FasTrak Switches It All Up

Maybe I care more about this stuff than the average person, but this photo makes me physically cringe.  So, what happened here?  I think I know exactly what it is, and so does commenter Michael Zuschlag on the original post on Usability Forum:  "The simplest way to make a three-position slide switch is to make center be OFF and the outside positions each be ON for different circuits. The guts of the device treats Solo Driver as the default (no signal, thus OFF), while the other two carpool options require distinct electrical signals."  Basically, someone added this feature at the last minute - too late for the electronics to be redesigned to make "2 Person Carpool" the "OFF" position of the switch.  It happens all the time - and usually, industrial design and usability take the hit!

Google's Project Glass: Non-sloppy data...

Google's recent Project Glass concept has been talked about, and parodied, quite a bit lately.  So I'm not going to hit the usual points of ugly-or-not hardware, potentially intrusive advertising or error messages, commentary on how electronic connection makes us socially disconnected or clumsy, or why these videos always star insufferable hipsters.  Instead, I want to point out one thing they did well:  resisting the temptation of sloppy data.  In too many conceptual videos, designers want to show off the futuristic displays with oodles of spinning, fading, scaling, scrolling, morphing data - visually stunning, but more info than the human brain could realistically handle at once.  Thankfully, the Google concept shows one simple thing at a time - clear, unobtrusive notifications that could actually be used without causing a headache.  It's especially important in this kind of setup, where the display is always on and always in (and on!) your face.  So, good job, Google team!  Resisting sloppy data in a concept is step one - step two, resist feature creep in the actual product...

Haptic Steering Wheel for GPS Cues

If you're getting sick of your GPS's bossy robo-voice and mispronunciation of road names, hope is on the horizon!  AT&T Labs are trying out another way you can get your turn cues: through haptic vibrations in the steering wheel itself.  Clockwise vibrations indicate a right turn, counterclockwise mean a left turn, and early results have been good - studies show that there's less "inattentiveness" with this method than with the usual visual and audio GPS cues.  I'm a fan of keeping a tight loop between cues and actions - if you need to take action with your hands (turning the wheel), then why not provide the signal to... your hands?  On the other hand (so to speak), road vibrations may provide background noise that would make it difficult to be sure you're getting a cue.  Even so, it's a design well worth exploring.
[via Technology Review & Gizmodo]