It's well-known that Apple has a thing for eliminating physical buttons wherever they possibly can (see their buttonless elevator for one extreme example), but now they're turning their attention toward eliminating physical cable jacks. A recent patent filing combines the headphone and microphone jacks into one - though I'm not sure how this is any different from the existing mic-and-headphone combo on iPhones. In any case, it's a fine idea: Apple is quite correct that every jack in a device "breaches the barrier that protects components inside the housing" - so reducing them makes a more robust, damage-proof device. Ideally, the jack wouldn't even be a hole, but instead something more like their mag-safe connectors... Oh well, progress is progress!
Tivo has long been a pioneer in both the function and usability design of DVRs and other variations of the video-viewing experience. And I believe their latest release is just the start of what's to come for living-room viewing: a home theater remote with a slide-out qwerty keyboard. Why? Well, using a home theater still mostly needs a dedicated, no-compromise remote control for the simple stuff like play, pause, forward, rewind, and volume. But the next wave of video will behave more like the internet: text-searching for content, using YouTube, and navigating Google TV or similar internet-streaming boxes. The solution, then, is an optimized remote control with a qwerty feature hidden inside - not a strange compromise like the Brando brick I wrote about a few months back. I bet we'll see a lot of copies of this remote in the next couple of years...
From colleague Marc Fenigstein, here's a photo of a high-tech water cooler that draws water from the moisture in the air. Unfortunately, its designers seem to have put all their efforts into showing off the crazy tech, and none at all into practical usability. The display is cluttered with info that isn't needed by the average user who just wants a glass of water. I'll let Marc take it from here: "Even with the help from the office labeling machine, I still don't know how to make it work. Also, don't name your water purifier after food poisoning." Well put, Marc!
A recent Entelligence post by Michael Gartenberg on Engadget is called Let's Get Digital - and beyond the punny title, it makes a great case for designing interfaces that leverage the advantages of digital displays. He points out that many computer, phone, and other interfaces are designed to "look" analog, with photo-realistic icons, buttons, and so on. But these are affordances for a previous generation, who may have needed to see something familiar in order to be comfortable using it. Now we're entering an age of digital natives - and clean interfaces that make the most of digital displays are more useful and efficient. It's worth a read - and if you're a designer, it's advice worth following!
Like any good superhero, designers feel a responsibility to use their powers only for good. But sometimes, a little evil can be justified - designer Erik Askin takes a fascinating look at what bad design could do to curb smoking. In his project "Designed to Annoy," he examines the thoughtful, convenient, versatile design of existing cigarette packs - and then tries to design the opposite, to make smoking an inconvenient, pain-in-the-ass activity. The resulting carton is oddly shaped, difficult to use, and all-around genius. Maybe we should stop mandating warnings, and start making the experience less pleasant!
Usability uber-expert Don Norman recently wrote an article on design site Core77 - which is no stranger to design contests - on "Why Design Contests Are Bad." As usual, he's thoughtful, thorough, and totally correct, criticizing competitions for rewarding initial "wow" factor and aesthetic styling but ignoring issues of usability. He discusses how these are structural problems with the design of the competitions themselves - and has a few pointers for how things might be improved. If you're in the industry, or just interested in it, it's worth a read!
Mark Hurst wrote recently on his Good Experience blog about the brief failed experiment that was the talking car. The car would verbalize status warnings like "the door is ajar" and "don't forget your keys." My grandfather actually had one of these cars for a while, and I thought his hatred of it was unique to him; "the door is ajar" was usually followed by his "go to hell!" But it turns out from Mark's account that this was a pretty common reaction. People who oohed and ahhed at the feature in the showroom came to despise it as an annoyance after a couple of weeks of ownership. It's a good case of design-for-sales, not design-for-use - and a "feature" that turned out to be a liability.
Worldwide Fred is a lighthearted purveyor of the silly, the clever, the ridiculous-yet-compelling. (I previously posted their "Zing" foodfighting utensils.) Anyway, here's another gem to kick off your weekend: the CITRUSAW. It combines the two tools you need for a good Corona: a bottle opener and a lime-wedge cutter. Sure, you have to hold the tool by the blade when opening the bottle - but since it's a (plastic?) serrated blade just sufficient to cut limes, that's probably okay. Keep up the good work, Fred!
Neven Mrgan takes a thoughtful look at the product pages for all-in-one desktop computers by Apple, Dell, and HP, and finds that the digital salesmanship of the three are not at all evenly matched. The Apple site (shown on the left) really sells the product - not just with a big glorious beauty shot, but with a simplicity and aesthetic style on the site that suggests that the same can be expected of the product in use. Dell and HP, meanwhile, really drop the ball - the former plunging the user directly into complicated and intimidating configuration options, and the latter (shown on the right) presenting a jumbled mishmash of who-knows-what and a broken photo. Websites are most certainly products that require design for usability. Well... win, fail, fail!
The New York Times reports about the New Meadowlands Stadium, the future home of the Giants and the Jets, and how it's been cleverly designed to leverage smartphones to enhance the live-sports experience. Apps created specifically for the stadium will provide a few wonderfully compelling services: live stats of your choice, video replays on demand, and even the lengths of lines at the different concession stands. Video replays sound especially great to me - I can't count the number of times I've been at a football game, waiting desperately for a replay on the Jumbotron that never comes. If I can just cue that up on my phone, I'm in control - but hopefully not antisocial...