Mass Shootings Are The Result Of The Worst Design Problem In The World

The massive role design plays in causing disasters like these to happen

While reading the book, “The Design Of Everyday Things”, I noticed a recurring theme occurring in the book, and I realised the eery parallels with a situation completely unrelated to design — the recent mass shootings in the USA.

Could Mass Shootings be a Design Problem?

In the book “The Design Of Everyday Things” by Don Norman, he explains how he was once asked to evaluate a new product a company was making.

While testing it, he realised that it was important to differentiate between the enter key and the return key on the keyboard of the device, noting that if the wrong key was pressed, all the data was lost.

He pointed the issue out to the designer, but the first response was “Why did you make that error? Didn’t you read the manual?”

Slightly flustered, Norman replied that the problem wasn’t that he didn’t understand the two keys, but rather that the similar functions and similar locations of the keys meant that he would often press it by mistake, and was sure other people would too.

Adamantly, the designer refused to admit any mistakes, and claimed that it was Norman’s fault that he made the mistake.

When Norman asked the employees whether they had ever made a mistake like that and lose their work, the general consensus was that they all did.

The key theme Norman is pushing is that when finding errors, what is usually is done is that the culprit of the problem is caught, and the problem is then considered solved. However, that doesn’t solve the problem, the error will continue happening over and over again.

He states that when mistakes are made, we should instead determine why the error happened, and then redesign the system to ensure something like it will never happen again.

When mistakes are made, we should instead determine why the error happened, and then redesign the system to ensure something like it will never happen again.

Repeatedly, mass shootings happen, causing mass outroar and publicity, only to die down and be forgotten. In fact, looking at this website, it seems that gun violence happens way more frequently than anyone could imagine.

Every time, politicians say it was human error. They say it was because the shooters were mentally ill. Or that people who want to shoot others will find ways to get guns even if they are banned.

Every time, it’s blamed on humans.

But the problem is, humans make mistakes. We are swayed by emotion. In bad situations, we act erratically and out of control. That’s just how we’re wired.

As stated before, when mistakes are made, in this case, when terrible tragedies are made, and made often, the correct thing to do is change the system.

When we do have these horrible impulses, what we need is people to talk to, to help us through our situation. We need emotional support. We need help. What we don’t need is the knowledge that there is a gun in our closet.

The fact that mental health funds have been cut down, the fact that kids have more mental problems than ever before, the fact that a 13 year old can walk into a store and buy a gun — that is why mass shootings happen so easily.

When you’re 13, it’s easier to get a gun than a lottery ticket.

To the disbelievers who think gun control won’t do anything, there’s the proof of other countries that have already done it. An often quoted example is Australia, where, after guns were banned in 1996, there hasn’t been a mass shooting for 22 years.

From the article —

Australian independence didn’t end. Tyranny didn’t come. Australians still hunted and explored and big-wave surfed to their hearts’ content. Their economy didn’t crash; Invaders never arrived. Violence, in many forms, went down across the country, not up.

There were also some interesting positive externalities, namely, suicide rates dropped by 80%

What stopped many of those would-be suicides — quite straightforwardly, it seems — was the lack of access to a gun, a generally immediate and effective method of killing. (Nine out of 10 suicide attempts with a firearm result in death, a far higher share than attempts by other methods.) Some Australians found other ways to take their own lives — but for many, that acute moment of sadness and resolve passed in the absence of a gun.

Although mental health is another topic altogether, it seems there are very few trivial bad effects of gun restrictions, the biggest being that some hobbyists won’t get to keep their weapons that they think look cool.

And I suppose it really tells you something when teenagers need to protest to their own government to feel safe in their own schools.

The system predisposes mass shootings to happen. It isn’t ever a human error, it’s a design fault of the system. And until the system changes, nothing will.

Thanks for reading,