Unintended Consequences: Pedestrian Countdown Timers

Those nifty countdown timers on most modern crossing lights certainly seem convenient for pedestrians: knowing how much time you have can help you hustle or let you relax your pace across an intersection. However, it turns out that they're actually increasing the number of accidents. Motorists surreptitiously use them to enable more second-shaving aggressive driving. One solution offered by researchers is to replace visible timers with audio-only timers, which pedestrians can hear but most drivers can't. A little less information just might make drivers a little less dangerous!
[via Gizmodo, photo credit Ed Yourdon]

Engagement Ring Box: The one special requirement...

Jewelry boxes are, as one would expect, designed to enhance the beauty, quality, and value of their contents. But an engagement ring case has one more special requirement: it needs to hide until it's revealed. A guy (or girl) can't let a bulky ring box spoil the surprise with a telltale pocket-bulge before popping the question! Andrew Zo's Clifton case is the first design I've seen which meets this need: it folds slimmer than a wallet, but opens with a fancy spinning flair to beautifully present the ring inside. It's a little pricey at a hundred bucks - but what's the value of not spoiling the surprise? Totally worth it!
[via Gizmodo]

Dispensing Soap with Dirty Hands

Rain Noe has a thoughtful little piece on Core77 about the problem of dispensing handwashing soap without getting the soap dispenser itself contaminated. He eliminates high-tech sensor based options as being infuriatingly unreliable - a problem from which they frequently suffer. Instead, he finds Joseph Joseph's C-pump, which uses the presumably-cleaner back of the hand. Sure, regular pumps could also be used backhandedly - but this allows single-handed dispensing as well. It seems that a clever low-tech solution can still trump high-tech brute force!
[via Core77]

Edible cupcake wrappers for faster face-stuffing...

If you absolutely, positively need that cupcake right this second, the wrapper can either slow you down or be annoying to cough up afterward; in that case, Dr. Oetker's Edible Wafer Cupcake Cases may be for you. I'm usually all for efficiency in product design, but there's something different about a cupcake: it's an indulgence to be enjoyed slowly, and the ritual aspect of peeling the wrapper builds mouth-watering anticipation. Do we really want to cram our cakeholes so quickly? Oh, we do? Okay.
[via Gizmodo]

Ugly Design: All Function, No Form

In the classic design battle of Form vs Function, Unpressable Buttons usually sides with "Function": style and fashion too often do more harm than good to usability. However, Core77 (who usually sides with "Form") points out that sometimes a focus on function results in seriously ugly designs. They use the perfectly repulsive example of the Miles Kimball Soap Dish, which performs admirably while creating a fanged-and-tongued eyesore by your sink. I don't have an easy solution to this problem, except to say that design is indeed a balancing act - and some functional strategies tip the scale too far away from aesthetic viability (or vice versa). The trick is to recognize when the balance is off, concede a bit to the other side, and negotiate. In the meantime, I'll settle for a soap dish that's a little less functional and better looking!
[via Core77]

Wireless sensing for better baby monitors?

As a new parent (I hear veteran parents are less paranoid), I'm constantly checking the baby monitor when my daughter's asleep. And while a video monitor is a wonderful thing, it can't tell me that she's breathing well - so I find myself sneaking in on ninja-quiet feet to check. That's why I'd love a product with MIT's latest wireless detection tech, which can sense motion with enough detail to discern breathing and heartrates through walls. A little over-the-top? Sure - but hey, that's parenting.
[via Engadget]

New York MTA's Money Games

You know to avoid 3-card monte other shady street games, but what if NYC is playing a different game to win your money? Ben Wellington recently discovered that the purchasing system for the subway seems to be rigged. He gets into the nitty-gritty numbers, but suffice it to say that it's very tricky buy a card for a whole number of rides without having a leftover balance. That means that visitors leave NYC with unused balances on their MetroCards - which amounts to free money for the MTA. It's a nefariously brilliant design, and one that was either fully intentional or a coincidence that some MTA accountant should claim credit for! You can fight back, and Wellington tells you which magic odd amounts will result in whole numbers of rides. But wow - it's not paranoia when they really are out to get you!
[photo by Ben Wellington]