By Melanie Brewer
We’ve all had a few days to get over the fact that La La Land didn’t actually win the Best Picture Oscar. La La Land Producer Jordan Horowitz was the hero of the night, thanks to his quick thinking and gracious response under pressure.
And we all know now that the culprit was Pricewaterhouse Coopers partner Brian Cullinan.
But actually the real culprit was bad UX.
There were so many chances to get this right, too. Any single poor-UX decision would probably have been fine (due to the human factors principle of redundancy), but taken together, the four UX factors below added up to the single biggest mistake in Oscar history:
ENVELOPE DESIGN: CONTRAST AND READABILITY
For the past five years, the envelopes were designed by Marc Friedland. The printing for the name of the category was in high contrast black and white in a clear font. This was a highly readable envelope.
But in 2017, the envelopes were redesigned with low contrast red and gold.
What did they say? I have no idea. Can someone get my glasses?
The card inside was not much better. The contrast was there, but the text stating the category was microscopic.
Unfortunately, this card and envelope design was a mistake waiting to happen. If one or both had been more readable, it could have provided a crucial clue that something was wrong. Maybe even before the envelope was opened. And certainly before the wrong team was giving acceptance speeches.
AGE OF PRESENTERS: VISION & COGNITION
Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty are 76 and 79 years of age, respectively. As Donald Trump would say, they look fantastic. They are the most fantastic ever, in fact, Bonnie and Clyde, and I loved seeing them up there, but it's just a fact: vision declines with age, and the ability to read small print at low contrast ratios is one of the first things to go (just ask any late 40, early 50-something). Not to mention, cognitive ability does decline with age, making us less quick to solve puzzlers like the one inside the envelope.
So the question is: would someone younger, say, Seth Rogen, have A) Read the category on the outer envelope or B) Read the category on the inner card or C) Put two and two together quickly when things didn't seem quite right?
Or maybe that cute kid from Lion. He's really young, and I bet he's sharp as a tack. Can he read? Let’s get him to read the Best Picture award next year.
We’ll never know for sure, but certainly the advanced ages of the presenters presented a unique human factors context that was not suited to the challenges of the evening (totally not their fault!).
BAD SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO
The systems design was not ideal. Specifically, there were two sets of cards, one on each side of the stage.
Why did they do it like this? Never mind. I’m sure there’s a very good reason. And on a year when the cards are readable, it probably works just fine. But in 2017 this was an accident waiting to happen.
If there are two sets of cards in two briefcases, then it means that a huge number of cards in each briefcase are “wrong”, because they won’t be used at all. That’s a lot of juggling to make sure nothing goes awry, especially when the cards are *impossible* to read at a glance. Setting things up this way ignores the human factors principle of signal to noise. It’s just harder to find something if there’s a bunch of other stuff in the way.
In this case, it was a 50% chance of making the wrong choice instead of a 100% chance of getting the right envelope.
Plus there was a cell phone, which bring us to...
THE SMOKING GUN: MULTITASKING AND COGNITIVE OVERLOAD
Brian Cullinan was tweeting throughout the evening, although those tweets have since been deleted, according to Variety. When you multitask (especially stuff you don't do everyday) -- for example juggling the task of handing out Oscar envelopes with the task of tweeting while being starstruck--there is a little thing called the “dual task decrement”. This means you don’t do either task well.
Cullinan even continued tweeting, including his tweet about Emma Stone at 9:05 PM, after Beatty and Dunaway had taken to the stage after being given the wrong envelope. The rest is Oscars history...or infamy, depending on how you look at it.
So there you have it: four human factors that added up to one colossal mistake.
Oscars planners, if you are listening, I’m available for the UX design of your ceremony next year. No charge, but please seat me next to Lin Manuel Miranda.