The Incredible Aluminum Can

It's a big accomplishment for any design to reach that level of maturity where it quietly does its job perfectly and reliably to the point where it becomes almost invisible. The aluminum beverage can has gotten there, and it's allowed us to forget all the amazing design and engineering that went into it. "Engineer Guy" Bill Hammack does a wonderful summary video, explaining among other things the genius of the modern pop top. Personally, I didn't know that it starts as a 2nd-class lever to pull out and break the can's seal (much easier than pushing into the pressurized can), then automatically changes to a 1st-class lever when that pressure is released to bend the tab out of the way. Just that little bit of engineering has prevented untold numbers of removable pop-tops from becoming sharp and dangerous litter. If you want to learn more, the video is well worth 11:38 of your time!
[via Gizmodo]

iOS and the Unpressable Shift Button

Apple has always tried to worship the dual deities of clean design and usability - and while those two often complement each other, sometimes they butt heads. Case in point: iOS 7.1 changed the color scheme of the shift key so that users just can't tell whether it's on or off. It blends in with function keys when it's off, and with the letter keys when it's on, but neither color intuitively suggests an "active" state. Allen Pike points out that making it stand out in any way would easily solve the problem, but standing out seems to be against Apple's dogma of clean design. A fix may be in the works, but in the meantime its aesthetics 1, usability 0.
[Thanks to Jonathan Jackson for the tip on this one!]

The Shoe That Grows

Keeping children in shoes is especially important in developing nations, but the cost of keeping up with kids' growing feet makes it a challenge for many families. The Shoe That Grows is designed to address that, by adjusting its size along with a child's feet from age 1 to 5. It's durable (lasting 5 years) and low-cost (reportedly down to $10 per pair) - and the design of how it adjusts to foot size is downright brilliant. Here's hoping this design can follow through with the impact it seems capable of!
[via Core77]

Towel Timer: Making use of unused space...

If you appreciate efficiency, simplicity, and overall cleverness, here's a treat: the Towel Timer is a one-handed mechanical kitchen timer that discreetly sits atop a paper towel holder. I love the fact that it occupies a previously unused space which happens to be easily accessible and visible - perfectly suited for its function. Add to that the satisfaction of simply turning a mechanical timer, instead of pressing beeping membrane buttons on a microwave timer, and it's a real delight!
[via Gizmodo]

Snuglet: The importance of the right force...

The MagSafe power connector on Apple laptops has always been a great design: it prevents cord-yanking table dives of expensive computers, and makes the power cord snap eagerly into place when plugging in. However, many users think the latest version is a little too weak, detaching unexpectedly and causing a prematurely dead battery. Along came a Kickstarted fix called the Snuglet, a tiny shim which increased the pullout force of the MagSafe - because no matter how brilliant the idea, a great design is only as good as its execution. Or at least, the best aftermarket fix...
[via CoolTools]

Taboo swaps buzzers for squeakers...

My wife recently purchased a new game of Taboo (for work, believe it or not), and we both discovered an interesting change: the old electronic buzzer had been replaced with a new squeezable squeaker. I applaud the change: it costs less, it's more recyclable, it doesn't need batteries, and a squeak works just as well as a buzz in letting your opponents know they just lost a point. The only thing it's worse at is pretending to be an electric razor for a chuckle. Oh well - I'll take it!

InfiniteUSB: Every plug's a port again...

The "U" in USB might as well stand for "ubiquitous" - it's a standard that's everywhere, used by most people many times every day. That means it's especially frustrating when you need more USB ports than you have (I'm looking at you, Macbooks). So here's a design which, if widely adopted, would really help: InfiniteUSB's plan is that every plug is also a port - so a plug doesn't take a port, but rather uses it and passes it along. I can think of more than a few times when this would come in handy - and those were just yesterday! Until everything's wireless and has infinite battery life (c'mon, future!), something like this is a great idea.
[via Gizmodo]