It's not often that really feasible ideas for products show up in comic strips, but here ya go - the Cuddle Mattress seems to have been thought of by both Randall Munroe of the webcomic XKCD and designer Mehdi Mojtabvi of Gooya Design. They're slightly different takes on the concept, but the same general idea: when your arms are wrapped around your partner, they can be uncomfortably trapped against the mattress - so having a small cutout or void there just makes sense! Mojtabvi's concept adds a little more, with the "slatted" nature of the mattress also helping your feet as shown at left - but Munroe's concept takes the cake, with an added feature you'll have to read the comic to see! [via Gizmodo, Freshhome, and Inventor Spot]
"We can send a man to the moon, but we can't make showers that put out the right, consistent temperature." Sounds like a reasonable complaint to me - and one that at times can be scaldingly or frostily justified. But setting aside the engineering feat of actually accomplishing a consistent and correct temperature, here's something that'll help you know if you're about to be burned or frozen - an illuminating shower head which changes its light color to match the water temperature. I suppose it'd be handy to be able to watch the temperature rise, rather than having to sit there with one hand in the stream or keep checking periodically - and if this thing is responsive enough, it just might give you an extra split-second to jump out of harm's way as a flushing toilet threatens to dole out some punishment. Still, the better solution is probably just better-engineered plumbing and thermostat control! [via Gizmodo]
With Valentine's Day coming right up, here's something that might qualify as a relationship barometer - give her one of these Wishlist Necklaces and gauge her response. If she laughs and loves you anyway, it's all good - if you're sleeping on the couch that night, well, not so much. Besides being good for a chuckle, these could be seen as making statements to the outside world ("I reject the useless materialism of expensive little stones") or to your loved one ("I can't afford it now, but I'll get you one someday"). A lot of interesting uses for a funny little card on a rope!
Choosing a new mobile phone is a tricky and dangerous decision - you usually have to make a choice after little or no time hands-on with the thing, based mostly on price and industrial-design sexiness, and then you might be stuck with a dud of a user interface for the next two years. There's a reason why we test drive cars, not just walk around and look at them before plunking down the cash! Well, TryPhone is setting out to enable people to test-drive phones for exactly this reason. There are only 4 phones on the site so far, but it's better than nothing - and seeing this kind off attention to user interface is very encouraging!
Has reading this blog inspired you to hate bad design? (If not, go back and read more until you do.) Well, now you can call out the bad stuff as you see it - Design Police has some do-it-yourself print-out stickers to, well, stick it to anything atrocious you see out there. The templates mostly have to do with graphic design, but many of the same principles apply to general product design and usability. Go to Walmart, Best Buy, whatever, and go nuts on the product displays! It'll feel good, I promise; it's kinda why I started this blog in the first place.
These two error messages (from Gizmodo reader Kevin Barbee and This-Is-Broken contributor ryenski, respectively) may be funny - very much so, in fact - but ultimately these kinds of things undermine a user's faith in the system delivering them. After all, it's not that "an error has occurred but the system's on top of it, no need to worry" - instead, it's more like "an error has occurred, and the system just blew up trying to deal with it, run for your lifeaaagghh [small fire starts here]." It's the kind of thing that makes you just a little scared to hit the "OK" button...
Some smart kids from Purdue are pursuing a very worthy project for their digital systems design class: a "smart" poker table which uses RFID to track the flow of chips and the status of the game. Though including RFID elements in each poker chip might be a bit of a technological hurdle, there are other ways this could be done - cameras with image-recognition come to mind, especially - and the important think is what functionality could be accomplished. Here's what I'm thinking:
-Keep track of whose turn it is to bet, and how much. It's waaay too easy to lose track of that stuff in a social poker game!
-Instantly count the amount of all-in bets in no-limit poker; it can take agonizingly long to determine who's putting who all in otherwise.
-Indicate who leads the betting in a stud game, based on highest showing cards.
-For God's sake, show who didn't ante when there's only one missing from the pot!
-And just to top it all off, voice recognition of what game the dealer just called, so the table can track it all properly.
There are plenty of horrifically difficult design problems out there to be solved, but precious few that are purely fun. This is one of those - so someone, get it on the market!
Sent in by friend and frequent commenter Pete Kazanjy, the Pee-Pee Teepee certainly seems like a worthy enough product. As the product description notes, "Why is it that the act of diaper changing always seems to inspire an extra 'contribution' from the little one?" While I haven't witnessed this firsthand, the mere thought is enough to make me a customer when I have tykes of my own - or at least improvise something equivalent. A bonus: any teepee the little guy doesn't sprinkle can be used again and again, until it, uh, "takes the bullet" for ya. In centuries of diaper changing, it's amazing that this product has only recently been conceived - proof that there's always room out there for more innovation!
I've done my fair share of camping, couch-crashing, ski-tripping, and large family reunions - and all of these things have required sleeping bags at one time or another. A good sleeping bag is a wonderful thing - warm, comfy, and sealed against the kind of nighttime disassembly to which many normal beds are vulnerable. One of the few problems is how they limit your dexterity - it's tough to reach out for anything, or sometimes even to get your hands up to scratch some itch on your head. Well, the Lippi Selk Bag is out there to address exactly that problem - it's a sleeping bag suit. Besides the fact that their models strike poses that say "badass" more than "cozy," they look fairly decent - I wouldn't want to be in anything else if I suddenly had to leap up and run out of my tent! It looks like the kind of thing that would be worn for half the morning, too - can't you see having breakfast while still wearing one of these? The only problem might be that you'd never want to take it off...
[via Make and BookofJoe]
Many products succeed by discovering a niche where there's a demand but no product satisfying it; then there are those that fail by inventing a niche where there's no demand but trying to cram a product into it anyway. This seems like the latter: disposable soles, by designer Jun-Soo Choi on Yanko Design (and via Gizmodo). It seems like these deftly dodge any kind of advantage you might try to pin on them - they ruin the clean, free feeling of being barefoot by plastering some adhesive to your sole. They don't provide the comfort and coziness of slippers. They're pretty wasteful, which is sure to offend the environmentalist set that probably overlaps significantly with the barefoot demographic. Am I missing anything...?
Remote health monitors make a lot of sense for patients who definitely need it, like those recovering from surgery or suffering from a monitoring-intensive malady - but I'm hoping they'll start to edge into general use among the healthy, helping with the early detection of problems. These devices collect health information from a patient at home and transmit it back to a monitoring physician for analysis; fancier ones also deliver info from the doctor the patient, such as advice or warnings based on the data. The opportunity for good usability design is, arguably, in what ways the monitor collects its info from the user - and many are pretty slick (even sneaky!) about it, collecting weight from a Bluetooth-enabled scale without the user having to do anything extra, or receiving a wireless broadcast from an insulin pump every so often. Rather than the patient having to remember these kinds of things and deliver a vague report during checkups ("I think I take this pill two or three times a week"), the doctor has all the hard numbers right there, up to date and ready to go. Systems like this already monitor fancier cars and alert dealers to call the owners to set up maintenance appointments; it only makes sense that we should do the same for our bodies!
The digital consumer is currently on the fast track to being inundated with so much content that it's impossible to know how to handle it. How do you find the right photo or song when your collections contain tens of thousands? The notion of "tagging" the files within those collections has caught on a bit - tag a photo with "vacation" and "family," for example, or a song as "alternative" and "90's," and you could do a simple text-based search to find items that match the categories. It's helpful, but one problem with the system is the cognitive leap from "what I feel like" to "words that describe what I feel like" - fuzzy feelings don't like being crammed into the narrow categories of clumsy words! Moody could be a solution for avoiding that extra step - it provides a graphical (and colorful) method for tagging your tunes, dodging the, well, dodgy transitions into and out of words. Look at the spectrum, and you have a good idea of how the song makes you feel without having to think of the words "happy" and "calm" - just see the color green (not the word "green!"), and it feels right. Heck, the language part of our brains works hard all day - when you're kicking back with some tunes, it wants to relax! This same concept could easily be applied to photos, and who knows, literature, movies, art? It also bears some similarity to a previously-posted mood-monitoring watch. Put together, these things may be the beginnings of "mood-logging!" Or "moodcasting?" Something like that...
I snapped this photo a while back, and blurred the license plate to protect the offender (though maybe I shouldn't have?), but here's a question to consider: Which way is worse? If it's a given that this dude is going to park his beast in an area with only compact spots, should he try to cram it into a single spot (which might make both spots on either side unusable, taking three spots total), or straddle the line (taking only two spots total)? The latter seems more offensive to the passerby - that's why I took the photo - but the former is possibly the worse offense. Either way, I'm kinda rooting for that car to get keyed...
At left is the Nail Cushion from designer Arthur Se (via Gizmodo) - and my thoughts on this are pretty much that there's one good reason not to go for it, another reason that cancels it out, and a change that needs to be made. The function of the cushion is certainly worthy - saving the fingers of nervous or inexperienced hammerers. But the function isn't new, either, which leads to:
CON: The same thing can be done with an ordinary comb! No need to buy something new.
However, not everyone is aware of that little trick - especially not the inexperienced folks who need it most. So, to cancel out that con:
PRO: Unlike the comb, this product will actually be used when owned by those who need it, especially when they keep it with the hammer to remind them.
The trick is that last part - this will only work when people are diligent about keeping this thing with the hammer! Therefore:
SUGGESTION: Design this thing to clip on to the hammer itself. That way the hammer can't even be used before the Nail Cushion is removed, which ensures that it won't be forgotten!
Sunlight has been shown to improve emotional health, but windowless rooms and offices are a reality of life. So this concept just may have some merit - the Bright Blind by Studio Mongoose, fake blinds which attach to a windowless wall and create the illusion of sunlight creeping in. It's accomplished by electroluminescent sheets on the back of each individual blind - and the brightness is even controlled in the usual way, by rotating the blind-angle rod. It's a pretty impressive illusion from the photos, but the merit of the product should hinge on its ability to boost a user's emotional state, prevent seasonal affective disorder, and all that stuff. Otherwise it's a mere novelty, a conversation lighting piece - but still, a pretty slick one!
[via Technabob and Gizmodo]
The Apple iPhone has pioneered consumer-product use of multitouch displays, touchscreens which can sense the location and motion of two fingers at the same time. This has led to some new ways to interact with the screen - "pinching" and "spreading" to zoom out and in are two of the best known. But this one takes the cake - after all, if you have a screen that can sense two location-and-motion inputs, why not use those for two different people? And what's the quintessential one-input-per-person game? Air Hockey!! Now that's a great use of technology. Game on...
Plants in the home are supposed to add ambiance and a serene, natural feeling. And there's that added bonus of more oxygen to breathe. But if you're the tech-geek type (which I am), you probably don't have much of a green thumb, and your plants don't last very long. So what does our poor tech geek need to solve this problem? Something we're very accustomed to: a blinking light telling us what to do! Enter the Thirsty Light, a sensor to stick and leave in your potted plant, which will blink its little head off when the soil is dry. Sure, many plants may be spared otherwise slow, dry deaths - but that fugly little stick almost cancels out everything that's good about plants in the first place. No more ambiance or natural feeling, no more connection with other living things. Just blink and water, blink and water. Oh well, you can at least still enjoy the oxygen...
There are plenty of products which help people monitor their health - heart-rate monitors, blood pressure monitors, glucose meters for diabetics, and of course a whole suite of sensors for patients in hospitals. But nothing, so far, which checks your emotional state - well, unless you count mood rings. In any case, here's an emotion-monitoring watch expected soon from Exmocare (via Engadget), which uses a combination of heart rate and variability, movement, and galvanic skin response to nail down (or at least take a wild stab at) how you're feeling. They envision it as being used primarily by the elderly, and the watch will notify family or caretakers via SMS if anything strays from the norm. But I can certainly envision this being used by individuals to keep a check on their own emotional state - sometimes we just don't know how we feel, right? And imagine the implications of having an emotiononometer (?) linked to your social-networking profiles or IM icon - not only would people see your online/offline state, but also your state of mind. It could be a great way to reach out to friends when they really need it!
The Planstation Portable Workstation is a desk intended specifically for use at a construction site - and that narrow niche enables its design to be exactly what it needs to be, nothing more, nothing less. We can see some of these design elements in Jai Dixon's review on CoolTools:
"It folds into a large portfolio style case with handles, so it's quite easy to move your 'hub' with you. You have to provide two pieces of plywood, which slip into two pockets to create the rigid surfaces. The [hanging] rings are 48" apart so they line up with any standard 16" O.C. wall stud system. ... The ability to adjust the height is key, [and] there are no legs to deal with."
Products intended for a wide range of users and uses often suffer from attempting too much versatility - it's tough to be everything to everyone. But something which is this focused on being exactly the right thing for one specific use and user stands a pretty good chance of doing it!
From BusinessEdge (and via Gizmodo and The Raw Feed), Australian researchers are working on computerizing yet another part of life: your closet! Sounds geeky, but the use-and-usability implications are pretty impressive. Assuming the closet can recognize each piece of clothing (using RFID, image recognition, or whatever), it can advise on matching various items with each other, the appropriateness of a selection for the level of dressiness of an event, when each item is due for cleaning, even whether you've worn the same thing the last time you went to a particular event. Extrapolating a bit, it's easy to envision a web-connected version advising on fashion trends ("that shirt is OUT, get rid of it"), helping buy new clothes that match well with your existing items, or even checking with friends' closets to make sure you don't wear the same thing as your buddy to the same shindig. The best part? The fact that this product is aimed squarely at geeks, who are most in need of all the advice it's designed to dispense. Talk about a match!
New York Times technologist David Pogue recently had an interesting question answered by a reader in the know:
"Q: How come cellphone signal-strength bars are so often wrong? A: Like the battery indicator, the signal strength on a cell phone is deliberately weighted toward the high end. I worked on a phone development project several years ago. [The carrier's] first request was to toss the perfectly calibrated battery indicator in favor of one that sat at 4 bars for around 75 percent of the charge.”
Huh. Well, if there's an opportunity to increase a product's perceived quality at zero additional monetary cost, the producers of that product will probably take it. However, the real cost is misleading the user - anyone who's really counting on these indicators might find himself in a bad situation. ("But it was at 100% an hour ago, how can it be dead now??") And going too far with this kind of miscalibration will break the illusion when the user realizes it can't be trusted, making the product seem lower quality. So it's a tricky balance - and one that, to be safe, we should always assume is going on behind the scenes.
[via Good Experience]