Years ago, my mother got a nasty case of food poisoning from an order of chicken tikka at a restaurant. For years after that, if I’d sneak up behind her and say, “Chicken tikka!” she’d crumple into a bout of dry heaves.

Translating that into biz-speak, any brand affinity she had for chicken tikka was obliterated by a critical failure event in the meal’s service delivery. Her reaction to the two words “chicken tikka” altered radically from, “Delicious in my mouth!” to, well… something opposite.

That incident has been on my mind a lot ever since I purchased a Vizio television. One of the strange signs of the times is that televisions, being increasingly computerized with apps and image correction features, occasionally crash and have to reboot. This might be evidence that we’re reaching the limits of the convergence trend and need to go back to letting televisions just be televisions, but for now it’s something consumers just have to accept.

Whenever my TV crashes and reboots (which is frequently), the Vizio logo flashes orange and white:

Vizio Flash Gif

The decision to use the logo as an error indicator probably made sense on some engineering level. But from a brand and user experience perspective, making the company’s logo the most salient visual aspect of a critical failure event can’t have been a wise choice. While my TV silently but brightly proclaims, “VIZIO! VIZIO! VIZIO! VIZIO!” I’m mumbling curse words and heading to the kitchen for a few minutes to make a drink to occupy myself for the duration of the boot cycle.

I don’t remember what associations I might have had with Vizio as a brand before I bought this thing, and I’m not sure what Vizio’s marketers want me to think. Probably it’s something like, “Low cost, great features,” or some tagline like, “Taking entertainment freedom by storm!” Certainly they don’t want me thinking, “G*ddamned f@%#ing piece of s%#&.”

And yet, every time, “VIZIO! VIZIO! VIZIO! VIZIO!”

So now the word “Vizio” is my “chicken tikka.”

Avoiding Brand Contamination

This clearly suggests that negative experiences and error indicators probably shouldn’t be branded. This argues in favor of using fail pets like Twitter’s Fail Whale:

Twitter Fail Whale

The page is still branded, but the most salient visual element is a charming, non-brand illustration that can bring a small amount of pleasure to an otherwise irritating experience.

No article about UX and branding can be complete without some mention of Apple, but in this case—gasp!—their example shouldn’t be slavishly copied. Behold, the Grey Screen of Death:

Apple Grey Screen of Death

In fairness, this screen isn’t a result of a failure (that would be the Spinning Beach Ball of Death), it’s what you see while a Mac is installing updates. But unlike Windows users, Mac users aren’t accustomed to always having to wait for their computers to grind through long reboot cycles, so the experience still tastes like burning. Why does the Apple logo need to be the most salient visual on this screen?

Somewhere along the spectrum between “VIZIO!” and a fail pet is the Xbox Red Ring of Death that indicates a hardware failure:

Xbox red ring of death

Although the ring of lights is the signature characteristic of the Xbox's physical appearance, at least it’s not a logo screaming “MICROSOFT!” And it has an ominous, HAL-9000-esque look of a machine saying, “Doom, doom, doom…” which kind of makes sense in the context of console gaming.

In Conclusion

Every product will at some point encounter a critical error and/or force the user to wait. Don’t let those moments become synonymous with your brand.

UX designers should:

  • proactively identify potential error conditions and failure use cases.
  • collaborate with their engineering colleagues to ensure they’re on the lookout, too.
  • design the UI elements of an error condition or failure to, at the very least, distance it from the brand, if not to also lessen the pain it causes.
  • ensure their chicken dinners have been fully cooked.


Without the Apple logo it would look like a stupid computer.

The Visio logo seems to have done the job. More memorable that a mint green or sky blue illustration of a leaf (etc) on a grey background.

I enjoyed the article for the use of "salient" alone.

@John Re: "The Gray Screen of Tortuous Delay" what would you call the branded start-up screen for Windows?

With all due respect, this sounds like bunch of anecdotal nonsense. Rather than scold companies for poorly appropriating their visual identity why not go to the root cause with advice like "Don't build shitty products"?

Users aren't stupid. They know when something is poorly planned, served, or constructed and are far more forgiving than you give them credit for. Building a negative reaction to a logo is akin to saying that subliminal messaging in retail muzak is effective. It's not.

I don't need a reboot with a flashing logo to know that VIZIO is a bargain brand that does not live up to the quality standards of premium brands like SONY.

When a company releases a product or a service that is prone to frequent failures, strategic placement of your logo is the least of your concerns. Spend that time minimizing the failures.

Sorry to hear about your mum and the chicken tikka.

Some great points, and an aspect of errors I hadn't even considered. I don't think I'd make it on to the offenders list, but it's certainly something I'll keep in mind for the future!

Incidentally that isn't the OSX error screen, it's the boot screen (comparable to the Windows boot screen, which also has the logo). The kernel panic screen (which is what I assume you're referring to) doesn't contain any brand elements.

Related subject (I hope) when it comes to logos. How is it possible for a car manufacturer to have such bad quality of the logo badge of a car that so it don't even last the cars lifetime? Makes me think as a consumer "if they care so little about their brand - how little do they car about the actual car".

What do you guys think is the best way to convey an error; in a totally different look than the rest of the system (Windows blue screen of death) or a similar look (like the Twitter example above)?

I'm thinking that the blue screen of death makes you feel like the error isn´t part of the system, but the twitter error is. One point could be that it makes you feel like the system is less error-prone, since you don't associate the error with the rest of the system perhaps. On the other hand it could make the error seem less serious since the twitter example conveys the feeling that it's under control.

All in all I think the twitter was is much better, but I think it's an interesting question

@Calum and @John, good point... perhaps the screen would be better called "The Gray Screen of Tortuous Delay" or something else that sounds like an enchantment from a role-playing game. The whole "X Screen of Death" is kind of a meme, though.

Incidentally, the boot screen pictured is not what most Mac users would refer to as "the gray screen of death". That would be the gray, multilingual kernel panic screen that forces you to do a hard reboot.

Vizio has pointed out via Twitter that the blinking logo is what happens when the TV is updating its firmware. They must do TONS of firmware updates because I get this error within the first couple minutes of turning it on (nearly every time) then randomly while I'm watching a show 1-2 times thereafter so long as it remains on. Sometimes it even crashes when I'm trying to turn it off. If you Google the issue you discover that it's so pervasive its customers have given it a nickname and acronym: the Random Vizio Reboot (or Random Vizio Restart), aka RVR. Perhaps we need an article on not having problems that are so common that people develop shorthand for referring to them, e.g., Rackspace's "NSN" (no suitable nodes) error, which forced UX Mag off of their service.

When it comes to Apple - I would personally consider the kernel panic screen to be a more accurate comparison. However, no Apple logo is shown when this (thankfully) rare event occurs.

I agree with Anh. Great points Jonathan and interesting thoughts. Another important commonly overlooked area of UX...your brand!

You make a good point: don't associate your brand with failure. I like how twitter fails in a charming way, makes the experience less annoying.

Before anyone asks: yes, that was the best link we could find for the "it tastes like burning" quote, which sucks. Fox is so effective at protecting their IP on YouTube that they're preventing us from showing people how funny that show can be.