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]

Tooshlights, for no more door-peeking...

Finding an open stall in a large public restroom can be an awkward process, involving tentative presses on the door (hoping the locks are functional) and peeking under the door (hoping not to embarrass anyone, including yourself). A company called, yes, Tooshlights (stoplights for your toosh!) uses technology to help: when the door is locked, a light above the stall is red, while green means, well, "go." Similar systems are already on many airplanes, indicating when all lavatories are occupied - and honestly, they're handy. Battery-powered Tooshlight door sensors decline the opportunity to link with hardwired flush sensors - but those have their own problems. So overall, not a bad idea - and restrooms need all the good ideas they can get!
[via Core77]

The Epic Share-Icon Battle Royale!

No matter what device or service you're using these days, you're probably being offered a button to "share" it. But this need is new enough that the icon for "share" hasn't yet been standardized - and the variations are quite, well, varied. Min Ming Lo gives a great overview, begs for standardization and/or sanity, and even suggests a new and clever milkshake-based option. I'm sure we'll see these variations weed themselves out over the next few years, so place your bets now: who will (or should) win the Epic Share-Icon Battle Royale?!?
[via Gizmodo]

"XBox On" - Problems with voice commands...

Microsoft understandably wants to show off the new tricks its XBox One is capable of, including voice control. But a smooth demo for potential buyers becomes a real annoyance for existing owners, as this ad with Aaron Paul saying "XBox On" is causing real-life units to power up unintentionally. The design of controls becomes tricky as the triggers become smarter - anticipating intent that can be subjective, varied, unreliable can easily result in false fires, unresponsive triggers, or (remarkably) both. In other words, it's no longer as clear-cut as pressing a button!
[via Engadget & BBC News]

Airline Food Trays: A little design saves a lot...

Airlines are a design area where a little change can have a big impact, because every product gets multiplied by millions of passengers and by the fuel cost to repeatedly lift that weight to 30,000 feet. With that in mind, MAP's redesign of Virgin Atlantic's food trays stand to save the company quite a bit: shrinking the tray by a third and reusing it for multiple courses, and using a non-slip material that eliminates the need for disposable paper liners, the overall weight of the service setup is reduced by 291lbs per plane. There are quite a few other details to the design, discussed in Wired and Gizmodo articles - worth a quick read!