How Bad Design & Poor Leadership Sunk The Oscar’s

I’m sure many of you are hearing this question posed around the water cooler…

Did ya see the Oscar’s?

Jimmy Kimmel did such a great job as a first-time host all the way through, then at the very last moment during the most important award–the biggest snafu in Oscar history occurs.

I don’t completely blame Warren Beatty, nor the panel who handed out the wrong envelope to Warren B.

I blame bad design and poor leadership.

Bad Design

The typography on these cards is terrible. There’s no visual hierarchy. The title of the category is almost invisible and hidden at the bottom of the card, and the font for the winner and crew is the same weight and size.

In prior years, the envelope had the category actually printed on it. This year for whatever reason, the new designers hired to produce these decided to exclude those helpful visual cues.

Poor Leadership

Warren knew something was wrong when he read the card, which was why he paused for a moment with a deer in headlights look.

This iconic actor who’s also directed (a.k.a. led) a number of films couldn’t quite muster the nerve to say, “Cut!” when he saw that something was awry.

Instead what did he do? He passed the buck to Faye Dunaway who read the erroneous card.

I recently finished reading a great book titled “Extreme Ownership” that’s all about good leaders owning theirs and their people’s mistakes.

If Warren had taken a second to own it and say, “Hold on, here something’s wrong here. Help!”, then obviously things would’ve ended a lot differently.

It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Adam eating the fruit and then blaming his wife for giving it to him instead of owning it like the loin cloth earned by his poor obedience.

Do you realize if they hadn’t eaten the fruit we’d all be sitting here naked at our computers and it wouldn’t actually be creepy!

Jimmy Kimmel is the real hero of this whole debacle. He owned this snafu. That’s what good leaders do.

“No bad teams…only bad leaders.”


So what can we takeaway from this?

Good design and leadership is critical. Always.

When I first started my design career in 1999, I finally got my foot in the door at a premiere ad agency in Orange County, CA.

It just occurred to me writing this that I’ve been interviewing designers since the beginning because I decided to ask an Art Director I really looked up to there what I should do to get better at design.

I’ll never forget his answer…

“Study typography.”

Good typography could’ve saved the Oscar’s.

That means:

  • Better visual hierarchy (font weights/sizes)
  • Type on the envelope
  • Better envelope design (allow the category to be seen first when envelope is opened even if it’s typed on the envelope)

Lead well.

  • Protect your people
  • Own your crap
  • Don’t pass the buck
  • Be willing to ask for help and lean on your people

In Conclusion

There are scenarios in life that are high-stakes and high-stress and the biggest awards ceremony in the world is certainly no exception.

Our brains just do not work the same way in those situations. Eric Meyer very appropriately coined those “stress cases”.

Good design can and should always be leveraged and leaned upon especially when any possibility of high-stakes/high-stress scenarios exist.

It all starts with us being the right designers.

If we’re constantly learning, challenging the status quo, and being the right designers, then the folks behind the Oscar’s and other critical design projects (ahem, election ballots) will always be hiring the right designers.

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Jason Ogle

Jason Ogle

Host of User Defenders: Podcast. Human. Designer. Story-Catcher. Deep-Diver. Husband + Father x 7. Has a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe.