Multitouch interfaces were the Big New Thing when they debuted with the iPhone, but since then, not much has changed - Apple's added a few more fingers, but that's about it. Touch interfaces suffer a bit from the lack of, yes, buttons: there are fewer ways to indicate different intentions when interacting with the same objects or locations. Microsoft has stepped in to add some interesting ideas, which they call Rock & Rails - the video is tech-geek heavy, but still intriguing. Using your fist, or a straight or curved hand, they show all kinds of ways your intentions can be made more clear, and your work made more efficient. There's definitely a learning curve - but hey, we all had to learn to type at some point, too, and it was worth it!
An Engadget editorial by Donald Melanson makes the compelling case for avoiding "a less tactile future" - and as the writer of a blog ostensibly about buttons, I'd be remiss not to mention it! Donald waxes nostalgic for the days of intentionally-tactile keyboards, warns against the impending ubiquity of glassy touchscreens, and even points out ways that products have lost tactility in their casings and buttons. Mr. Melanson, consider this one big "LIKE!"
It's definitely annoyed me a little ever since I joined Netflix: why the extra, empty, useless-seeming "flap" on the shipping envelope that makes it rectangular instead of the square shape that would fit the disc more precisely? Turns out, it's not just for aesthetics or waste for the sake of waste - it's to accommodate postal systems that really prefer rectangular mail, and have difficulties (and charge a higher price) for square stuff. It's a shame that a legacy design has resulted in a less-efficient system now - but these things happen. Designing for the future is as important as designing for the present!
You know what they say about public restrooms: it doesn't matter whether your washed your hands if the guy before you didn't - and that dirty doorknob is to blame. Taking borderline-OCD from anxiety to product, a team of University of Minnesota business students have designed the Toepener, essentially a doorknob for your foot. Okaaaay... I guess it might be nice for some businesses to offer such an option to their customers (particularly psychiatry practices?), but 50 bucks seems a bit steep for a couple pieces of metal. And the likelihood of spectacular wipeouts as new users lose their balance with a toe stuck in that hook is high - followed by lawsuits that make the 50 bucks seem like a steal! So yeah, it's a nice option - it's just sold with a little too much fanfare.
This fantastic example comes from Will Yum on the Usability Forum: the fine-by-themselves ideas of minimal paper cups and a lever-activated water dispenser don't play nicely when put together. The cup totally collapses under the pressure needed to activate the lever! Products need to be designed with an eye to the overall system, the surrounding environment - no product is an island...