I cannot remember where I came accross the following concept, nor the name of that concept. Maybe you could help me.

The concept is about a trick of consciously adding a useless/bad feature to a design to make it what managers will remark on (and ask to remove) instead of other features the designer is more attached to.

Can anyone help me find the name of this concept again?

  • 4
    "Wasting time"? If the manager can't manage, or the spec was not adequately prepared, why are you even still working there?
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 5 at 17:56
  • 5
    I know what you refer to. Not sure it has a name. It's psychology. I've done it a couple of times with extremely bossy clients who I know will always want to change one thing. But those clients are luckily rare. You can use the same principle in a much more subtle (and nicer) way by leaving part of the design a bit unfinished and "work together" with the client solving it. Lead them by giving them some choices. That way you also get to keep your darlings and give the client some influence (or the illusion of it).
    – Wolff
    Jan 5 at 19:05
  • In my experience, whether you add something useless or not, a client will always find something to change or remove. If they don't, they'll organize a brainstorming with "the team" or "the wife", and somebody will definitely find something to change or remove.
    – Lucian
    Jan 7 at 8:26
  • 1
    I asked a similar question here in the context of scientific publications. I'm still looking for an adequate answer...
    – LvB
    Jan 8 at 2:43

6 Answers 6


Adding a feature with the purpose of having it be removed/changed by the reviewer is a form of using a red herring. The most famous example of this in development that I know of is the queen's duck from Battle Chess, an example of the law of triviality. You could even call it adding "a duck".

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    It has different names in different industries, and i admit that thumbprint client maybe was a good name in the past. But a thumbprint client and thumbrint manager really mean something else in IT today and so since they tend to dominate on web it drowns out other uses. But yes lots of stories about managing upwards exists i most industries.
    – joojaa
    Jan 5 at 21:59
  • I remember thinking my office mate was joking when he mentioned he forgot to put a bug in. "See corsiKa, [team lead] will find a bug, whether there's one there or not."
    – corsiKa
    Jan 8 at 19:54

Its called managing a thumbprint client. Idea is that you leave something for them to change so they feel they are doing their job. The trouble with this strategy is they can like the thumbrint you left.

See How do you deal with clients who bash your designs?

  • 2
    I haven't heard this term before but it makes sense +1 Jan 5 at 20:58

Just wanted to share a few more options and close analogues, though only the first one is a direct answer to the question:

  • Nathan Barry uses the duck example from Battle Chess and calls them intentional flaws, which isn't super catchy but a useful term of art nevertheless

  • There is a myth that the Amish (or Muslim rugmakers, the Navajo, etc.) would deliberately make mistakes in their quilting because "only God is perfect." Whether it's true or not, many people now do deliberately insert humility blocks into their quilts as a kind of signature / statement

  • ... a similar but not exact sentiment is the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, which is a representation of the deliberate acknowledgement (and beauty!) of imperfection, impermanence, fragility, wear, etc. in one's art.

  • The "trap street" in maps (also Argleton and Agloe, New York, which are "phantom settlements" that only exist to catch map plagiarizers) - this is a little different, in that you're not supposed to find these so you can get called out later, but it's in a similar vein - putting things in artificially for the purpose of later review

  • Similarly, the famous "brown M&Ms" of the Van Halen concert rider were about artificially injecting useless things that were deliberately meant to be noticed and attended to

  • Another possibility is to call them Waldos (or Wallies!), - again, hiding something on purpose in such a way that it's meant to be found

  • The fairy tale The Princess and the Pea embodies the conceit - the princess proves her worth by noticing a pea beneath 20 mattresses, so perhaps "hiding the pea" or something similar...

  • ... and thinking of other idioms related to being distracted by unimportant details, we could potentially call them molehills (out of which one can make mountains), weeds (to get lost in), plastic trees (that they miss the forest for), or deck chairs (like the ones proverbially rearranged on the Titanic) ..

  • In the world of art and literature, these might be MacGuffins (again, something artificially inserted to be found by the hero), banana peels (whose only purpose is to be slipped on), gargoyles (ugly things deliberately placed on beautiful things to stand out), happy accidents (praise to Bob Ross), or white rabbits (distractions to be followed) ..

  • Since we're kind of pulling a con, taking words from that jargon gives us flashing - that is, deliberately "accidentally" showing your mark something you want them to see; or salting the mine, where you'd strategically place gold or jewels in an otherwise worthless mine to convince a prospector to buy it; there's also the monte or shell game.

  • In psychology, there is the pratfall effect (or blemishing effect) which is that "highly competent individuals tend to become more likable after committing mistakes"

  • 2
    Interesting compilation you made here. The examples where errors are added to express some kind of humbleness are a bit off in my opinion. What the OP talks about is really the opposite of humbleness. The designer regards the proposed design as perfect and assumes that the manager's suggestion can only make it less than perfect. So an error is added in the hope that the manager sees it and asks for it to be removed and thereby get the (false) impression of having improved the design.
    – Wolff
    Jan 7 at 15:24
  • @Wolf, I am not claiming that you are wrong in that they might see their work as perfect but I don't think it's always the case. I doubt that many feel that their manager can only make it less than perfect, however I do know that many managers often do not have the time required for a perfect review. The addition can simply be to either protect something they like but fear that the manager dislikes if they spot it or that they fear that the managers will remove something on random if they can't spot anything wrong quick enough solely so that the managers still feel that they have contributed.
    – Mrkvička
    Jan 7 at 21:08
  • 1
    @Wolff I don't disagree, I partially compiled the list to have all of these similar-but-not-the-same ideas in one place; in fact, I'm pretty sure you could find a direct analogue to each of them in every design review, even if it's not OP's original question.
    – Kyle Hale
    Jan 8 at 23:23

The added features have been called "hairy arms", in the context of early Disney animators giving their management something to chew on -- arm hair on animated characters to be cheerfully discarded 1.


In Richard Buskirk's "Handbook of Managerial Tactics", this is referred to as the architect's window:

An architect who does not want her beautiful designs marred, may intentionally include an ugly feature (displaced window) so that clients will focus on its removal, which she will seemingly grudgingly accommodate. This tactic does carry with it a certain amount of risk. There are some clods in this world who will think the window is beautiful right where it is; you may get stuck with something you don't want.


You are "planting low-hanging fruit"

the obvious or easy things that can be most readily done or dealt with in achieving success or making progress toward an objective


I know an electrician who told me that they "forget" the strike plates on studs so that the inspector only dings them for an easy fix.

You could also be "prepping cannon fodder"

soldiers regarded or treated as expendable in battle


In some sense you could be "constructing a Straw Man (or several)" since you're essentially creating a false target.

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