I'm never quite sure how to classify these questions, but we have a problematic class of questions that very often hits the "hot questions" list. Questions such as

Why don’t we remove door handles and let doors open both ways (inwards, outwards)?

Why do traffic lights have three separate light bulbs instead of having one?

Bathrooms near elevators

At first my reaction was against questions, which most of these are. But there's also stuff like this:

Why doesn't the Mac OSX finder have a Cut option?

It seems the real common thread is the basis of the post is sort of a Jerry Seinfeld-esque "What's the deal with...?" Rather than being asked from a position of "I am making X, how do I Y" it's more a position of "X does Y, what's up with that?"

There's some interesting trivia in these (which, combined with their easy to understand nature, seems to result in their Hot Question status), but trivia isn't really what this site is about--this site is about solving problems, specifically design problems.

I'm not entirely sure what the consensus is about these questions, or why or if we should consider them off topic, but I'm starting to think we need to lay out rules regarding "What's the deal with it" questions asked from a perspective of curiosity rather than a designer asking about a problem they are encountering and planning to fix.


5 Answers 5


I really don't like these questions.

If we refer to the FAQ page What types of questions should I avoid asking?

What types of questions should I avoid asking?

First, make sure that your question is on-topic for this site.

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.

If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about ______”, then you should not be asking here. However, if your motivation is “I would like others to explain ______ to me”, then you are probably OK. (Discussions are of course welcome in our real time web chat.)

These type of 'questions' seem to break most of these rules.

Are they 'practical, answerable questions'? No, not really. There's no correct answer to How to stop people becoming marooned on a causeway. Is it based on actual problems that you face? Not unless you're actually building a motorway/freeway. Is the question based on “I would like to participate in a discussion about...". Yes it is.

All these questions seem to break these rules (which are global to all Stack Exchange sites, not just UX.StackExchange).

If the people are asking these questions are civil engineers, car designers, highways agencies, government policy planning staff etc then they should ask the question based on the particular situation and problem that they are trying to solve:

"I am designing a car and need the fuel panel to be in a position the most suitable to the target audience - Elderly drivers in France (where they drive on the Right Hand Side), taking into account the fact that petrol stations allow you to fill up from either side of the car, should I keep the petrol cap on the drivers-side or the passengers-side"?

Now a question like that can have a solid, well reasoned answer that the asker can explicitly take and use to solve his or her problem.

But "Why do some cars have the fuel door on the passenger's side?" isn't a useful question because it's just speculation, and you can't actually do anything with the answer once you have it (if there even is an answer).

  • 3
    Not to mention that questions like this can have answers ranging from actual UX to politics to ancient history. Jun 26, 2014 at 3:11
  • While the answer might be political, the question can still be related to UX. Important difference. I think (often) they are "practical, answerable questions", but could do with rephrasing.
    – Dirk v B
    Jul 8, 2014 at 1:52

First of all, I have to admit I accidentally clicked on this question while watching a World Cup match, only to surprisingly find my question on the top of the list mentioned.

Now, I'm a complete newbie in this forum so I don't quite know how this Meta sibling of the main site works as well as the way the discussions should go. So my excuses if this's not an appropriate answer. Here it goes.

Not because that I'm one of those who asked these answers, but I'd just like to say first that I feel a bit offended about the idea that those questions are for rep farming. How much does reputation on this site affect my real life, my salary, my family or anything for that matter. I don't know for the others, but my question was purely from a design perspective. I had thought of it for a long time due to the usability problems that I got, not knowing a real answer. When I discovered this site, I didn't even think about asking it.

It only came to me that I could ask this kind of questions when browsing the site (I had known the strictness that comes with asking the right question on SE and don't want my questions to be deleted as soon as they come)

As Doorknob pointed out, I asked my question only when seeing this question, and other questions that were allowed on the site. It was a genuinely authentic problem that I wanted to solve. I'd beg to differ with JonW on the fact that I'd need to be a "door designer" to ask this question. I believe UX Designers are designers for all real-world problems that concern users/customers. We are the ones who push the limit of things, spanning across disciplines, domains, forms, among other things. I believe some of the best ideas come when we're not solving them.

Onto a relevant note, checking the list of most voted answers tells me that the majority of these questions were asked from "a perspective of curiosity". To cite a few:

I don't see the problem with those highly voted questions and the "curiosity, physicality" implied in them (and the questions you mentioned in your question :D), purely because curiosity, asking for experiences, and freedom in reasoning are among the most fundamental properties of design and UX design. This link lists some hints for the "good subjective questions"

  • Inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.
  • Tend to have long, not short, answers.
  • Have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.
  • Invite sharing experiences over opinions

I don' know if you could see it, but for the last several days, I contributed my answers to many questions that I think I know the answer, even when the views are just low (too low in my opinion) because I want to share.

In my opinion, UX inherently is a subjective and opinion-based domain. And sharing and contributing our views, our curiosity, our experiences, and our freedom in reasoning, are necessary to build this site to be helpful for the UX community in general. If we limit too much the scope of the questions, we risk leaving out the essence of UX.

My two cents.

  • Each Stack Exchange site has its own meta site where people go to discuss the site itself (just as meta-data is data about the application, so to is the meta site about the main site), so you've got the idea of Meta down OK. And your answer makes some very good points too. The reason Ben asked this question is that as a mod (myself too) we do have the ability and power to close off questions immediately if they are against the rules, but these type of questions straddle the line so making a post on Meta is a great way to gather community feedback on these things. We'd done that...
    – JonW Mod
    Jun 26, 2014 at 8:24
  • ...many times over the years (discussion on whether Icon request questions would be suitable to the site being a similar one I can think of). The question is posed and the community (if they see a link to it anyway) come to meta to post their thoughts and opinions, with the aim of reaching a consensus. Your points are very valid and show why this isn't such a straightforward decision (no theses questions are bad / yes these questions are good).
    – JonW Mod
    Jun 26, 2014 at 8:26
  • 2
    Also, please don't feel offended that your question was referenced in the main post. There are lots of these type of questions (as you have linked to as well) yours just being the most recent. And the 'rep farming' thing is sadly something that some people do care about - some people would find any excuse to post a question that'll get rapid votes and views gets taken just to increase their rep score. There's no intentional insinuation that you are one of these people at all, just that these people do exist across all Stack Exchange sites.
    – JonW Mod
    Jun 26, 2014 at 8:30
  • 3
    I never said anything about rep farming--that was a comment not by me. I don't particularly care about the intent of these posts but rather their value to the site and designers in general. And yes I know there are several highly voted questions posted from the perspective of curiosity--that's rather the point of this discussion. Them being scored highly only makes them more of a problem if they're not particularly useful as people start to get the idea that's the point of this site (your response sort of proves this point)
    – Ben Brocka
    Jun 26, 2014 at 13:56
  • Sorry if you were upset about my comment about rep farming - I was just being a bit cynical. :D Jun 26, 2014 at 18:13

"What's the deal with" question need to be provided for in a separate area of the site. Rather than a constant fight regarding questions posed by newbies and those who can't who won't follow the guidelines and some open questions getting downvoted/deleted and others passing muster, SO needs a dedicated area to open-ended questions as described by @jonW.

Questions need to have a sub-section: "Open Questions" or "Open Opinion" (or similar)

"Why do some cars have the fuel door on the passenger's side?" is a question that can really be answered, with speculation and opinion (which still can represent valid reasoning).

There's no place for this currently, and yet the Stack Exchange format beats Yahoo Answers and Wiki answers into the ground.

Moderators; I propose to formalise this in a proposal to Stack Exchange. I must not be the first to suggest it. This, or modifying the rules to permit less specific questions.

  • Seems more like a Quora thing, no? The focus on no-nonsense and practical solutions/questions is still a major focus of SE as a brand.
    – Ben Brocka
    Jul 9, 2014 at 19:12
  • Then the brand needs to expand!
    – Barney
    Jul 9, 2014 at 23:22

I think this group of questions would be more clearly useful if framed as:

"What (if any) learnings about UX design can we extract from the way X has implemented Y?"

If the answer is "None - just historic evolution" or "None - just physically logical" so be it, answer quickly and move on. The rep farming issue is annoying to me also, I would like question to be closed if it is clear by quick consensus the answer falls into either of these categories.

However if there are interesting design considerations or fundamentals that can be extracted and discussed I think both the intent of the question and any answers are legitimately of value.

Although not popular I thought the question why-does-google-maps-not-use-direct-manipulation... is good example, especially as asker had done some research.

  • The trouble with rephrashing it around "what learnings can we extract..." is that it's a bit of a broad question. As covered in the 'what not to ask' section of the faq - "Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much."
    – JonW Mod
    Jun 30, 2014 at 14:07
  • @JonW Agree that some questions of this nature would tend towards being broad. But any type of question could be formulated too broad. Put this way, can this form of question be asked in a sufficiently limited scope? As per the example I floated, I think so.
    – Jason A.
    Jul 1, 2014 at 9:55

Rather than being asked from a position of "I am making X, how do I Y" it's more a position of "X does Y, what's up with that?"


"What's the deal with it" questions asked from a perspective of curiosity rather than a designer asking about a problem they are encountering and planning to fix.

This smacks me as a rather elitist attitude, that the world consists of professional designers and passive consumers. Rather, we all have some degree of influence on how the world around us is designed, if by nothing other than making consumer decisions.

For example, in the case of the doorknob question, what difference would it make rather the question is phrased as "What's up with the continued existence of doorknobs?" or "I want to replace doorknobs with levers in my home. Any reason why I should reconsider?" Either way, the underlying question comes from an observation that doorknobs seem to provide a suboptimal UX, and wanting to understand why the suboptimal solution still exists. (Edit the question to phrase it from a fictitious architect's perspective, and the answers would not be significantly different.)

Keep in mind also that there is no way to tell in advance whether a "What's up with X?" question will get objective reasons as answers. Sometimes, a good answer unexpectedly validates the question. If you declare these kinds of questions off-topic, then you could miss out on good answers. I think that voting would be a better mechanism for passing judgement on these questions.

I should disclose my role in the matter as well: I provided an embarrassingly highly-voted answer to the doorknob question. I had stumbled upon the article that I cited while trying to find some background information about Vancouver's moratorium on doorknobs. Mentioning bears was a humorous way for me (and The Economist) to point out that sometimes making the door too easy to open could have real consequences. (For most of us who don't have to deal with bears and velociraptors, the analogous problem with pets can be inferred.) Apparently, the popularity of my humorous answer spiraled out of my control.

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