, I went to BusinessWeek's Web site and registered in order to gain access to its content.

Unfortunately, BusinessWeek didn't just want to get my name and e-mail address; they wanted to get all of my contact information.  One of the mandatory fields in their registration form asked for the state in which I live, in a text field (rather than a pull-down list).

Hoping that some human would read the addresses that were entered, I used the limited space to indicate that Israel doesn't have any subdivisions such as states or provinces.

Little did I know that my registration information would be handled by a computer, and that it would be used to send me (paper) solicitations to subscribe to BusinessWeek.

Every six months or so, I am asked if I want to subscribe to the magazine.  As you can see from the scanned form that I have enclosed, my little address correction from oh-so-many years ago has remained undetected in their computer system.

April 25, 2005 12:01 AM

Broken: Neutrogena online survey

Picture_1Picture_2Dennis Marks writes:

Even through I entered that I am male on the first screen, it wants to know what color lipstick I wear.

You are required to answer "natural" or "dramatic" to continue and then it recommends a lipstick color to use at the end.

April 22, 2005 07:03 AM

Broken: Columbia University trash at library

Dsc01375Dsc01378Here are the steps of Columbia University's main library on April 6, 2005. Shouldn't an Ivy League school, in the middle of the school year, look a little different?

Clearly there was an event on the steps earlier in the day - it's unclear whether it was Columbia students or not who attended and left all the trash. It was strange, though, to see the students lounging around on the steps, in the middle of it all.

Final thought: remember that the ultimate beneficiaries of city garbage are sewer rats, which breed easily thanks to such "donations."

Update April 23: Thanks to the Columbia Spectator news staff for pointing me to their April 11 editorial on the incident. Turns out the garbage was left after the senior class's "annual drinkathon."

Broken: UPS COD notice

UpsnoticeChris Dzombak writes:

I recently had a UPS delivery attempted to my house, but I wasn't home. The UPS notice has an option to note that you need cash on delivery, but that no cash is accepted.

[What's broken is that COD is supposed to stand for "cash on delivery", but they don't accept cash. Small issue, I know.  -mh]

Broken: Benefits site question

Image0011_Julian Botto writes:

This is a screen-shot of a question from a questionnaire on . If you go to the BenefitsCheckupRx questionnaire and type in "wife" for who you're filling it out for, the next page plugs that string into the next questions, one of which is this gem, "What is your Wife's current marital statues?" It's somewhat surprising that they haven't thought of the possibility that someone might fill this out for his or her spouse.

April 21, 2005 08:03 AM

Broken: BBC typo (fixed.. quickly!)

Bbc_1The typo shown at left has been fixed with lightning speed by Max Gadney and his excellent team at BBC News Interactive. He points out this feedback page where you can let them know about typos in the future.

Original text:

Within a not-funny news story, a somewhat funny typo, pointed out by Chris Schalk.

Broken: Sausalito hotel sign

Steve Manning points us to this post, in which a hotel in Sausalito, CA boasts of a Pacific Ocean view. That's broken: Sausalito is on the bay, not the ocean!

April 20, 2005 09:22 AM

Broken: New "MyPyramid"

FoodpyramidA New York Times story today reports on the new and improved (well, it's definitely new) food pyramid. At left find the new and old pyramids. Which is clearer? Forget the food-industry lobbying that manipulated the recommendations (or lack thereof) - just look at the information design of these two graphics. Which is clearer to read?

Find more on the new pyramid, at left, at I have to admit, hooking the whole thing on an interactive online "wizard" to guide you through recommendations seems a bit much.

Update May 9, 2005: Also see Slate's article featuring redesigns of the pyramid.

Broken: Kmart selection (just for fun)

VidVicar writes:

Go to

In the search box near the upper left corner, enter the words "Grocery Bags" and press enter.

The result:

    We're Sorry! We couldn't find "grocery bags".

Hmmm, guess sales at Super-K stores might be a little slow?

[Commenters, note the category here: just for fun. -mh]

April 19, 2005 12:01 AM

Broken: Cookie purchases

Staci DeMeo writes:

When getting cookies from a cookie shop, and the person behind the counter uses a piece of tissue paper to pick up the cookies and place them in a bag. I always wonder why that person places the piece of tissue paper in the bag with the cookies.

Isn't the tissue paper used for my protection against their germs? If the tissue paper that has been used for this purpose is placed in the bag with the cookies, which I am going to eat, why bother using the tissue paper at all?

Broken: AOL Music's average user rating

Jake Freivald points out that this album page on AOL Music has an Average User Rating of five stars, but further down on the page, it says:

    Currently there are no Reviews. Be the first to post your comments!

Jake writes: "I can think of half-a-dozen reasons for doing this deliberately, of course, but not one of them is a reasonable reason. I prefer to think they just bungled it."

April 18, 2005 11:02 PM

Broken: store locator

Adrian Wiggins points out that the store locator shows one store that's opened up in Afghanistan!

Strangely enough, it's in the city of "test" with the address of "bla1".

Broken: redesign

Steve Hoffman writes that's redesign is broken:

The bad idea was taking away the ability to set your location based on the print edition of Zagat altogether. There's a reason why the print editions are segragated the way they are, and not making them available as "locations" on the website was a huge mistake.

(Makes me wonder - didn't this come up in customer research? You DO talk to customers, don't you? -mh)

Broken: Western Digital warning

WdRChosen writes:

The enclosed picture is of the Western Digital company's paperwork that comes with a
Hard Drive when you replace one under warranty. I  trimmed it down leaving the WD logo and what was funny (in the red box!).

Not really broken as much as just funny.

(Would this warning really stop the Bad Guys?)

April 15, 2005 10:14 PM

Broken: Dollar store sign

000_0100mmm, more or less fresh!

Broken: TaxCut claim

Taxcut1Nate Morrison writes:

TaxCut is particularly buggy this year and they make some rather incredible claims.  For example, this screen shot (I removed the financial data).  TaxCut is claiming that it saved me money on taxes this year because I used a pretax retirement account.  Note that this claim is tenuous at best as I, not TaxCut, planned it this way.  TaxCut didn't _do_ anything!  :-)

Broken: Tax form instruction

Image001David Childers says, "This makes it kind of difficult to figure my tax."

April 14, 2005 12:03 AM

Broken: Visio2003 "upgrade"

Why is it that "upgrades" to software often introduce new errors into the interface?

Here's one example.

Michael Holmes writes:

I just upgraded to Visio2003 at work from Visio2000, and have a shining example of why many users sometimes want to commit violent acts against the software developer community.

In Visio2000, to group some objects together, you hit Control-G. To ungroup, you hit Control-U. Very simple.

In Visio2003, Ungroup is still Control-G, but Control-U is now the Underline Text command. Ungroup has been changed to SHIFT-Control-U. The symmetry of the opposing commands is gone. Years of user habits out the window. The swearing around my department as another person yet again underlines text instead of ungrouping is endless. A computer *will* get tossed out a window before this is over.

There is no explanation I would ever accept for this change. It defies reason on any level. It's on the level of building a car where the brake pedal is now the headlight switch, and the brakes are controlled by a button on the radio. You could get used to it, but *WHY* make me get used to it. It ignores the fact that I might have other cars (drawing programs) that use the old method, and I switch back and forth.

Another issue is that every time you apply a style to an object now, Visio2003 pops up a dialog WARNING (Oh noooooo!) me that the style has text and fill styles. Well, gee, thanks Visio! Seeing as I created the style, I sort of know that, but you go right ahead and interrupt my workflow with the same dialog box every single blessed time, and not give me anyway to turn off the warning.

There is a revolt brewing. If I were a commercial SW developer, I'd be building a bunker.

If you have other examples of broken upgrades to software packages, share them in the Comments section below.

April 13, 2005 12:04 AM

Broken: Sign on glass doors

Dsc00448Seth Godin writes:

here's the door at the Armory in Morningside Heights, north Manhattan.

There are two doors.

The door that you're supposed to ignore, the one that doesn't open, has a big sign on it. (first mistake)

That sign says, "USE THIS DOOR" (second mistake)

It has an arrow that actually has the true instruction.

Why not say, USE THAT DOOR?

Even better, why don't they put the sign on the other door and leave the arrow off?

April 12, 2005 12:02 AM

Broken: (Just for fun) Chopsticks instructions

ChopsticksNeed I say more?


April 11, 2005 12:02 AM

Broken: Hidden links

MobileplanetMeryl Evans writes:

This is from's lovely site map. Black text, no underline, can't be a link, can it? Why, yes it is! Oh, looky! The pointer and the text change when they meet.

[Why would any designer intentionally make links hard to find by showing them in plain black type?  -mh]

April 8, 2005 12:09 AM

Broken: 9-11 Commission search

Stan Miller writes:

It's just about impossible to find anything on the 9-11 Commission's Web site because no matter what you search for, almost every result is exactly the same except for the filename that's the target of the link, the size of that file, and the relevancy of the result. I e-mailed them last fall about this; no change.

[For example, search on intelligence or Iraq and you'll see what Stan is talking about. -mh]

April 7, 2005 12:05 AM

Broken: (Just for fun) Store receipt

YellowpeePeanutbuttJim Grusendorf writes:

Stopped at Safeway on my way home, and picked up a jar of "Skippy Peanut Butt". favourite.

On Saturday, we picked up some Easter treats at Zellers, including, apparently, "Yellow Pee" (Peeps).  Also, the "Lying Bunny" is a stuffed animal, which we haven't found to be at all dishonest so far.

April 6, 2005 12:02 AM

Broken: Voice mail interface

Carl Myhill writes: This is regarding the New Zealand Telecom Call Minder system, which is an answerphone alternative.

If you pick up the receiver and hear rapid beeps, it means someone has left you a new message. Sometimes when you dial through to the system, it first tells you that you have messages which are past their expiry date - you can have to go through several such old messages before you get to your most recent message!

In the audio clip I have attached, it takes 49 seconds to get to hear the latest message, even though I chopped out the 'expired' message. If you have several expired messages, you might have to wait minutes before you get to the recent ones!

This is terrible design!

Click to hear the audio file.

April 5, 2005 12:13 AM

Broken: (via OK/Cancel)

Nicely done comic strip showing the customer experience on the Maytag website.

Thanks to Paul Schreiber for the pointer.

April 4, 2005 12:07 AM

Broken: Apple sauce label

Carmel_with_carmel_dipTed submits this apple sauce label to the Department of Redundancy Department here at TIB. He writes, "Imagine my surprise to find that my Apples with Caramel treat may contain Apples and Caramel."

[I know, I know, it's not broken, because the label is legally required, etc. etc. Keep those letters coming :) -mh]

April 2, 2005 12:05 AM

Broken: (Just for fun) Graphic Arts Exchange URL

Not necessarily broken, but an interesting point. Morgan Cloward points out that the Graphic Arts Exchange may want to change its URL from

April 1, 2005 02:46 PM

Broken: (Just for fun) Voice mail from accident

I'm not sure if this is for real or not, but it's definitely amusing. (This Snopes article says that the legitimacy is "undetermined".)

It's supposed to be a voice mail left by a Jack in the Box construction manager in Texas, talking on a cell phone while he's at a stoplight.

Download accident.mp3

Broken: (Fixed) Bovine-environmental problem

That outstanding institution of journalism, The Weekly World News, reports on an important fix to an environmental problem:


We here at This Is Broken will continue to monitor this important scientific development as it breaks (the story, that is)... starting today, which of course is April 1st.


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