redesignAnswer: The brochure shows great market segmentation and creative

photo (9)


There are a lot of things to love about this brochure for Consumer Cellular. The company is an MVNO focused on older consumers. For this segment, many of them are trying their first smartphone. The pricing (not included in the screenshot above) is designed to make it easy to try, with cheap plans and a low end, affordable phone.

Specifically in the screenshot:

  • They show images of people who look like the one they’re targeting. That’s repeated throughout the brochure.
  • They use large print, which is important for older people who might have trouble with eyesight.
  • They talk about voicemail, which many younger folks (including me) hate. But their target likely prefers voicemail to texting.

Chuck adds:

  • They relate to devices like answering machines, which their audience is familiar with.


redesignAnswer: What’s the simplest way to improve this Amazon GC?

This is the kind of question that I love because it draws a lot of answers, many of which are valid.

The answer I was thinking of was to make it easy to scan. Supposedly the Amazon app can scan real world objects. But Amazon requires you to manually enter the claim code. You should be able to scan a bar code or QR code to automatically apply the code to your account after logging in. OCR technology is also good enough that you should be able to scan the text as printed.

Amazon has a wide range of gift card products. Some of the responses focused on emailing gift cards and doing things electronically. Amazon already does that.

But Amazon also offers gift cards at retail and through incentive programs. This particular gift card was received through a credit card rewards program. I’m not exactly sure what the magnetic stripe is for, because I can’t swipe it on my computer. My best guess is that it’s for activation.

This particular card doesn’t have the scratch off; cards sold at retail do. (There used to be gift card fraud where crooks would copy down activation codes and wait for them to be activated.)

Some of the other great answers:

  • Print the card on card stock so it can be recycled or biodegrade. Whole Foods does this with their gift cards. I’ve seen other gift cards made of a plasticky corn based product.
  • Use all alphabetic characters. The intermingling of numbers and letters makes entering the code on mobile devices especially hard because you have to toggle between keyboards.
  • Make the print of the redemption code larger so that older folks or folks with vision issues can more easily read it.

Victor: iTunes already does this, making it easy to redeem Starbucks app and song of the week codes.

redesignAnswer: The icons don’t work for the 1 in 12 men who are colorblind

Earlier, I asked:

These are the icons for Software Update Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007, from

They are meant to show the states for Normal, Superseded, Expired, Invalid, and Meta-data only software updates.

What is the worst flaw in these icons?


IC17338-2 IC89827IC152799 IC566283IC111350


And to look at them, you might say “nothing” or, “they’re all using arrows.”

But for the 1 in 12 men in the world and 1 in 200 women that suffer from color blindness, these icons look pretty similar, making it hard to discern the meaning.

Here’s what it looks like using the color-blindness simulator Sim Daltonism.






Green and Yellow are hopelessly lost. Red and Gray, Red and Green aren’t fantastic, either.


Changing the type of color blindness simulation shows that it’s not a simple problem:


Here, Blue and Green are nearly the same.


Microsoft attempted to solve this in 2012 by using different badges on the icons instead of arrows for everything.

IC17338-2 IC566286 IC566284  IC566283IC566285


Note that Blue and Green are still both arrows, and are still going to be a problem for some percentage of the population.

Not everyone has to use System Center Configuration Manager, but this problem shows up in other applications. I asked someone close to me who deals with this everyday:

“Yes, but you cannot prevent other people from displaying bad Powerpoints and expecting you to make sense of them. I got to where (at a multinational Fortune 100 company) I would stop the speaker and ask him to identify each line on the graph or arrow on the picture.”

If you make a multivariate graph (multiple lines) in Excel, the color choices are bad (and cannot be easily changed). So you get three or four lines on the graph and cannot match lines to a key. One trick is to use big symbols at the data points (plus, square, circle, star) and in the key. Another is to force a color out by setting its values to all zeros, and adding another line in the next successive color, which doesn’t work well since all the colors are similar anyway.


Color test
Color test in Excel

The only color I can reliably distinguish is series 3, yellow. There are two dark blue ones which are distinct from all the others but not from each other. And people at (a multinational Fortune 100 company) did this all the time.

Color test in 1-2-3
Color test in Lotus 1-2-3
Then, just for fun, I dumped the same data into Lotus 1-2-3. Not only were the default colors MUCH better, but by default the symbols were turned ON, not OFF.
So how do people with these problems get on in the world when traffic lights look similar?
traffic light
Mostly, by relying on the position of the light displayed. Designers should consider all the tools at their disposal, color, size, position, and shape to help communicate that “these things mean very different things.”
There are all kinds of accessibility concerns to take into account beyond things like sight and hearing impairment, which most people read as blindness and deafness. It’s important to remember that it’s a continuum and there’s more that can be done than just addressing those two more easily-understood conditions.

redesignQuiz: What is the worst flaw in these icons?

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

These are the icons for Software Update Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007, from

They are meant to show the states for Normal, Superseded, Expired, Invalid, and Meta-data only software updates.

What is the worst flaw in these icons?


IC17338-2 IC89827IC152799 IC566283IC111350


Provide your answer here.




redesignAnswer: CarFax is a marketing tool for dealers, not a consumer protection tool

carfax-logoWhy doesn’t CarFax provide alerts for potentially troubling car history data, or provide a score based on the vehicle history? Like many business decisions, there are several contributing factors and, in this case, each should make car buying consumers question the value of the report and whether CarFax has their best interests in mind.  Indeed, the same factors may even open an opportunity for a more nimble competitor to rethink the market, rebuild the reports and redesign the industry.

The car-buying public is not CarFax’s primary customer.  CarFax—which controls an estimated 90% of the auto title history market—built its empire by penning exclusive agreements with numerous auto manufacturers and their certified pre-owned programs, as well as auto classified outfits such as Auto Trader and  The vast majority of CarFax reports are purchased by the people certifying or selling used cars, and then provided to the buying public for free.  Why?  Because a clean CarFax report provides a consumer confidence that they are getting what they pay for. As we saw in yesterday’s posts here and here, however, the CarFax report offers only raw data, no analysis, and the consumer’s confidence is not always earned.

The fact is, CarFax’s primary customers like the reports minimal.  CarFax specifically calls out only the worst case cars (such as titles branded Salvage or Flood), which smoothes the sales process and provides consumers with a perception of quality despite minimal due diligence and no analysis.  To this end, CarFax is not truly a research tool for consumers, but a sales tool designed to reduce friction in the used car market. If CarFax went out of its way to raise flags for questionable history, the pool of purchasers for the car would diminish as would the value of the car.  If CarFax provided a score, its dominance in the market would likely set up de facto diminishing tiered pricing based on the score range, and likely give more false positives than negatives.  As it is, if a CarFax shows a title branded as Salvaged or Flood, the car’s resale value is almost nothing.  If CarFax provided a more robust title history analysis, the first casualty would be the bottom line of their best customers.

Interestingly enough, auto dealerships—who are begrudgingly one of CarFax’s primary customers— have recently come out against CarFax reports as unreliable.  The most public outcry is voiced in an antitrust lawsuit (Maxon Hyundai Mazda NYLSI Inc. d/b/a/ Sunrise Toyota et al. v. CarFax Inc., case number 13-cv-2680, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York) currently supported by nearly 600 dealerships around the country.  While dealerships certainly stand to gain from the lack of analysis in CarFax reports, that benefit appears outweighed by the squeeze put on dealers resulting from CarFax’s sweetheart deals with OEMs, certified pre-owned programs and auto classifieds.  With each of those entities only recognizing CarFax reports, the suit alleges CarFax often charges dealers five times as much as competing title history providers. In the effort to unseat CarFax from this alleged monopoly, consumers have found an unlikely ally in the dealers who now claim CarFax reports are unreliable and subject dealers to unnecessary litigation.   Whether the dealer’s arguments find traction is yet to be seen, but in the meantime, have no doubt that despite their protests, dealers will milk as much value from the shroud of quality CarFax confers.

In all of this, the consumer gets lost, both figuratively and literally.  The reports are not the best product for consumers, but are instead designed to facilitate sales.  The reports also provide raw data with no analysis.  While many consumers will meaningfully interpret the data, many more will see the lack of obvious alerts as a stamp of approval.  It would be no easy feat to develop an algorithm to detect questionable data in a title history and thus provide meaningful analysis, but not impossible.  Through their antitrust claims discussed above, hundreds of dealerships are unwittingly creating a market for precisely such a product.  Indeed, from a public relations and litigation perspective, dealerships (and OEMs to some degree) could benefit from helping support or design a product which ensures transparency in auto deals, and would likely see a decline in auto fraud litigation costs as a result.  Even better, if a title-history product had organic growth based on consumer transparency creating mutual benefit to consumer and business alike, the sheen of CarFax’s gold-standard perception would fade, and the gravity of exclusivity agreements diminish.

Certainly this article does not cover the title history industry with sufficient depth, and the solution proposed above is oversimplified; however the point is that consumers and industry need not accept the status quo.  The innumerable lawsuits filed by consumers for defects in cars hidden or undisclosed in title reports coupled with the antitrust lawsuit by dealers reveal the title history industry as broken, or at the very least damaged.  Given that rare agreement by major players on both sides of such a common, yet critical transaction, there is no question this industry is ready for redesign.

Rocky’s comments

This is the same problem with investment analysts and accounting firms. Accounting firms are audited by the people who pay them, not an independent third party. Part of the reason that Groupon’s S-1 filing was so full of flaws was that Ernst & Young was being paid by Groupon. Keeping the customer happy comes into play.

redesignAnswer: The car was previously owned by a rental car agency and sold due to an accident resulting in frame damage

The first factor is clear: the CarFax report discloses the car as a former rental vehicle under the “Owner 1” information.  Rental vehicles are often driven hard, and are rarely worth the same as non-rental vehicles in a fair market.  A closer look, however, reveals the second–more important– factor:  the rental company only owned the car from 03/30/2013 to 11/04/2013, or a little over 7 months.  The average time-in-service for a rental vehicle is 13 months.  This car is well short of that average.  One of the primary reasons a rental company sells a car this soon after putting it in service is that the car presents a liability.

Title history reports such as CarFax typically turn up major repair work processed by insurance companies, but most rental agencies are self-insured and the repairs done by captive body shops. The wreck will never show on the title, despite such information being one of the primary purpose and marketing points of ordering the title history.  Only an inspection by a body shop revealed this car’s damage to its frame and sub-frame.  The damage, as it turns out, is a safety issue and the car is not worth anything near fair market value of a non-wreck.  The CarFax gives a false impression of quality here, and in many unreported wrecks.

Beyond my friend getting ripped off (though I am working on fixing that for him), the quiz raises a broader issue.  Title history companies have little incentive to find prior-wreck information when not branded on the title, nor do they adequately disclose such blind spots.  Certainly, CarFax has a “CarFax Guarantee,” but it only covers situations where CarFax misses a title actually branded as prior wreck or other defect.  When the defect is hidden from the title for some reasons, the title history provides a false comfort.  A better car history model would be consumer facing and use the information in the title history indexed against known defects to provide alerts that the buyer may wish to consult with a professional about the value of the car.  For example, a report could advise consumers that a rental agency sold the car before reaching the average in-service date and recommend the consumer consult a body shop.  The service could even extend its reach by partnering with local body shops and providing recommendations or a platform for advertising.

At redesignmobile, we see it as our mission to uncover holes in consumer service and work to fill them with solutions beneficial to consumers and the companies that serve them.  While we are not currently engaged to redesign the title history market, we also see it as our mission to bring such issues to light in the hopes that we can kickstart a discussion as to how we can all rethink, rebuild and redesign our world.

If you’d like to shine a light on other flaws in title history reports, or any consumer related matters, feel free to drop me a line at chuck at I’m more than happy to listen.

This leads to today’s question: Why doesn’t CarFax provide a simple score for each vehicle? Or put a red flag next to the big red flags?

NOTE:  The CarFax report also shows an odd title history under “Owner 1.”  It appears that the car was sold at auction to a dealer and returned before landing with a second dealer who then sold it to Owner 2.  It is impossible to tell from this report alone whether anything truly unusual happened, or whether the report is capturing an oddity in the transfer from the auction house to the dealer.  In any event, in the context of the other information, this should be noted as another red flag and put the buyer on alert.


CarFax Quiz


Rocky got this one right.

redesignQuiz: Why was this used car purchase a bad buy?

The image below is a CarFax report showing the title history of a used car recently purchased by an acquaintance. CarFax, in case you do not know, is the current industry leader providing auto title histories to consumers and dealers alike. CarFax markets itself as providing information that may impact the purchase decision of a car through a detailed VIN history.

For the purpose of this quiz, assume this car was sold at fair market value for a typical car of this make and model year. When I saw this CarFax report, I told my friend he should make all efforts to undo the deal immediately. There are at least two factors in this report that should have warned him away from purchasing this car for that price. List the factors and explain why this was a bad deal.

NOTE: I redacted the dealer’s name.




Submit your answer here.

redesignAnswer: The tab is broken because I waited 15 minutes for “service” and gave up

Cable with tag torn


The tab on this cable is broken because it was locked to the peg. There was a customer service button to press; I pressed it. A store clerk walked by but didn’t have the key; I asked her to find someone who did. 15 minutes later, I gave up and ripped off the tab. (I did pay for the merchandise.)

But most consumers wouldn’t wait more than 2 minutes. So this “security” measure deters sales.

It also doesn’t deter theft! If someone wants to steal it, they can just do what I did. Another alternative is to pull the peg entirely out of the peg board and remove it from the back.

So you’ve made it hard for legitimate customers to buy the product while only adding a speed bump for thieves.

This is also a case where the maxim about letting your data make your decisions falls flat. Such analysis ignores what you can’t measure. In this case, it is lost sales. You can measure theft — number of units put on display minus number sold. Measuring opportunity cost — the units you didn’t sell because people didn’t want to wait — is harder. (Though it can be done.)

Opportunity cost in this case is especially high because this a high margin product. Every lost sale hurts more than every theft.

Of course, Walgreen’s could improve service levels so that someone would actually come and unlock the product. But that requires more staffing.

Another answer, which Sam came up with, is that the item was on a peg with assorted merchandise. Rather than slide everything out to get to the one she wanted in back and then slide everything back on, she’d just rip the tab for the one she wanted.