Miss Universe – and how Steve Harvey was let down by bad design

9 Jan 2016

Steve Harvey image via Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com

Unless you’ve been living in a cave since late December, you’ll know that American comedian, television host and radio personality Steve Harvey read out the wrong name when announcing the winner of Miss Universe 2015.

While every part of me hoped that Harvey was providing brilliant social commentary about how interchangeable and meaningless beauty pageant wins are, it turns out that he simply couldn’t understand the card he pulled out of the golden envelope and, when you see it for yourself, you’ll understand why.

This leaves the organisers of the event with no fewer than three chronic embarrassments. Firstly, at the 2015 pageant the host read out the wrong winner. Secondly, to date every single winner of Miss Universe has been from the same planet (perhaps the competition is organised by the people who brought us World Series baseball) but thirdly – and most inexplicably of all – it’s the early part of the 21st century and the competition still exists.

Heck, if there are any more scandals like this, people might even start to ask questions about the role and credibility of such a facile competition in the modern world.

But back to the card that caused the confusion.

Put yourself in Steve Harvey’s shoes for a moment. You are about to announce the winner of the Miss Universe 2015 competition from the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. You are broadcasting live to around 6m people. And you are surrounded by beautiful women. Someone hands you a card, which reads as follows.



2nd Runner-Up USA

1st Runner-Up COLOMBIA




What the heck does any of that mean?

Nope. Me neither. And, unfortunately for him, if didn’t make sense to Steve either.

It’s all in the layout

In terms of global consequence and import, this fiasco still comes a distant second to the greatest form layout failure of all time.

The greatest form layout failure of all time can without exaggeration claim to have impacted major world events such as 9/11, the Arab Spring and western interventions in the Middle East. At the very least it had a major impact on American foreign policy in the first decade of the 21st century. The form in question is the ballot paper from Palm Beach County, Florida from the 2000 presidential election.

Across the US, voting was so evenly split between George Bush and Al Gore that it become increasingly clear that the presidential race outcome would come down to a single state. The winner in Florida would become the next US president.

Palm Beach was a key county in Florida, with Bush and Gore unsurprisingly dominating polling. Pat Buchanan, a little-known Reform candidate, whose importance will become apparent in a moment, would have expected between 400 and 500 votes, according to his Florida coordinator, Jim McConnell. On the night, Buchanan received 3,407 votes, around 3,000 more than was anticipated.

The top of the form read as follows:


Option 1 – numbered 3 – first tick box


George W Bush

Dick Cheney

Option 2 – numbered 5 – third tick box


Al Gore

Joe Lieberman


It won’t surprise you to learn that the second tick box was for little known Buchanan. The format of the form (called a butterfly ballot) had increased Buchanan’s vote by 750pc and potentially decreased Gore’s vote by a number that we will never know.

Ultimately, the Florida vote was settled in favor of George Bush, by a margin of only 537 votes out of almost 6m cast.

These apparently random stories about forms are relevant to the internet because we spend so much of our time on the web filling them in.

Outside of navigation and search, forms represent the single biggest element of web interactivity. Steve Harvey’s moment of pain illustrates how their design impacts usability and confidence and George Bush’s eight years in the White House reminds us how their design directly impacts the quality and accuracy of inputs.

Forms design involves layout, labeling and segmentation, validation, in-line help, and calls-to-action. Each of these elements deserves considered thought.

Perhaps a paraphrased Bush deserves the last word on this one –don’t misunderestimate the challenge of doing forms well.

Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include strategy, research and design. Clients include Three, Ordnance Survey Ireland, PSNI, Permanent TSB and Tesco Mobile. Visit Fathom online at fathom.pro.

Image of Steve Harvey via Shutterstock