Design Not Found
November 28, 2001 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Design Not Found is 37signals' latest work. They highlight the very best and worst of online contingency design, the design of pages presented to users when things go wrong. It's looking like it could quickly become a killer resource for users to report examples and web application designers to learn from those.
posted by mathowie (19 comments total)
Nice idea. I bought these domains for a similar purpose just over a year ago (but more for any bad design), but then I could never be bothered to do the programming. I let them go cuz, well, they were ...
posted by walrus at 12:11 PM on November 28, 2001

The eBay error loop is beautiful. Talk about stickiness!

(Though, seriously, it's amazing how far just a little user testing, or even feedback, will go.)
posted by mattpfeff at 12:14 PM on November 28, 2001

ps those links I posted don't work ... the urls are still available.
posted by walrus at 12:16 PM on November 28, 2001

Sadly, their own 404 page is timing out for me...what gives?
posted by gimonca at 12:17 PM on November 28, 2001

It's a masterclass. (I've already learned something from the example.) But you sort of expect that from 37signals.
posted by holgate at 12:21 PM on November 28, 2001

As for the error page with ads- being that you probably have a high percentage of login errors, it's an easy way to guarantee ad eyeballs.
posted by rich at 12:25 PM on November 28, 2001

I like how they also list other sites that employ the features. Like Amazon's spell-checking search example also lists google as one of the sites using this feature.
posted by riffola at 1:00 PM on November 28, 2001

The site is good for programmers too. I'm often to blame for vague error pages and incomprehensible debug statements.

I'd love to blame the designer for not providing me with how errors should be returned, but it's probably just my being lazy and returning "BROKEN!" rather than "We couldn't process your request due to an internal error, please email the site admin..."
posted by perplexed at 1:43 PM on November 28, 2001

Look at their FAQs... oh wait I can't link to it... it's a pop up... great design feature...

Can you thoroughly review our site for contingency design problem areas?
Sure. We love working with smart clients who appreciate customer-focused design. Get in touch with us at

So will they do it for free or what? I'm sure every 13 year old web designer would love to get on this...
posted by geoff. at 1:46 PM on November 28, 2001

Geoff, I just changed the FAQ in question to read: "Can we hire you to thoroughly review our site for contingency design problems?"
posted by fried at 1:51 PM on November 28, 2001

The Amazon example is actually fairly lame. If you're looking for jazz guitarist John McLaughlin and actually (gasp!) know how to spell his last name, you have to wade through all those Sarah albums to find his. Exactly none of his are listed on the first page after the search, which is a complete travesty. (Whoops: if you scroll down to Classical you'll find one. Nobody will do that.) It penalizes you for actually knowing how to spell the name of what you're looking for! Better solutions are possible with a little more effort.

Of course, if you enter both first and last name you get more reasonable results for both searches, although the results for John are still kind of light. It needs better heuristics when you enter only a last name, though.
posted by kindall at 1:54 PM on November 28, 2001

That's the first time a company's actually listen to a complaint and fixed it. Dear heavens! I give props to you guys.

Now I feel the need to explain my jab. Say you were a business that wanted 37signals to look at your web page. Now, you have to send a link to the FAQs (or any of the other top links) to your boss. I would think it easier to have it nested in a page then saying "go to FAQ". No big deal really.
posted by geoff. at 2:06 PM on November 28, 2001

Kindall, that complaint is pretty weak. What about searching for "Smith" -- human names are not unique. John simple isn't that popular (which is too bad, but not Amazon's fault). Like you said, if add "John" to the query, you get fairly good results, but searching on just a single last name (when they sell millions of SKUs) and expecting to get an obscure jazz musician is a little off the mark. (Brett, Christian, Peter and Anita McLaughlin, etc.) also show up on that page.)

However, if Amazon knew from your past behaviour that you are into, say, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and you searched for "McLaughlin" it would be cool if they gave you John. I don't think individual history affects search results though. (I bet they'll be the first ones to do it though ...)
posted by sylloge at 2:11 PM on November 28, 2001

Gotta agree.

This kind of fuzzy search is actually amazingly difficult, really if you can do better write the code and sell it.

The option to turn it off might be worthwhile though.
posted by bitdamaged at 2:55 PM on November 28, 2001

re: fuzzy search.

that sort of thing is incremental, i think. write some code to track a user session, and log the search terms. have someone review the session; if they see:


well, you've got something to plug into your fuzzy-searchable database. in this way you can improve things in a case-by-case scenario. automating that might get tricky, but i'll bet most of the artists in amazon are so convenient to get to via fuzzy search. (sarah mclachlan is a fairly well-known artist, after all, so amazon probably just spent time on those sorts of celebs.)
posted by moz at 3:00 PM on November 28, 2001

Well, I would expect an artist whose name exactly matches what I typed to be listed first regardless of how popular the alternatives are. If I type "Smith" I would want to see all "Smiths" before any "Smythe"s, even if the person I'm looking for ends up being spelled "Smythe." That seems a pretty obvious and reasonable expectation.
posted by kindall at 3:11 PM on November 28, 2001

While on the topic, I used to visit the The Interface Hall of Shame for some good/funny examples of bad interface design, mostly in Windows-based applications. It hasn't been updated in quite awhile, but their review of Apple's Quicktime 4 interface was particularly scathing.
posted by robbie01 at 3:36 PM on November 28, 2001

Kindall: Sorry - my mistake for not knowing how to spell Sarah McLachlan's name. I understand your point a bit better now.
posted by sylloge at 4:49 PM on November 28, 2001

Amazon's search fell down really badly for me once by the fact that it will separately distinguish between the words


And to make things worse, whoever had entered the data had done so differently for different albums in a series, so volume one might be 80s, while volume 2 was 80's...
posted by kerplunk at 8:35 AM on November 29, 2001

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