The slow rate of the oxygen reduction reaction in the phosphoric acid fuel cell is the main factor limiting its wide application. Here, we present an approach that can be used for the rational design of cathode catalysts with potential use in phosphoric acid fuel cells, or in any environments containing strongly adsorbing tetrahedral anions. This approach is based on molecular patterning of platinum surfaces with cyanide adsorbates that can efficiently block the sites for adsorption of spectator anions while the oxygen reduction reaction proceeds unhindered. We also demonstrate that, depending on the supporting electrolyte anions and cations, on the same CN-covered Pt(111) surface, the oxygen reduction reaction activities can range from a 25-fold increase to a 50-fold decrease. This behaviour is discussed in the light of the role of covalent and non-covalent interactions in controlling the ensemble of platinum active sites required for high turn over rates of the oxygen reduction reaction.