Piggy Bank as Parental Password Safe

Product design is difficult enough for one user at a time, but when products are meant to mediate between two people, it gets even more complicated.  Still, there's a good amount of cleverness out there - and this example uses an existing product to solve a problem between parents and kids.  Danah Boyd writes in the Social Media Collective blog about using a piggy bank to store kids' passwords (email, voicemail, whatever) in case of emergencies.  As Danah say, parents "don’t want to access their teens’ accounts, but they want to have the ability to do so... A piggy bank allows a social contract to take a physical form."  This is a brilliant system, which demonstrates to the kids that their parents are honoring their promise (since the piggy bank hasn't been broken).  A single physical token establishes trust while providing reassurance to both parties.  What a way to adapt a nearly-obsolete product for the digital age!
[via Lifehacker]

Stake: The Swiss Army Knife of Grilling

It's summer, and that means you'll frequently find me behind a grill.  And as much as I usually hate multipurpose-gadgety cooking accessories, the Stake makes a good case to be an exception.  It combines tongs, spatula, knife, and fork into one wood-handled grilling tool - and if it's executed well enough, it's looks possible that those functions aren't compromised as they're combined.  Only needing one tool for the grill means my other hand is free for a beer - sounds good to me!
[via Lifehacker]

MagSafe 2 Connector: No longer a USB magnet...

Apple released their latest MacBook Pro laptops recently - and there's a lot to love (Retina display, all-flash architecture, drop-dead sexy design as always) and a bit to hate as well (they're possibly the least-repairable computers ever made).  But I'd like to focus on one little change that says a lot about thoughtful design and usability: the updated MagSafe 2 power connector.  MagSafe is a great idea: the connector magnetically snaps right into place, but pulls out easily in case you trip over the cord, sparing the laptop a damaging trip to the floor.  However, the previous version had a problem: it was sized so that USB plugs would also try to snap into it, attracted by its embedded magnets.  The new version is thinner and longer, which helps keep the overall laptop thin, but also solves the USB-attraction problem because USB plugs can't fit into the new profile.  It only makes sense to keep connector sizes and shapes different enough that you can't go wrong - and this is one more step toward that goal.  The only downside is that it's not backwards-compatible with older MagSafe chargers.  Oh well - Apple is happy to sell you more STUFF!
[via Engadget]

Cursors on Touchscreens, Done Right!

Since the mass shift to touchscreen interfaces, buttons are suddenly a little less useful - yes, more "unpressable" - since every onscreen button takes up display real estate that would rather be used for content.  So user interface designers have come up with tricks: swipes, press-and-holds, double-taps, and multifinger gestures to add functions without taking up more space.  iOS has been a leader in this area, but they aren't perfect - and moving the cursor is one of their weak points.  Since text is smaller than fingertips, moving the cursor requires that kinda-cloogy magnification area, and even then it's a whole separate interaction to move from the keyboard up to the actual text - not a smooth flow at all.  UX Designer Daniel Hooper came up with a better way - and shows it off in a quick, clever YouTube video.  Like touchscreen techniques used elsewhere, he treats the keyboard as an area that reacts differently to gestures than it does to taps: drag to move the cursor, use two fingers to increase cursor speed, hold Shift to select.  It's smooth, elegant, and immediately intuitive once you've seen it.  Interestingly, as Engadget mentions, he's appealing directly to Apple to make this change, rather than putting it out as software for jailbroken iDevices.  That sounds like a job application to me - and pretty darn good one!  Good luck, Daniel...

If You Build a Better Ice Cream Scoop...

It may be a surprise to many blog readers, but there's still room for innovation in non-digital products, too!  Amco helps us remember this with an ice cream scoop that has a couple of new tricks:  a serrated front edge to break through too-frozen ice cream, and faceted inner surfaces that prevent it from sticking to the scoop.  Clever, useful, delicious - we all scream (or at least I do) for good usability design.
[via Gizmodo]