Failing well

A good design is one that is designed for failure. Here is a broad framework that categorizes features that bolster failure resilience.

Heads-up: Give the user a warning to take preventive action before failure occurs. Fuel or battery indicators and expiry dates belong to this category.

Backup: Ensure that the system can continue running at least temporarily, until the failure is addressed. Power banks, spare tyres and reserve fuel tanks are examples.

Blow-up: Build in damage control whereby the impact of the failure on the device and the user is mitigated. Seat belts, airbags, fuses and helmets belong here.

How well something fails is often more important than how well it works, since the costs of failure are often higher than the incremental gain of an enhancement. Good design prevents or mitigates this cost.

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