Broomstick Bike - A sweet ride for Halloween...

I know the posts have been a little sparse lately (I blame my real job), but here's something I just had to make sure got out before Halloween - yup, that's a bike modified to be a witch's broomstick. At first glance, you may not think it's possible to steer - but look carefully, and you'll see that the broom itself is linked to the front wheel. Definitely clever, but I'd love to see a wannabe witch try to actually ride this thing! Happy Halloween, readers!
[via Gizmodo]

Kickit Shoe Storage - Putting the "fun" in functional...

Shoe racks have always seemed to be more difficult to use than they should be - especially in situations where shoes are vastly different sizes (I have big feet; my wife, not so much) and different shapes (our sandals, her heels, my sneakers, her boots), they never seem to sit on any rack quite properly, and end up falling into a pile on the floor. But here's something that might do the trick - Kickit grabs and holds your shoes with two rows of brush bristles, kinda suspended in air. The name and product photo both encourage the user to just kick their shoes right off, directly into the bristles - and this is the kind of fun interaction that means the product will actually be used more than it would otherwise. Literally, putting the "fun" in functional. Too bad it's a very prohibitive $2500 - at least for now.
[via Gizmodo and Crunchgear]

Dishwasher Embraces Drying Rack Usage

Fellow usability blogger Jasper ruminates on the various uses and use cases of dishwashers, pointing out that one of a dishwasher's best function is hiding dirty dishes before the wash. But he also shows this design, a Mural Dishwasher from design students Marie-Christine Lacasse and Marie Claude Savard, which celebrates the drying-rack function that dishwashers also serve - and does so quite beautifully. (It has some engineering issues, like how the open ends of the moving washer let foam water spray everywhere, but let's ignore those for the moment!) But even here, there's a problem - the dirty dishes are out to be seen, and quite close to the face, before they're washed. One whiff, and it may not seem like such a great idea any more!

Pasta Fork - Useful, evil, or both?

Anyone who's read a single post of this blog knows that I hold usability above all other criteria: looks, style, perceived quality, marketability, and in this case, even "good" versus "evil." Because you see, this Calamente Noodle Fork is designed for excellent usability, using the built-in "thumb" prong to aid in the wrapping and retention of noodles. But man oh man, is it evil-lookin' - almost enough, ironically, to cause loss of appetite when first spotted on the dining table. Still, if it's an advance in usability, it gets an (evil) thumbs-up from me!
[via BoingBoing, CScout Japan, and good ol' Gizmodo]

Error Creating Error: Meta, circular, or both?

Really, I try to have something to say about everything I post on this blog...

But this time I have nothing to say.


Classy Lunchboxes - Can they make leftovers better?

Ah, the placebo effect. It makes no sense, it shouldn't work, but time and time again we find that if people think something's having an effect, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you can't beat it, join it - right? So here it is in lunch-box form: Emma Smart's packaging is printed to suggest fine china and cutlery, in an attempt to class up whatever may be contained therein. Will it make the food "taste" any better? It shouldn't, it doesn't - but the smart money says it does!
[via Gizmodo]

YouTube Links - Cut to the chase...

According to the Google Code blog (and via Lifehacker), you don't have to tell people along with a YouTube link to "skip to about 30 seconds in" for the good stuff - the link itself can tell the video to start wherever you want. I'm a big fan of making the things that I send easy for the recipients to us - well-formatted links with appropriate explanations, etc - and this is a good tool to add to the arsenal! If what you send is more usable, then you, as a friend or coworker, are more usable too - and that makes everyone around you just a bit happier!

Quick-Draw Camera Strap - Catch the moment before it's gone!

If you're a serious photographer (or just an amateur who, you know, cares about getting good shots), you know that timing is everything: that perfect shot only exists for a split second, and then the moment is gone forever. So Ron Henry created the Rapid R-Strap, designed for fast-draw action, even on heavy SLR cameras, that would make any old-west quickdraw cowboy proud. He goes into a lot of the technical details for why it works so well, but I'm no expert on those - just watch the video and you'll agree, this guy won't miss any shots for lack of speed!
[via Photojojo, Lifehacker, Gadget Lab, and Gizmodo]

Passwords: Too many rules, too few brain cells...

Reader and friend Ben Jackson wrote recently with a rant about password rules - you know, how "they're all slightly different? (e.g., must have letters AND numbers; must be at least 8 alphanumeric characters long and cannot start with a number; must not be based on a dictionary word, etc.)" Like Ben, I have the same problem - these rules, especially when they directly conflict with each other (some must use nonstandard characters, others can't), break any system I might devise to automatically remember the password for any given site. And when that results in having hit the "forgot password" link, it can get even worse: as Ben observes, "sometimes, you can't even change it back to a password you used previously." Never a wholly pessimistic person, Ben does have a suggestion: "Why they don't remind you of their password restrictions when you get it wrong? ... I might at least be able to return to the frame of mind I was in when first presented with that asinine restriction, and re-derive whatever I came up with." It's not a bad idea, and it certainly might help with exactly these kinds of situations - but then again, reminding a would-be logger-in of the password rules might negate any extra security that they had provided. Hmm. Maybe the only solution really is rote memorization of hundreds of login/password combos - or just writing them all on a post-it on your computer monitor!

Mail Goggles - Saving you from your drunken self...

Friendships, relationships, and jobs alike can be threatened when alcohol is combined with the ability to communicate easily to anyone anywhere. Drunk Dialing is a well-known peril - but what about Drunk Emailing? Gmail engineer Jon Perlow used his 20% personal-project time at Google to build a safety feature against just that risk: Mail Goggles. It's a safeguard that kicks in late on weekend nights, which has you complete a few simple math problems within a time limit before it'll let you send your email. If it saves just one job, one friendship, one marriage - it'll be worth it!

Retirement Home Keys - Easy does it...

I was at my grandmother's retirement home a while back, and noticed something about her room keys: they had particularly wide "handles," wings that were easily 3 times as wide as normal keys (like the little one in the photo). And I realized that this makes sense: elderly folks have a tougher time with both dexterity and hand strength, so a larger key will help them handle and turn it better. Actually, it was pretty nice for me to use, too! In any case, it's a good example of making a choice with a keen awareness of the needs of the user.

Nebo Ballpark Vendor - Nine innings of convenience...

It may not be the kind of thing most people think of when considering product design, but the strapped-on rigs that ballpark vendors haul around the bleechers while hawking their goods are definitely ripe for redesign. Mario Weiss has come up with an upgraded all-in-one system called the nebo - and if there's a "better mousetrap" to be had in this category, it may very well be it. A backpack-mounted keg dispenses beer to side-mounted cups, over a tray that doubles as cold storage for ice-cream snacks. And it all leaves the hands conveniently free to cup to the mouth while shouting (pictured) and take exorbitantly high payments (not pictured).
[via The Design Blog and Gizmodo]

Ford MyKey - Forget Big Brother, here's Big Mother...

Ford recently announced an upcoming feature which will allow owners to program one of the car's keys to cause the car to behave in extra-safe ways, such as limiting top speed and stereo volume, using more persistent/annoying reminders to buckle seatbelts, and earlier warning of low fuel. The intention is that parents give these programmed keys to their kids to keep them in check - kind of like giving the valet parker a key that doesn't open the glovebox. And despite feeling a bit restrictive (and surely incurring the resentment of the offspring involved), it actually seems pretty useful - building these features into the guts of the car itself, rather than tacking them on as after-market add-ons, means they'll be much tougher to disable. The specific features all seem reasonable and well thought out as well - seatbelts, speed, stereo, and gas would be the first things I'd think of for safe and responsible driving. Now, will they build in a feature that shuts down the engine at curfew? Or maybe it's too "Cinderella" to have a Ford Focus turn into a pumpkin at midnight...
[via Autoblog and Engadget]

Buying Socks, the Amazon Way...

I've got big feet - size 13 - which means it can be tough to find socks. Most socks says "one size fits all!," and then in tiny print, "shoe sizes 7-12." So I thought that instead of trolling brick-and-mortar stores for their invariably smaller selections of big-and-tall socks, I'd try

Big mistake.

Here's a screenshot of what I encountered, and why it confuses me, undermines my confidence, and is just plain unusable. First off, sizes - what's the difference between "King Size," "Large" and "X-Large?" Are they all the same? If not, which match up to size 13? There didn't seem to be any way to find out. Next, colors - check out that rainbow along the bottom row. Is it just me, or do several of those colors look the same? And how will any color look once it comes off the screen and is rendered in cotton? The color description boxes underneath - which don't match up with the color example boxes, by the way - certainly don't help. My third complaint: I just don't feel like buying a men's product called "fluffies." But maybe I'm just being stubborn there. In all seriousness, I understand that Amazon's whole thing is to combine the offerings of many retailers in one search result, so this kind of inconsistency is understandable technologically - but for the sake of the user, make some changes, and make it work!

Boarding Pass Circles - If it's "hand-drawn," it must be important...

Jasper over at the product usability weblog had a neat find a while back: airline boarding passes that are pre-printed with simulated "hand-drawn" circles around the most import bits of info. And ya know what, it's a pretty slick idea: no matter what font, size, or placement of that info, it won't stand out as much if it's "printed" just like everything else. But if it's circled as if by a real live person, it "pops." Still, Jasper makes an excellent point that this disrupts the task flow of the airline attendant, saying, "What will the ground stewards do now? Add another circle to the pass, just to make sure that you reall got the time and place right? The new design just might have robbed the ground stewards of an important way of bringing something to your attention." Good point!
[Uselog, and photos from the cranky flier and flyingismylife]