Broken Window Theory

Broken Window Approach

Product Design

The Broken Window Theory in Design

Broken Window Theory

Broken Window Approach

Product Design

WRITTEN BY

Updated on: March 9th, 2024

Toni Hukkanen

Head of Design

Creative Direction, Brand Direction

Huzaifa Rizwan

Lead Content & Growth Manager

Conversion Copy Specialist

2 mins read

It’s impossible to believe that something as small and trivial as fixing a broken window can lead to a reduction of more than 56% in New York compared to 26% nationwide. Of course, saying it like that makes it sound far-fetched. But this simple “broken window” approach taken by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the 1990s was certainly as simple as it was effective.

The Broken Window Theory

The approach was based on the theory of the same name proposed and proven by Stanford psychologist, Phillip Zimbardo. In 1969, Phillip parked two cars, one in the Bronx and the other in Palo Alto, CA, two contrasting neighborhoods.

The Bronx had a notoriously higher crime rate compared to Palo Alto, and it proved true when the car got attacked in the first 10 minutes. The other car, however, survived for a week until Philip broke a window himself. That’s when even the seemingly law-abiding people started pitching into the destruction of the car as well.

As Philip predicted, people’s decisions were affected by what they saw. 

Fast forward to Giuliani’s announcement to crack down on crimes, the broken window theory was put to the test in a major setting.


"Obviously murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes. But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other." – Former New York Mayor, Rudolph Guiliani

With a focus on reducing smaller crimes like vandalism, and prioritizing cleaning up the subways, the former mayor achieved what seemed an unimaginable feat in a fairly short time. The broken window approach made rounds and gained substantial fame.

Toleration and relaxation for a rule that isn’t enforced as strictly as it should be will eventually lead to more people breaking the rule. Smokers prefer to look for cigarette butts in the area rather than asking someone if it’s okay to smoke.

Or as Philip illustrated, if you see a house or a car with broken windows, you’re much more likely to break another window or break into the house regardless of whether you have criminal intentions.

As it’s clear, the broken window approach doesn’t seem relevant to just sociology and psychology, even though we have these two fields to thank for it.

In the realm of graphic design, or any other project for that matter, we often find ourselves slacking off on smaller tasks such as fixing a typo, optimizing a design, editing a few lines of code, or organizing the files, reports or tasks of a project.

Adopting the Broken Window Approach

Where we fail to connect the dots, however, is when we gradually lose motivation and interest, leading to more procrastination and ultimately, a very disappointing project even by our own standards. 

The only way to prevent this spiral of destruction is to prioritize the little things. The bigger picture can’t look pretty if there are tons of little overlooked mistakes forming a messy clutter. 

As design and branding projects evolve to have a bigger scope, it becomes tediously difficult to manage and keep up with all the little tasks that entail the completion of the project. 

Whether it’s maintaining brand consistency, having synchronous design elements, optimized and organized structures, or even streamlining content across various channels and pages, you need to identify broken windows to understand where there’s room for improvement. 

It’s also wise to be able to admit when you’ve reached your limit and to avoid giving up out of frustration, seek help. And that’s what we’re here at FOR®. We can fix your broken windows and drastically improve upon your current project. Let’s get in touch! 

Broken Window Theory

Broken Window Approach

Product Design

The Broken Window Theory in Design

Broken Window Theory

Broken Window Approach

Product Design

WRITTEN BY

Updated on: March 9th, 2024

Toni Hukkanen

Head of Design

Creative Direction, Brand Direction

Huzaifa Rizwan

Lead Content & Growth Manager

Conversion Copy Specialist

2 mins read

It’s impossible to believe that something as small and trivial as fixing a broken window can lead to a reduction of more than 56% in New York compared to 26% nationwide. Of course, saying it like that makes it sound far-fetched. But this simple “broken window” approach taken by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the 1990s was certainly as simple as it was effective.

The Broken Window Theory

The approach was based on the theory of the same name proposed and proven by Stanford psychologist, Phillip Zimbardo. In 1969, Phillip parked two cars, one in the Bronx and the other in Palo Alto, CA, two contrasting neighborhoods.

The Bronx had a notoriously higher crime rate compared to Palo Alto, and it proved true when the car got attacked in the first 10 minutes. The other car, however, survived for a week until Philip broke a window himself. That’s when even the seemingly law-abiding people started pitching into the destruction of the car as well.

As Philip predicted, people’s decisions were affected by what they saw. 

Fast forward to Giuliani’s announcement to crack down on crimes, the broken window theory was put to the test in a major setting.


"Obviously murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes. But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other." – Former New York Mayor, Rudolph Guiliani

With a focus on reducing smaller crimes like vandalism, and prioritizing cleaning up the subways, the former mayor achieved what seemed an unimaginable feat in a fairly short time. The broken window approach made rounds and gained substantial fame.

Toleration and relaxation for a rule that isn’t enforced as strictly as it should be will eventually lead to more people breaking the rule. Smokers prefer to look for cigarette butts in the area rather than asking someone if it’s okay to smoke.

Or as Philip illustrated, if you see a house or a car with broken windows, you’re much more likely to break another window or break into the house regardless of whether you have criminal intentions.

As it’s clear, the broken window approach doesn’t seem relevant to just sociology and psychology, even though we have these two fields to thank for it.

In the realm of graphic design, or any other project for that matter, we often find ourselves slacking off on smaller tasks such as fixing a typo, optimizing a design, editing a few lines of code, or organizing the files, reports or tasks of a project.

Adopting the Broken Window Approach

Where we fail to connect the dots, however, is when we gradually lose motivation and interest, leading to more procrastination and ultimately, a very disappointing project even by our own standards. 

The only way to prevent this spiral of destruction is to prioritize the little things. The bigger picture can’t look pretty if there are tons of little overlooked mistakes forming a messy clutter. 

As design and branding projects evolve to have a bigger scope, it becomes tediously difficult to manage and keep up with all the little tasks that entail the completion of the project. 

Whether it’s maintaining brand consistency, having synchronous design elements, optimized and organized structures, or even streamlining content across various channels and pages, you need to identify broken windows to understand where there’s room for improvement. 

It’s also wise to be able to admit when you’ve reached your limit and to avoid giving up out of frustration, seek help. And that’s what we’re here at FOR®. We can fix your broken windows and drastically improve upon your current project. Let’s get in touch! 

Broken Window Theory

Broken Window Approach

Product Design

The Broken Window Theory in Design

Broken Window Theory

Broken Window Approach

Product Design

WRITTEN BY

Updated on: March 9th, 2024

Toni Hukkanen

Head of Design

Creative Direction, Brand Direction

Huzaifa Rizwan

Lead Content & Growth Manager

Conversion Copy Specialist

2 mins read

It’s impossible to believe that something as small and trivial as fixing a broken window can lead to a reduction of more than 56% in New York compared to 26% nationwide. Of course, saying it like that makes it sound far-fetched. But this simple “broken window” approach taken by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the 1990s was certainly as simple as it was effective.

The Broken Window Theory

The approach was based on the theory of the same name proposed and proven by Stanford psychologist, Phillip Zimbardo. In 1969, Phillip parked two cars, one in the Bronx and the other in Palo Alto, CA, two contrasting neighborhoods.

The Bronx had a notoriously higher crime rate compared to Palo Alto, and it proved true when the car got attacked in the first 10 minutes. The other car, however, survived for a week until Philip broke a window himself. That’s when even the seemingly law-abiding people started pitching into the destruction of the car as well.

As Philip predicted, people’s decisions were affected by what they saw. 

Fast forward to Giuliani’s announcement to crack down on crimes, the broken window theory was put to the test in a major setting.


"Obviously murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes. But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other." – Former New York Mayor, Rudolph Guiliani

With a focus on reducing smaller crimes like vandalism, and prioritizing cleaning up the subways, the former mayor achieved what seemed an unimaginable feat in a fairly short time. The broken window approach made rounds and gained substantial fame.

Toleration and relaxation for a rule that isn’t enforced as strictly as it should be will eventually lead to more people breaking the rule. Smokers prefer to look for cigarette butts in the area rather than asking someone if it’s okay to smoke.

Or as Philip illustrated, if you see a house or a car with broken windows, you’re much more likely to break another window or break into the house regardless of whether you have criminal intentions.

As it’s clear, the broken window approach doesn’t seem relevant to just sociology and psychology, even though we have these two fields to thank for it.

In the realm of graphic design, or any other project for that matter, we often find ourselves slacking off on smaller tasks such as fixing a typo, optimizing a design, editing a few lines of code, or organizing the files, reports or tasks of a project.

Adopting the Broken Window Approach

Where we fail to connect the dots, however, is when we gradually lose motivation and interest, leading to more procrastination and ultimately, a very disappointing project even by our own standards. 

The only way to prevent this spiral of destruction is to prioritize the little things. The bigger picture can’t look pretty if there are tons of little overlooked mistakes forming a messy clutter. 

As design and branding projects evolve to have a bigger scope, it becomes tediously difficult to manage and keep up with all the little tasks that entail the completion of the project. 

Whether it’s maintaining brand consistency, having synchronous design elements, optimized and organized structures, or even streamlining content across various channels and pages, you need to identify broken windows to understand where there’s room for improvement. 

It’s also wise to be able to admit when you’ve reached your limit and to avoid giving up out of frustration, seek help. And that’s what we’re here at FOR®. We can fix your broken windows and drastically improve upon your current project. Let’s get in touch! 

Work with us

Click to copy

work@for.co

Copyright © 2024 FOR®

  • FOR® Growth

  • FOR® Digital

  • FOR® Brand

  • FOR® Studio

Work with us

Click to copy

work@for.co

Copyright © 2024 FOR®

  • FOR® Growth

  • FOR® Digital

  • FOR® Brand

  • FOR® Studio

Work with us

Click to copy

work@for.co

Copyright © 2024 FOR®