I’m a big fan of design. Good design scales logarithmically, think about the good design of the iPhone. How many people did that affect?

There’s bad design on cars, and it can serve as a learning lesson for us.

There’s two main signals (things that express status) on cars so other drivers can predict and act on your behavior.

Turn signals and brake lights.

There are two main kinds of signals:

Binary and Spectrum.

Binary is yes or no, like being pregnant, or a restaurant being open or close.

You can’t be slightly pregnant, you are or you aren’t. The open sign is on or off.

This the kind of signaling that turn signals show. You either are or aren’t turning left. There is no middle ground.

Turn signals look like this:

Turn Signal Gif


This is good design.

It catches your eye with important information – potentially life-saving information.

So let’s look at the other signal, brake lights.Brake lights bad

Brake lights are not binary signals. They are spectrum signals.

You can be tapping your breaks or slamming on them.

The binary nature of the feedback is bad design.

It catches your eye and conceals life-saving information (“How hard is this guy braking?”)

Because the signaling isn’t in line with in line with the nature of the feedback it’s signaling, that’s why there’s a disconnect (and tens of thousands of preventable accidents (and likely deaths)).

Here’s a redesign that would be a spectrum signal (imagine they’re led’s, and not made by a 3rd grader, it’s not my fault I can’t pass the exit exams):

brakelights good

This way, you’d know: is this guy looking for a street sign or about to leave his car?

When you’re designing something, it’s important to ask yourself about the nature of the feedback you want to communicate.

Is it binary or a spectrum?

Did we win or lose?

Are we on schedule or off? How far off are we?

Is the temperature of the prematurely born babies at the ideal, is it close, is it dangerous? (I’d use two signals there, binary for dangerous (big and bright, like a code alarm) and spectrum for temp.)

Another practical use of this is in my books about seafood (almost done) and cheese (done and almost ready for you!).

With the cheeses, there’s pasteurization. This is a process done to cheese that can make it, according to doctors, safer for pregnant women.






To explain that, I used the following symbols (it’s binary, kinda: yes, no, or varies.)

For a spectrum signal (comparison between quantities of things), I used a shape on the side of the symbol.

Fat contentWho knows if 11 grams of fat per ounce is high or low for a cheese?

That’s why I included it, so you could compare it to other cheeses.

That way, at a quick glance, you can immediately understand how high or low the level is compared to other cheeses.


Until next time,



PS: If you’re looking to make a gif, I used gifmaker.me for these, highly recommended and very easy.