Michael Scott Blunders That’ll Teach You to Be a Better UX Designer

In The Office, Michael Scott’s employees almost always gave in to his bad behavior, hissy fits, insensitivity, and so on. But that’s not how the real world works.  

If you design a website without qualities like empathy, honesty, or accessibility, visitors won’t just shake their heads and say “It’s okay” and convert anyway. They’ll leave and find a website that treats them right.  

 In this post, I want to look at some of Michael Scott’s more infamous misfires and the lessons they can teach us about the cost of a bad UX design. 

What Designers Can Learn About UX Design from Michael Scott’s Blunders 

Can you imagine Michael Scott as a website? No? That’s okay. I’m going to draw those parallels for you: 

1 – Poor Production Value Will Cost a Brand the Respect of Its Users

Michael Scott was obsessed with being a creator and entertainer. The only problem is that he was awful at it. And we know this because the reactions he got were generally a mix of laughter, eye-rolls, and ughs  

“Straight OuttaScranton” is a good example of how his lack of originality, poor timing, and shoddy film work did little to help him earn the respect he so desired from his employees: 


There was also his script for “Threat Level Midnight” that the team did a read-through of:  

While the quality of the script is terrible, it’s the lack of attention to detail that ends up hurting Michael Scott’s “brand” the worst. It’s a tiny error, but the misspelled “Dwigt” is what leads Dwight and the rest of the office to realize who the bumbling idiot character was based on.  

We also got to see Michael in improv class where he frustrates the heck out of his fellow actors and teacher:  

 Again, a lack of originality and creativity is what hurts the quality of his performance and, in turn, how well it’s received.  

The biggest lesson to learn here is this:  

There’s no room for bad taste or even personal taste if you want to create something that appeals to your audience. If the websites you design aren’t objectively attractive, relatable, or usable, the brand perception will hurt as a result. 

Michael lost sight of this or, quite frankly, didn’t care to learn how to be better. He just assumed that the laughs and praise would follow.  

You can’t assume anything in UX design. Always design user-first experiences based on actual data. Then, analyze the site’s performance and readjust the UX as needed. That’s how you’ll get genuinely positive and meaningful responses from your users. 

2 – Developing the Wrong Brand Identity Will Send People Running

As manager of the Scranton branch, Michael Scott was an extension of corporate. But his personality and communication style was a very poor representation of both the corporate team and the Dunder Mifflin Brand.  

Take, for instance, his “That’s what she said” catchphrase. There is a 7.5-minute YouTube reel of every time it got said on the show:  

Sure, it’s a funny gag. But that’s a fictional TV boss saying it. Even then, watch the reactions of the people around him after he delivers this line or any of his other awkward interjections. They’re usually unimpressed, if not confused or disgusted by what he’s said. 

Like this unfortunate interaction with Kelly:  


Can you imagine what would happen if a website used humor this way? People would think the brand and the people who run it are misogynists or racists.  

It doesn’t even need to be that extreme. Simply having a brand identity that consumers don’t particularly like is enough for them to react negatively towards it. 

The biggest lesson to learn here is this:  

Websites are designed in order to get a solution into the hands of the target audience. Of course, you want the brand’s personality and style to come across in the user journey you design. But using unprofessional, offensive, or otherwise ill-fitting visuals or content could send those visitors screaming in the other direction. 

So, you’ve got to be incredibly careful about fleshing out the brand identity and designing the website around it if you want to make it universally appealing.  

3 – User Segmentation Is Not Optional 

While the highlight of the “Casino Night” episode is undoubtedly the Jim and Pam kiss, Michael’s encounters with Carol and Jan over the course of the day are what I want to focus on here.  

The first time we see Michael mismanaging his interactions with Jan and Carol is over the phone:  

When it comes to interacting with Jan, he spends more time flirting and joking than taking her managerial feedback seriously. It’s clear that he doesn’t understand or respect the professional relationship between the two of them.  

He then invites her to Casino Night. Although he might not have expected that anything romantic would happen, it was definitely an expectation as we soon see.  

Next, Michael gets a call from Carol whose name he doesn’t initially recognize. After talking for a couple of minutes about paperwork, he invites her to Casino Night. Before she can accept, Jan calls back and accepts the invitation. Shortly thereafter, Carol accepts, too.  

You can see in that moment how overwhelmed and panicked he feels. And we can feel it emanating from him during the event.  

He asks Dwight to warn him when Jan arrives so he can schmooz with Carol. Of course, that doesn’t happen and then he’s stuck trying to entertain both of them at once.  

There’s nothing wrong with Michael being interested in two women. However, making the same pitch to them and trying to woo them simultaneously was a bad move.  

The biggest lesson to learn here is this:  

Because of his desperation, Michael hedges his bets and extends an invitation to two women. When they both show up, he doesn’t know who to flirt with, gets awkward when he doesn’t know how to handle the situation, and eventually one of them storms off in disappointment and frustration.  

There’s a very good reason why: 

  1. Brands niche down and get good at serving one audience segment instead of trying to please everyone.  
  2. UX designers create user personas so that websites attract the specific audience they’re targeting.  

You can’t possibly design a website that appeals to everyone (or at least the different user segments you plan to target) at once. That’s why user persona development and user journey design is so important.  

4 – Dark Patterns Will Always Backfire on You

Michael Scott has done some really bad things, all for the sake of getting people to like him.  

There was the time we found out about The Michael Scott Foundation and Scott’s Tots:  

Stanley might’ve been laughing at this farce, but the third graders who he promised to pay college tuition for weren’t.  

There was the time he didn’t want to be responsible for choosing the company’s health insurance plan, so he outsourced it to Dwight so he would face the backlash:  

The only problem is that Dwight’s coworkers don’t respect him, and Jan most definitely doesn’t recognize his authority. So, there was no way to pass the responsibility or blame in this case.  

Then, of course, there was the time Michael spied on his team’s emails:  

Everyone but Michael is invited to Jim’s party. He uses this information to guilt, bully, and intimidate various office staff into inviting him. This doesn’t go unnoticed. You can see how annoyed and, frankly, disgusted they all are that he’s been reading their emails.  

When no one gives into the pressure, Michael just shows up uninvited to the party and all but kills the mood.  

The biggest lesson to learn here is this:  

That Michael Scott is a d*ck.  

Seriously, though, Michael’s shady tactics are self-serving. And this is really what dark patterns are all about, too. The goal is to increase engagement and drive up conversions on the site. There’s absolutely no regard for what this does to the user experience or to the relationships that consumers have with brands.  

If your website can’t honestly or transparently get people to engage, then no amount of dark patterns will save it.  

The Cost of Bad UX Design

Michael Scott is the master of creating bad user experiences. The women he dates, his employees, and even his superiors all feel the nasty effects of his selfish choices, inappropriate behavior, and deceptions.  

Thank goodness this is all fictional, right? We can safely laugh at his blunders from our couches. But as designers, let’s not lose sight of what this teaches us about the brand-consumer relationship and the role a website has to play in it.  

On a roll? Pick up more UX design tips from another culture mainstay in our post on What Super Mario Taught us About UX Design.

About the Author Suzanne Scacca is a freelance writer who specializes in web design, SEO, and technology. While most of her days are spent crafting content for company's blogs and websites, she also films courses that show web designers and small business owners how to create search-optimized websites. More by this Author