Easy-Open Packing Tape Concept

As I've said before, there's still room for innovation in non-digital products - and I always like finding evidence that I'm not just making that up!  Here's a concept under consideration by product incubator Quirky: Rip Cord Packing Tape.  That purple stripe down the middle is a string that can be pulled to split the tape in half, ideally eliminating the need for a knife to open your package.  I say "ideally" because it's not quite perfect - even in the photo above you can tell that just pulling the string won't let you open the package, because the flaps are still held down by being taped to the box sides.  Oh well, it's just a concept for now - maybe there's a way to fix that problem too...
[via Core77]

Email and Bacon and Icon Ambiguity...

Seen recently on Facebook (thanks to cousin Ross!), this image is good for a quick laugh and a case study in icons.  It can be challenging to design icons without text labels - and this is a frequent goal for products, so you don't need different versions for different countries.  The currently fashionable minimalist style sometimes makes this worse - in this situation, that style would perhaps show a circle and a line, or an open circle and a closed circle, neither of which clearly communicates which function is which.  At least with the "email and bacon" icons, even though they're not very stylish, you can tell what you're getting.  And without a funny picture border, you'd never accidentally think it's a digital message or a side of pork belly!

Floating Mug: Design & utility working together...

I often gripe about how usability is sacrificed for the sake of looks - an unfortunate reality in consumer product design - so it's refreshing to see an example of each helping the other.  The Floating Mug, a concept by Tigere Chiriga currently having a go on Kickstarter, eliminates the need for a coaster by levitating the actual mug above its handle-cantilevered bottom.  This functional feature also creates a striking visual; you can't help but give it a second look.  I'm impressed that the very same feature first grabs your attention, then serves a useful function.  Thanks, Tigere, for getting ID and usability to play nicely together!
[via Core77]

Design and Durability: Tradeoffs in a Screwdriver

Gizmodo is known for covering high-tech gadgets, but recently Harry Sawyers wrote about something decidedly low-tech: the basic screwdriver.  He points out that there are plenty of design improvements that could be made to the standard model (shown in his photo above) - add a non-slip grip for sweaty palms, ratcheting action for quicker turning, or changeable drive bits for versatility.  True, these are all great usability gains, but they aren't without a price.  Let's score it, with totally-made-up numbers:  if you gain 5 points of usability for a grip, 10 points for ratcheting action, and 5 for changeable bits, maybe you lose points on durability: 0.1 for the grip that will slowly degrade over time, 0.3 for the ratchet which may break, and 0.6 for bits that can be lost.  So is it worth losing 1 point of durability to gain 20 points of usability?  That depends on what you want from your tools; some people prioritize convenient features, but others want tools that will last a lifetime or more.  It's a classic tradeoff - and that's why both are out there for sale, and that won't change anytime soon.

Facebook's Throwaway Birthdays

The usual victims of the digital age are familiar by now - newspapers, book publishers, record stores, Blockbuster. But Sam Biddle at Gizmodo adds another: Facebook has ruined your birthday.  Their intentions were good, helpfully notifying users about friends' upcoming birthdays - but the result was that a thought-free  two-word wall post becomes the norm, devaluing the whole event.  The significance of remembering a birthday has become collateral damage of automated notifications.  Sam has some good suggestions about how to fix the situation, like preempting Facebook's notification, or taking the time to write an actual non-public message.  However, since any solution to this problem (by definition) requires more effort and less convenience, it's a bit of an uphill battle.  But well worth it!
[Great image from someecards!]