Never-Hungry Caterpillar, a concept designed and/or written about by Marc Hassenzahl and Evgeny Morozov which calls users' attention to the power wasted by electronics in standby mode. Here's how: "The Caterpillar has three different modes: It breathes slowly in the case of 'normal' energy consumption through a device, such as a TV. If the TV is switched to stand-by, the Caterpillar starts to twist and turn awkwardly, as if in pain. This can be resolved by disconnecting the TV entirely. The metaphor of a caterpillar touches upon people's tendency to help and take care of living things." What's innovative here is the play on guilt and empathy - this isn't a blinking light or a buzzing alarm, it's a living thing in agony! Or at least that's the trick; they're counting on a very basic, almost lizard-brain instinct to help something in pain. As we grow desensitized to various alerts and messages, this is essentially an escalation in the arms race for our attention. Shrewd, manipulative... and possibly, effective!
Kombo Tool fits in this category, and if you couldn't tell by looking (I sure couldn't), it's for fishing. It's a bonker (yes!), a filet knife, a scooper, and a sharpener - of course, it's waterproof and it floats in case it's dropped overboard. It sounds like a well-designed product that I'll never use - but it just makes me happy that it exists!
Rain Noe recently wrote in Core77 about the "Aspirin Point", where the functional component of a product (a few milligrams of the drug) becomes so small that the physical design of the product (the pill) becomes essentially independent. This is incredibly liberating from a design point of view, because the product can be designed purely for the best possible use case. The Aspirin Point is gradually reaching consumer electronics, and USB flash drives are one of the first products to get there. In the tiny drive shown here (images from Rain), the cylinder that protrudes from the port isn't needed for electronics - it's purely ergonomic and aesthetic. What's the right shape? The right diameter, edge, and surface for a user to be able to remove it easily but prevent snagging on things? It's great to consider those questions all by themselves!
The Yellow Dog Project is trying to make that answer both easier and preemptive, suggesting a yellow ribbon or bow on the leash of any dog who needs this kind of consideration. It's a good attempt so far: the yellow-ribbon signal is flexible enough to be easy but specific enough to be recognizable. The trick is getting word of it to catch on, because its effectiveness will depend on reaching a critical mass. An awareness campaign by the ASPCA would be a good ol' 20th-century method, but the Yellow Dog Project currently has over 23,000 likes on Facebook. That's a start - now if only other dogs could be taught what that yellow ribbon means, too...