If an error is possible, someone will make it

“If an error is possible, someone will make it. The designer must assume that all possible errors will occur and design so as to minimize the chance of the error in the first place, or its effects once it gets made. Errors should be easy to detect, they should have minimal consequences, and, if possible, their effects should be reversible.”

Donald A. Norman, The Psychology of Everyday Things, 1988.


Pilot error in many cases can also be described as design error. As pilots, not designers, we should be aware of cockpit actions that are NOT easy to detect, do NOT have minimal consequences, or are NOT reversible. Such things require our special attention.

In the airbus cockpit these kind of switches have red boxes around them. At my airline we have six ‘irreversible items’ that require positive confirmation from the other pilot before you flip the switch. The old advice of ‘if it’s red or dusty’ think carefully before flipping the switch is good here. After a bad landing, don’t confuse me saying ‘cheer up’ with ‘gear up’!

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