Sugary Drinks Visualized

Government regulations often require that we, the consumers, are informed of the dangers around us - but more often than not, those warnings lack understandable context. I'd say this is the case with ingredients in foods - sure, something may have a certain number of grams of sugar, but what does that mean? Eat This, Not That recently did a photo shoot attempting to provide that context, picturing the "worst drinks in America" alongside foods of equivalent sugar content. It's pretty freakin' shocking - and it'll keep me away from SoBe for the foreseeable future! I'll just have the cherry pie, thanks. (For another recent context-adding project, see my post on Energy Use With Context.)
[via Lifehacker]

VW's Unpressable Trunk Button

My wife recently had a Volkswagen Jetta as a rental car, complete with switchblade key/clicker as shown here. She was frustrated, however, that the trunk button didn't seem to work: lock and unlock worked fine, but pressing the trunk button yielded nothing. After a while, we realized that one button had to be pressed for about a second before it actually popped the trunk - and that this isn't a bug, it's a feature! The trunk button is something you don't want to accidentally hit, because fixing it requires going back to the car and manually shutting the trunk. The other two buttons, if accidentally pressed, can be fixed with just another button press! So, they designed the trunk button to be just a little more unpressable (eh? eh?), to save users from themselves. Heck, Apple did the same thing with the capslock button. The only problem is that these are design features intended for experienced users - hence the confusion for the casual (rental) user. It just speaks to design as a constant balancing act!

Faucet Design, a la Don Norman

Don Norman may be the preeminent usability expert in the world - a professor at Northwestern University, practitioner and advocate of cognitive design in products and processes, and author of quite a few must-read books if you're interested in this field (I especially recommend "The Design of Everyday Things"). So when he lends his opinion to a selection of home faucets, I'm inclined to listen! About a year ago, Norman weighed in on different faucets at Dwell - starting by acknowledging up front that "there are only two things you care about besides the appearance: the amount of water coming out and the temperature." How you control those two things, and how easy and intuitive it is to do so, makes all the difference. Read on...
[via Gizmodo]

Facebook Privacy: An unusable maze...

All the kerfuffle about the complex and confusing privacy settings on Facebook showed just how badly the situation needed an infographic, so the New York Times stepped up to the plate. This article and image map out the nooks and crannies of all the settings you can tweak - or could tweak, if you could find them. Hiding different settings in different places is worse than unusable design - it strongly hints of intentional obfuscation. The same article shows how Facebook's privacy policy has grown in word-count over the years, and that it's now actually longer than the United States Constitution. As I mentioned recently, long instructions indicate poor design - and if your website takes more words to define than a whole country, you've officially gone overboard!
[via Lifehacker]

Energy Use, With Context...

A problem with energy-conservation efforts is that people don't have a good visceral understanding for energy and power consumption. "I could save 10 Kilowatt-hours per month? Great... What'll that get me?" Well, GE's put together a great little interactive web page that contextualizes energy for you, in any way you might like. How much does it cost in dollars to run a certain appliance? What does one Kilowatt-hour get you on your favorite device? (In the image, you can see that it'll yield 133 sitcom episodes on a satellite dish - neat!) It's fun and enlightening to play around with the site, seeing all this data in different and useful terms - plus, it'll really make you hate your air conditioner.
[via Unplggd & Lifehacker]

Phone Booths Turning Into Electric Car Chargers

Since ubiquitous mobile phones have rendered phone booths useful only as superhero changing rooms and world-record-attempt venues, the question becomes, what should be done with them. Telekom Austria has a good idea: turn them into electric-vehicle charging stations. Aside from the aesthetic facelift suggested by these two photos (one from an article on Physorg, one from Engadget - and hey, nice bikini ad, Engadget), it makes sense to reuse an existing obsolete infrastructure as an infrastructure required for a new and desirable technology. Well done, Austrians - now let's have everyone get in on that action!

"There, I Fixed It" - Case studies in DIY repair... is a blog dedicated to the best and worst - mostly the worst - of do-it-yourself innovative repairs. Some aren't bad: I particularly like the use of binder clips for cable retention, shown in the bottom right of my little collage. But most are cringeworthy - and hilarious. Take a look, but don't blame me if you can't stop combing the pages...

If the instructions are too long, try, try again...

Here's an oldie-but-goodie, from Mark Hurst's Good Experience blog and "this is broken" Flickr group: instructions for setting the alarm on a hotel room clock (photo by Robert S. Donovan). Now, many designers may complain that usability is an elusive quality, difficult to measure and a somewhat subjective matter. But I'll tell ya right now: if your alarm clock takes 5 detailed steps to set (and step 5 is "repeat steps 3 and 4," for cryin' out loud!), you've failed. Try again.

Okay, I'm a Hypocrite: Usability and the Nautilus...

I'll go ahead and admit it: as a usability blogger, it's a little sad that the only product I sell just isn't very easy to use. The Nautilus keychain bottle opener started as a project in a Stanford computer-aided design class; I decided to have a batch of them made, and now sell them at And while I still think they look pretty slick, actually using them on pry-off beer bottles is definitely an acquired skill. They work "backwards" compared to normal bottle openers based on where they're attached on your keychain - see the photos of my lovely wife demonstrating the two grips that can get the job done. By now, I'm pretty darn good at it - but I still feel a little guilty that they're not easier. Oh well - once I sell out of this first batch, I'll make sure version 2 is better!