Tom Chi  

The scariest interface contest

October 28th, 2005 by Tom Chi :: see related comic

This week we’re taking entries for the scariest interface you’ve ever used. Leave a comment and a screenshot link. Feel free to show stuff that frightens you because of how it looks, works, or what it does. Then we’ll “interface your fears” (har har) by talking about how to improve ‘em.

The person who has the scariest interface, or comes up with the best fix wins something cool.

40 Responses to “The scariest interface contest”
Rob Muir wrote:

[view site]

First, try to count the number of typefaces, colours included.

Second, just try to figure out which are links and where aren’t.

Next, try something simple like looking up the weather in Victoria, rather close by. How many clicks is that?

And finally, yes, sigh, it does rain quite a bit during the fall in Vancouver. You can also count the euphamisms for “rain”.

On the other hand, the weather radar is kind of pretty, particularly on a rainy night.

Still, pretty frightening for our national weather site. Oh, yes - they change the URLs at will now and then just to break everyone’s bookmarks.

How wrote:

I own a Nikon ‘Coolscan V ed’ negative scanner - it’s great. But the interface to the included software is a fine example of Frankenstein design that seems to be all the rage with camera related kit.

Witness the horror…

You can nail it for all the real basic usability stuff – lack of feedback at crucial moments, lack of consistency in look and feel, abandonment of Fitts’ law in favour of tiny buttons that don’t look like buttons, having to move the pallet – that thing on the right is a pallet - around to access some of the controls and it’s butt ugly. But mainly the interface is just un-communicative. Obvious questions, such as ‘what do I do first’, ‘where is the preview of my negatives?’ and ‘how do I batch scan?’ are left un-answered by the design, and that pallet, well…

To be fair, it’s pretty specialised kit, and certainly not something that everyone has to use. But Nikon seems to have put a lot of energy into designing an amazing piece of hardware – the scans from slide film are stunning – it’s a shame the interface was a bit of an afterthought.

Sebastian Hoffmann wrote:

Windows and its automated updates are definitely among the scariest and most frustrating interfaces I’ve used. While playing Jedi Academy, the monitor suddenly switched back to the desktop, where a pop-up box informed me that security-critical patches were installed and that the computer needed to be rebooted as soon as possible. The options presented to me were “Reboot now” and “Reboot later” (sorry, no screenie; maybe someone could talk M$ into fixing critical bugs again?), also, a 5-minute countdown was shown by a progress (actually more degress) bar, at which’s end rebooting would be done automatically.
Sitting behind a firewall and using Windows for nothing but playing games anyway (for anything else, there’s the Linux partition), I couldn’t care less and clicked “Reboot later”.
Later, as in “five minutes later”, I was presented the same box again. Though being flattered for how many choices I was allowed today, I searched for the “Reboot when the user feels like it, i.e. when he’s rebooting the computer anyways”-button. Of course there was none. Neither in the third, fourth or fifth incarnation of this popup-box, at whichs appearance I finally gave up and rebooted.
Fascinating how Microsoft turned “The user controls the computer” into “The computer controls the user”.

Peer wrote:

nice contest idea! well, let’s get spooky right away. is a website a friend forwarded to me last week, it’s a website dedicated to young people interested in germany (i’m matching the target group, as I’m about to study down there).

It’s not really the scariest place on the web i’ve ever been, but it’s striking to see how user-unfriendly AND aesthetically unappealing a website can be at the same time, given the fact that it is brand new and officially issued by the government of a large western state.

Let’s leave apart accessibility (I thought germany also had laws stating that government websites must be conform to the WAI accessibility guidelines?). The thing is that if you want to come up with something saying “Just look how trendy and cool we are”, you might want to leave established design patterns behind to get your message across with something catchy, colorful and cutting-edge, risking that navigation and orientation may be more exploratory and difficult for the sake of being stylish and surprising.

Now what’s scary is that this classical “Cool or usable?”-dilemma was solved by failing at both, taking us on an unvoluntary trip to the past. The start page looks rather nice at first sight (you somehow gotta like the idea of stacking up large hotizontal banners without any navigaton menu, including that funny search box), but after clicking your way around, you soon find youself surrounded by a muddle of different types and design elements that do anything but match aesthetically. Just look at those pages here:

It looks as if 3 different designers worked out some detail patterns independently from each other and sent them to a half-blind html programmer to rig them all up somehow.

Sadly, it’s the same for orientation and user guidance. What about highlighting the menu point you’re at? What about readability (check out those tiny, blurred “Profile” bitmap text boxes, those ultra-narrow columns at the end of the start page and that completely useless shadowed exclamation mark behind the menu)? What about a search result page that won’t cut off every headline in the middle?

Well, to be fair, it wouldn’t be that bad for a website - if it wasn’t 2005 but 1997. In fact this page looks and works so nineties I can’t believe it has just been launched.

But then again, the contents makes up for the poor design. The articles are useful, well written and interesting, not what you’d expect from a gov agency. And I’m going to germany anyway.

Rajio wrote:

My kingdom for a screenshot of the old icq homepage!

Rajio wrote:

i must point out that other than the ICQ homepage, Autodesk makes some of the worst interfaces i’ve seen AutoCAD’s interface is pretty bad but 3d studio max is also pretty bad.
( )

Few -if any- icons relate to their function, the menu is opaque, the controls are poorly arranged. You spend more time wrestling with the interface than you do actually producing. I know how to use max fairly proficiently but compared to other 3d tools i’ve used, Max is so inexcusably scarry.

Its not even that complicated a program, if you can ignore the spooky UI

JoshD wrote:

You really don’t want to dive into the question of how bizarre an interface can get when it comes to 3D modeling software. Believe me, 3D Studio Max is an oasis of relative transparency compared to earlier versions of Pro-Engineer, Catia, and StudioTools.

As an aside (and apropos of nothing), I can imagine that designing CAD software HCI would be a nightmare. You want your tools available and accessible, and you want the software to reward expert behavior, and you want the interface to get out of the way. Even in the best designed packages, that’s a set of tough orders for something that’s supposed to do what some solid modeling packages do.

Oh, yeah, and there are people who’ve been using the software since 198* and they’ll storm the bastille with pitchforks if you don’t give them a way to set things back to the crazyquilt pre-gui text menu side scrolly thing that I had to learn on. Gah. Flashbacks…

Jacques Troux wrote:

The Napster program… ugh. It’s a horrible mess of frames, plus there are annoying message boxes all over the place.

Felix Pleşoianu wrote:

You may think the following screenshot looks decent, but try picturing the same interface squeezed in an 800x600 desktop:

Before anyone asks, you really need all those toolbars on, as the menu system is less than useful.

Autorealm is very powerful and useful, a must-have for a game designer, but the interface is plain awful. Is it so difficult to program a hidden button interface, like the lateral toolbar in Corel Draw? How about making a pretty frequent operation - adding a custom symbol to a library - more accessible? Not only it isn’t, but it’s not in the help either, an otherwise good help file.

To add insult to injury, the authors seem to think that every Autorealm user is willing to become a member of their Yahoo group in order to receive assistance, extra libraries and so on. I guess that explains a lot…

DarkWyrm wrote:

I have yet to find anything scarier than Band-in-a-Box 10 by PG Music, Inc. It’s an app that I occasionally need to use in my work as a music teacher. While the screenshot below is enough to give you nightmares, the *whole* *program* is that bad, complete with obvious hacks and workarounds, abysmal layout, unlabelled controls, lack of organization of functionality, technical jargon, arbitrary keyboard accelerators, 9 different ways to open a file, and an obvious “kitchen sink” mentality.

I have used a great many programs which I have loved to hate because they were so poorly designed, but I have never, repeat, _never_ used a program that I hated more or thought worse than this. It is the epitome of what is wrong with the business model of the IT industry, where it is better to be first than to be right.

Screenshot at

Camel wrote:

The old ICQ Website:

So Rajio, where is that kingdom? ;-)

D wrote:

NZ Ministry of Justice.

I especially like how the front page is locked to around 1000 pixels wide, but the other pages expand to fill the whole screen. And how the (horrible) drop down navigation doesn’t work on the front page.

Scary thing is that the intranet site is 100x worse.

As for desktop software Sony Sonicstage is my current favourite - it was so bad I took my Sony mp3 player back the day after purchase.

Some screenshots here:

Craig Pickering wrote:

I think this one breaks every UI design principle under the sun. I’ve not used the program so I can’t tell if it’s genuine or just a mockup.

srambach wrote:

Someone had to have worked really hard to make a web site this scary. Click “HOME” if you can find it. And don’t miss “Coupons” if you can take any more….

Rajio wrote:

This thread is really starting to creep me out. ….so spooky.

Stu wrote:

I’m going to have to go with the computer in the TV show Lost. If you don’t enter a cryptic code every 108 minutes everyone dies.

C Montoya wrote:

Ever used Cubiceye?

The website is here:

I mean, I’m got six sides to my cube… I can have six websites… but wow, what for? I have to zoom in and out, I have to rotate the cube (makes me sick every time)… makes tabs even more genius!

I downloaded it for fun, I’ve played with it on occasion, it’s so easy to see why this flopped. I just wish you could see how it looks when you rotate the cube… gut wrenching.

Rajio wrote:

oh, and Camel, MY kingdom is … well … miniscule ;) you’re welcome to it. :P

Matt Goddard wrote:

My vote:

Website aside, a gun has to have the scariest interface ;) .

Jenifer wrote:

Run. Screaming.

Dustin Diaz wrote:

I was going to take a screenshot of my desktop (windows) but then that would just be too cheezy.

Dan Epson wrote:

Donald Norman has written one program in his life - a Voyager multimedia ebook CD of his usability series. This was the worst software I ever had the misfortune of buying. I’ll spare you an enumeration of all its sins except to say that it took over 45 seconds to turn each page and there was no more than a couple paragraphs of text on each page. If you want to know how NOT to present information, the man to ask is Don Norman. Just do the opposite of anything this con artist recommends. And if you don’t believe me, track down his ebook and you will join me in voting for it as Worst Software Ever.

Josh wrote:

3M’s Post-It program is pretty bad. The version I downloaded had a horizontal scroll bar to control vertical scrolling. It didn’t last very long on my machine. You can see an example here:

Rachel wrote:

Oh my…truly horrific stuff. The one that had as their worst example was great - unfortunately can’t find it on there. I had thought of submitting the ICQ page from a few years ago as well, but after that link from the site (great site, btw), well, there’s no topping some of these clunkers. The problem is, of course, a) how to we rate one awful UI to another (unless insanely cluttered tops them all, which might work), and b) there are so many bad UIs out there, I can’t submit just one.

It’s funny how many of the entries are from an early web and application perspective (web 1.0 - hate that term..). Just think how many more are going on with the current crop of 2.0 stuff…

Rahel wrote:

Not only am I late for the contest, but the site that would win hands-down seems to be offline today. It’s the Three Houseketeers cleaning service, and not only is the interface completely unusable, but the good folks there don’t get it when you tell them it’s unusable.

I think it was the bookkeeper’s husband who built the site, back in 1999. Whoever did it has no design sense at all, aside from foreign concepts such as usability.

Olof wrote:

This Swedish news website was even featured in a interaction design book as an example of bad web design.

Chris Law wrote:

I can’t believe no one mentioned the Lotus Notes mail client?

If only I had a screenshot…

Josh wrote:

OK, I found this one last night and had to post it:

This site takes “no right clicking” to the extreme. If you right click (three times) the site takes it upon itself to lock your browser in an endless loop of JavaScript alerts.

tani wrote:

My vote goes to LightWave, one of the worst interfaces I ever used.

John Gardner wrote:

that predicting weather one boggles my mind. What is so interesting about the page that i can’t open a link in a new window? or are they trying to prevent me from stealing their awesome background image? i just don’t get it.

Jonas Pihlström wrote:

I wouldn’t mind having aftonbladets page, just because of the sick amount of money they get off it. The page is cluttered and all, sure.. But everyone reads the news, and it’s pretty simple once you get the grip of just ignoring everything but the little news area.

Andre Thenot wrote:

This one was pointed out by the infamous and is not scary in its appearance but in its usability: site navigation with no clicking, only hovers…

AmAn wrote:

Dodge them!


Click on any of the links and find out what not to do while designing a UI.

Cheers :-)

Rob wrote:

Xilinx ISE FPGA development environment. It’s not that it’s visually unappealing; it looks quite similar to Visual Studio and its ilk… It’s that nothing quite does what you’d expect it to. As an example, if you want to do a quick simulation of a device when you’re designing a test-bench for it, it will open a copy of the testbench with the output in it in a different tab. But be careful not to keep using THAT testbench; that data is part of it now, and will be saved and confuse the simulator. Want to close it? Good luck.

The Linux version of the software, incidentally, is hideous. It doesn’t crash quite as much, though.

Matt wrote:

Plan View

Zeke wrote:

sk wrote:

so… who won?

Tom Chi wrote:

It’s actually sort of unclear… I guess everyone was too busy to actually redesign either the application or the crazy site, so in a way, no one won. But maybe we can go back two steps and reward the two people who submitted the interfaces we selected as the scariest?

John Dieter wrote:

dizzy -


There is no visual indication on clicking the Developer’s tab. Ha, maybe the developer’s mental model!!

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OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?