Common Sense Design

[UPDATED] I added the results of the quiz below. Check out those swanky graphs!

I’ve been re-reading one of my go-to UX books, Human Performance Engineering by Dr Robert Bailey.

Particularly, I’ve been focusing on the chapter about assessing the validity of test results. I mean, who doesn’t need a refresher on f testing? The chapter starts off with a bit about “Common Sense” design versus “Fact Finding” design. I asked Dr Bailey if I could reproduce the quiz for fun and he said yes.

So, here we go. Put on your UX vest, your Interaction Design belt, and your Usability britches. No need for your Graphic Design undies as you can see from the illustration below.

Consider the best design to be the one which causes the fewest burns and the least damage.

The Results

71 responses. 59% got it wrong.

The correct answer is #1. While this may not be the absolute “best design evar,” it was the best design of the original study. And for the record, I guessed #2, which is what prompted me to do this quiz in the first place.

Common sense is all well and good, but you shouldn’t rely on it solely. For the 40% that got it right, it either means you have good design sense or you are good at multiple choice guessing.

My takeaway: there’s nothing wrong with guessing, but we should all be testing more often.

* Illustration from Johns Hopkins University Press, © 1959, p. 7.


  1. Jay Zipursky says:

    I can’t wait to see if my stove adheres to the best design.

  2. Matthew Oliphant says:

    I haven’t had a gas stove in so long, I don’t recall what they layout tends to be.

    I miss cooking with gas. Alas.

  3. Paul Adasiak says:

    The original quiz didn’t include the obvious fourth option?

  4. Matthew Oliphant says:

    Obvious being…

  5. Paul Adasiak says:

    Given that A and B have to go on the left and C and D have to go on the right, there are two possibilities for each side: AB or BA, and CD or DC. Thus, total possibilities include ABCD, ABDC, BADC, and the missing one, BACD. That’s what I’d have chosen.

  6. Matthew Oliphant says:

    I would have gone with the Twiki set-up: BDBD.

  7. Nancy Frishberg says:

    +1 for Paul’s suggestion.

    And I’d ask the industrial designers for a different layout of the burners, e.g., a slightly staggered front vs. back so that the burners are more obviously a mapping of both L/R and inside/outside. (Let’s see if I can do it in ASCII)

    A C or A C or A C
    B D B D B D


  8. Matthew Oliphant says:

    Designers… give them an inch they take a mile. :P

  9. Nancy Frishberg says:

    Sorry that ASCII thing didn’t work well at all. (Carefully counted spaces are all collapsed to one space.)








  10. Jeff L says:

    Funny, I was also left wondering where the fourth option of BACD was as well, though I still would have chosen #1 simply because it’s what I’m already used to from my stove at home.

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