Is there a concise way to describe something that is poorly designed, such that users are likely to accidentally make errors when using it? I'm looking for pretty much an exact antonym for "foolproof".

As an example, suppose there's a UI for job management that allows jobs to be canceled. When the "Cancel" button is clicked, a dialog appears saying "Canceling will lose job progress. Do you want to let the job finish? [Yes] / [No]" Clicking "No" will actually abort the job. The UI is working as designed, but since many users will not read the full message and assume that the opposite question is being asked, they are likely to use it incorrectly and mistakenly choose the wrong option. The UI itself works as intended and is not directly failing or causing the error, but its design is causing others to make mistakes.

I'd like a concise yet generalizable way to say, "This UI is [likely to be the cause of frequent user error]." So far the best word that I have is "confusing" but I'd like something stronger and more specific.

"Error-prone" is close, but I feel like that more strongly means "liable to make mistakes" instead of "cause mistakes to be made."

I'm not satisfied with the following words, because they suggest a defect of implementation (that it can fail even if used "correctly") and don't sufficiently convey an error-causing design: "defective", "faulty", "flawed", "imperfect", "undependable", "unreliable", "fallible"

I would also like to avoid direct or implicit criticism of the creator, so I don't want to say "poorly designed."

  • 3
    You say that you'd "like to avoid direct or implicit criticism of the creator" but the UI is poorly designed, so any way of saying that is an implicit criticism of the creator. It was their job to get it right and they failed. You can certainly avoid making it personal but you can't remove the criticism. Apr 27, 2019 at 7:35
  • @KannE is right; just describe why it's confusing rather than try to come up with a generic adjective. Also, User Experience might be a better place to ask this question. Apr 27, 2019 at 9:28
  • @KillingTime I don't agree that criticism of a person and their work are necessarily inseparable. In many workplaces, work is reviewed by others. I certainly wouldn't tell anyone I wanted to maintain a working relationship with that they failed when I found an issue with their work. Apr 27, 2019 at 9:41
  • @JustinLardinois If you tell someone that there is a flaw in the work that they produced then there is an implied criticism of the quality of their work. You can word it to try and avoid it being personal and hurtful but the only way to completely avoid that implication is to avoid mentioning the flaw altogether. Apr 27, 2019 at 10:11
  • I think what you're looking for is more familiarity with the language of design, i.e. rather than one particular word you'd like to be able to have a good language for specific sorts of design flaws (this also addresses your concern about being sensitive to the creator of the UI: you will be able to offer actionable rather than vague criticism). You might like to consult Norman's "The Design of Everyday Things". He identifies a lot of useful concepts like "constraints", "affordances", etc. I'm not sure what specifically applies to your yes/no example, but agree with your intuition there
    – jberryman
    Apr 28, 2019 at 16:16

17 Answers 17


This UI is:
- Nonobvious = Not easily discovered, seen, or understood
- Unclear = not clear
- Counterintuitive = contrary to what one would intuitively expect
- Illogical = not observing the principles of logic

It is difficult to correct someone without risking direct or implicit criticism.

  • 23
    "Counter-intuitive" would seem to be a very good fit. Apr 26, 2019 at 19:10
  • Yes -- counter intuitive does sound right.
    – Jennifer
    Apr 28, 2019 at 18:25


something or someone that is at high risk of foolish actions or ideas being brought upon them and cannot become rid of such actions or ideas, no matter the nature of foolishness; antonym of foolproof.

(courtesy of https://definithing.com/foolprone/ & https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=foolprone)

Arguably, it's a made-up word, but it does exist in the wild, and it nice enough as far as neologisms go IMVHO.

  • Please add the definition to your answer. Also note that all words are made up. ;)
    – JJJ
    Apr 27, 2019 at 16:15
  • @JJJ fixed, thanks for noticing that.
    – user69550
    Apr 27, 2019 at 16:19


Giving the wrong idea or impression - OOD

A confirmation pop-up is expected to ask if the user wants to continue. When it asks the negation of what is expected many people can be expected to answer incorrectly.


Probably not very common outside of programming circles, but a "footgun" is something which makes it very easy for the user to shoot themselves in the foot. It is fairly negative towards the feature, but other than that it doesn't criticize the creator (as far as I'm aware).

From https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/footgun :

(programming slang, humorous, derogatory) Any feature whose addition to a product results in the user shooting themselves in the foot.


I read the title of the question and immediately thought of error prone—before reading the rest of the question. I personally don't think there is a better phrase than that. It's open to interpretation and context what the reason is behind the possible errors.

Having said that, another possible word is fallible:

1 : liable to be erroneous
// a fallible generalization
2 : capable of making a mistake
// we're all fallible

In short:

The UI is fallible.

  • Isn't it more a case that the UI leads the user to be more fallible? Error prone may be better.
    – user323578
    Apr 26, 2019 at 20:38
  • 2
    @JamesRandom I did say that error prone seems like the best choice. ;) But the problem with the question comes from the source of the error. If the question doesn't want to admit poor design or user error (of any kind), it's not clear what the opposite of foolproof could possibly be—because something has to produce an error of some kind . . . Apr 26, 2019 at 21:56
  • @JasonBassford Actually I came here to write error prone as an answer, turned out you already mentioned that in this comment. You should add that as an answer!
    – justhalf
    Apr 27, 2019 at 1:33
  • @justhalf It is in my answer. In the first paragraph. ;) Apr 27, 2019 at 13:52
  • 1
    Oh, I didn't even see that. Perhaps make it bold and link to definition, like you did for fallible?
    – justhalf
    Apr 27, 2019 at 17:11


Let’s stop putting the blame in the wrong place. Interfaces should be designed to help humans achieve their goals, but also to avoid doing stupid things. Alan Cooper refers to “error-inducing design”, which is design that basically encourages error because it fails to consider human limitations (by Antony Adelaar).

(Quote refers to Alan Cooper, the American software designer.)

In this case, presumption would be a human limitation. I would presume (ODO) that a confirmation dialog box would have this basic setup: Perform requested action? [yes/confirm] [no/cancel]. But if I clicked on abort job by accident, ignored the dialog (based on my presumption), and clicked no, that would perform the action (i.e., abort the job), which could be a destructive action. Or so I presume, based on a likely purpose of confirmation dialog boxes--preventing, as possible, "unintended havoc" (Designing Confirmation by Andrew Coyle).


I tend to use the word "magnet" a lot. When I'm driving, I'm an idiot magnet. When I'm at a party, I seem to be a bore magnet. StackExchange is a nerd magnet.

This UI would be an error magnet.

I suppose "vortex" or "black hole" or "sucker" could replace "magnet." This UI is a black hole of bad clicks. This UI actively hunts down and sucks in errors.


This UI is:

  1. not user-friendly (specific)
  2. overly complex
  3. unintuitive
  4. dangerous (general)

As a side note: You mentioned you wanted to avoid criticism of the creator, but be aware the word you're asking for will be a word of opinion. In most cases, qualifiers can be used to fine-tune the intent of your word choice. Depending on the style and perspective of the writing, you may be able to use words of emotion to get more control of the overall message you are trying to convey.

Consider the change of intent as you read:

  • This UI is unintuitive. (declarative)
  • This UI may be unintuitive. (suggestive)
  • This UI may be unintuitive to new users. (informative)
  • I feel that this UI may be unintuitive. (personal, suggestive)
  • I feel that this UI may be unintuitive to new users. (personal, informative)

inherently flawed

Inherent literally refers to something that is "stuck in" something else so firmly that they can't be separated. A plan may have an inherent flaw that will cause it to fail; a person may have inherent virtues that everyone admires. Since the flaw and the virtues can't be removed, the plan may simply have to be thrown out and the person will remain virtuous forever.

-Merriam Webster

So if the UI is inherently flawed it refers to the design and not the designer.

  • I know the OP said that "flawed" was not adequate for their purpose, I think when accompanied by "inherently" it can work. Apr 26, 2019 at 18:41
  • 1
    The term does refer to the design, but I disagree that this option makes no judgement of the designer. Whoever designed an inherently flawed UI did a damn poor job. Apr 26, 2019 at 18:42
  • @NuclearWang ...of course that would be inferred...but not actually implied. Apr 26, 2019 at 18:43

A foolproof system is robust, in this context an antonym is brittle
Wikipedia: Principle of least astonishment "a system should behave in a way that most users will expect it to behave"

My description for the OP's situation is: The UI provokes mistakes

Even stronger words are "hazardous" or "It's a trap"


'Flawed' is strict opposite of foolproof, and would be the word used in the arena of safety critical software design for a confusing human-machine interface.

Strictly a 'flaw' becomes a 'fault' when the system state reaches it, and a 'failure' when the consequences of the fault are not managed by the system.

Correctly implementing the wrong behaviour is still a flaw.


Could you be looking for mine-field?

Cambridge defines it as a situation or subject that is very complicated and full of hidden problems and dangers:

The UI is a minefield of mistakes for the users


In the case of that dialog I'd say "badly worded".

"Let the job finish" could mean two opposite things - allow it to be killed (finish prematurely, right now) or allow it to run to its normal conclusion.

Clearly, if "No" aborts, then the designer was thinking of the second one. Hmm, I think. You've got me at it now!

If he'd used "continue" instead it would be unambiguous. Non-native speaker, perhaps?



▶ adjective INFALLIBLE, dependable, reliable, trustworthy, certain, sure, guaranteed, safe, sound, tried and tested; watertight, airtight, flawless, perfect; informal sure-fire; formal efficacious. Opposites: flawed.

— Concise Oxford Thesaurus 2nd Ed.

The UI allows for [many or easily made] mistakes (i.e. error-prone) but at the same time this is not due to the designer. It seems like you want to write a politically correct sentence.


  1. The UI is coincidentally (error prone / flawed).

  2. The UI is unintentionally (error prone / flawed).


Looking for a phrase that is concise, strong, and avoids implying criticism of the creator is a little tricky, since the more concise and strong you get, the more likely it is to sound like harsh criticism. And it's hard to find a way to soften it without being less concise or less strong and specific.

That being said, my best attempt at a fusion of the three:

These are specific (emphasize the fact that users will not only be confused, but will likely make errors) and non-critical (state the problem plainly, "misuse" indicates that it works when used correctly -- with the caveat that there's no way to phrase this without implying that the design has room for improvement).


I'm not quite sure it fits the sense you're using it in here, but along the lines of the comment by jberryman, and answers by KannE and Bobby-J: we also apply terms like antipattern (Wikipedia) and dark pattern (Wikipedia) to situations like this.

antipattern A design pattern that may be commonly used, but is ineffective or counterproductive in practice. (Wiktionary)

dark pattern: A user interface that is intentionally designed to trick users into doing things, such as giving up more information, or agreeing to unfavourable terms. (Wiktionary)

This UI is (or employs) an anti-pattern because it inverts the logical action of the affirmative buttons.

To close the loop, asking the user to confirm the destructive action is, by itself, just a pattern for helping the user avoid accidental destructive actions.


I just made up this phrase off the top of my head, but how about failbait?

"This UI is [likely to be the cause of frequent user error]."
"This UI is failbait."

  • Failbait would imply to me that it was intentionally designed to fail (cf. clickbait which is intentionally designed to draw clicks). I'm not sure that the question carries that implication. Apr 27, 2019 at 7:02

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