The source of bad decisions
I doubt that anyone tries to make a bad decision. Even the people who designed the automated wake-up call system that I described in a previous post probably didn't try to design a system with the worst user interface that they could think of. In this particular case, I can imagine that the following discussion between two product managers Alice and Bob that led to this particular feature:
Alice: Let's have the message that indicates that the call has been set say something like "Your wake-call has been set for 8 a.m. Have a nice day."
Bob: The problem with that is that many of our customers have guests from many other countries. If we have the message in English, then some guests won't be able to understand it. We need a message that doesn't use any language at all. It needs to be totally independent of human languages.
Alice: What are you thinking of?
Bob: What about a series of tones? It would have to be fairly loud, so that guests who are hard of hearing can hear them. And we'd also have to use a single tone to make sure that it's not mistaken for the series of four annoying tones that the phone company used to use to indicate that you dialed a non-working number.
Alice: Are you suggesting that we just play a sound like "BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP …" to indicate that a wake-up call has been set?
Alice: Uh, I guess that makes sense.
Bob: OK, I'll make sure that it gets in our next release.
Alice: How should we tell a user that they've already set a wake-up call?
In many cases, I'd guess that the bad decision makes sense when it's made, although it may be hard to reconstruct the thought process that led to this decision at a later date.
I wonder what it would have been like to be at the meetings where the design of the Department of Defense's PKI system was discussed. I'm sure that it made perfect sense at the time. I almost wish that I could have been there to see it happen.