"Green Man Plus" gives seniors more time to cross...

Pedestrian crossing signals have a tricky balance to strike in giving people enough time to cross, but not so much time that it unnecessarily slows traffic. The problem becomes more difficult when considering the difference in walking speed between able-bodied people and the elderly or otherwise impaired: what's good for the former is insufficient for the latter. Singapore has an excellent solution called "Green Man Plus," where anyone who needs to can tap an RFID card by the signal button to get a longer crossing time. This is a great approach - at least until crossing cameras are smart enough to detect pedestrian paces and adjust accordingly.
[via Gizmodo]

Pinclip, lovechild of pushpin & paperclip...

Good old-fashioned bulletin boards are great - I've got one in my office full of anything I need to keep in mind but want to keep off my desk. However, this convenience usually comes at the price of perforating whatever you put up there with tiny pushpin holes. Paperclips, meanwhile, have been retaining papers together for decades without piercing them. So it's remarkable that the Pinclip, a hybrid between pushpin and paperclip, has only recently been invented! It seems that some great ideas are occasionally still just there for the taking...
[via Gizmodo]

Elastic Bows: The clip-on ties of gift wrapping...

For those who are less than skilled in the art of fancy bow-tying - like myself, at least compared to my wife - these reusable elastic gift bows offer a zero-effort alternative. I would almost think that the recipient might be insulted by how little effort was spent "wrapping" the gift, if they weren't so impressed by how clever the bow is!
[via Gizmodo]

Parking Signs: So much room for improvement...

Parking signs are a mess: they blurt out a verbose, sequential list of complex rules which tend to overlap, cancel out, and generally become useless jumbles in the brains of drivers. Thankfully, design is coming to the rescue: Nikki Sylianteng has an ongoing project at To Park or Not to Park, where she's iteratively refining her grid-based design. Instead of having to solve a multivariable logic problem, you can look up the day and time to get a quick read on whether you can park and for how long. A little less road rage ("parking rage?") would certainly make the world a better place!
[via Gizmodo]

Unintended Consequences: Pedestrian Countdown Timers

Those nifty countdown timers on most modern crossing lights certainly seem convenient for pedestrians: knowing how much time you have can help you hustle or let you relax your pace across an intersection. However, it turns out that they're actually increasing the number of accidents. Motorists surreptitiously use them to enable more second-shaving aggressive driving. One solution offered by researchers is to replace visible timers with audio-only timers, which pedestrians can hear but most drivers can't. A little less information just might make drivers a little less dangerous!
[via Gizmodo, photo credit Ed Yourdon]

Engagement Ring Box: The one special requirement...

Jewelry boxes are, as one would expect, designed to enhance the beauty, quality, and value of their contents. But an engagement ring case has one more special requirement: it needs to hide until it's revealed. A guy (or girl) can't let a bulky ring box spoil the surprise with a telltale pocket-bulge before popping the question! Andrew Zo's Clifton case is the first design I've seen which meets this need: it folds slimmer than a wallet, but opens with a fancy spinning flair to beautifully present the ring inside. It's a little pricey at a hundred bucks - but what's the value of not spoiling the surprise? Totally worth it!
[via Gizmodo]

Dispensing Soap with Dirty Hands

Rain Noe has a thoughtful little piece on Core77 about the problem of dispensing handwashing soap without getting the soap dispenser itself contaminated. He eliminates high-tech sensor based options as being infuriatingly unreliable - a problem from which they frequently suffer. Instead, he finds Joseph Joseph's C-pump, which uses the presumably-cleaner back of the hand. Sure, regular pumps could also be used backhandedly - but this allows single-handed dispensing as well. It seems that a clever low-tech solution can still trump high-tech brute force!
[via Core77]

Edible cupcake wrappers for faster face-stuffing...

If you absolutely, positively need that cupcake right this second, the wrapper can either slow you down or be annoying to cough up afterward; in that case, Dr. Oetker's Edible Wafer Cupcake Cases may be for you. I'm usually all for efficiency in product design, but there's something different about a cupcake: it's an indulgence to be enjoyed slowly, and the ritual aspect of peeling the wrapper builds mouth-watering anticipation. Do we really want to cram our cakeholes so quickly? Oh, we do? Okay.
[via Gizmodo]

Ugly Design: All Function, No Form

In the classic design battle of Form vs Function, Unpressable Buttons usually sides with "Function": style and fashion too often do more harm than good to usability. However, Core77 (who usually sides with "Form") points out that sometimes a focus on function results in seriously ugly designs. They use the perfectly repulsive example of the Miles Kimball Soap Dish, which performs admirably while creating a fanged-and-tongued eyesore by your sink. I don't have an easy solution to this problem, except to say that design is indeed a balancing act - and some functional strategies tip the scale too far away from aesthetic viability (or vice versa). The trick is to recognize when the balance is off, concede a bit to the other side, and negotiate. In the meantime, I'll settle for a soap dish that's a little less functional and better looking!
[via Core77]

Wireless sensing for better baby monitors?

As a new parent (I hear veteran parents are less paranoid), I'm constantly checking the baby monitor when my daughter's asleep. And while a video monitor is a wonderful thing, it can't tell me that she's breathing well - so I find myself sneaking in on ninja-quiet feet to check. That's why I'd love a product with MIT's latest wireless detection tech, which can sense motion with enough detail to discern breathing and heartrates through walls. A little over-the-top? Sure - but hey, that's parenting.
[via Engadget]

New York MTA's Money Games

You know to avoid 3-card monte other shady street games, but what if NYC is playing a different game to win your money? Ben Wellington recently discovered that the purchasing system for the subway seems to be rigged. He gets into the nitty-gritty numbers, but suffice it to say that it's very tricky buy a card for a whole number of rides without having a leftover balance. That means that visitors leave NYC with unused balances on their MetroCards - which amounts to free money for the MTA. It's a nefariously brilliant design, and one that was either fully intentional or a coincidence that some MTA accountant should claim credit for! You can fight back, and Wellington tells you which magic odd amounts will result in whole numbers of rides. But wow - it's not paranoia when they really are out to get you!
[photo by Ben Wellington]

Tooshlights, for no more door-peeking...

Finding an open stall in a large public restroom can be an awkward process, involving tentative presses on the door (hoping the locks are functional) and peeking under the door (hoping not to embarrass anyone, including yourself). A company called, yes, Tooshlights (stoplights for your toosh!) uses technology to help: when the door is locked, a light above the stall is red, while green means, well, "go." Similar systems are already on many airplanes, indicating when all lavatories are occupied - and honestly, they're handy. Battery-powered Tooshlight door sensors decline the opportunity to link with hardwired flush sensors - but those have their own problems. So overall, not a bad idea - and restrooms need all the good ideas they can get!
[via Core77]

The Epic Share-Icon Battle Royale!

No matter what device or service you're using these days, you're probably being offered a button to "share" it. But this need is new enough that the icon for "share" hasn't yet been standardized - and the variations are quite, well, varied. Min Ming Lo gives a great overview, begs for standardization and/or sanity, and even suggests a new and clever milkshake-based option. I'm sure we'll see these variations weed themselves out over the next few years, so place your bets now: who will (or should) win the Epic Share-Icon Battle Royale?!?
[via Gizmodo]

"XBox On" - Problems with voice commands...

Microsoft understandably wants to show off the new tricks its XBox One is capable of, including voice control. But a smooth demo for potential buyers becomes a real annoyance for existing owners, as this ad with Aaron Paul saying "XBox On" is causing real-life units to power up unintentionally. The design of controls becomes tricky as the triggers become smarter - anticipating intent that can be subjective, varied, unreliable can easily result in false fires, unresponsive triggers, or (remarkably) both. In other words, it's no longer as clear-cut as pressing a button!
[via Engadget & BBC News]

Airline Food Trays: A little design saves a lot...

Airlines are a design area where a little change can have a big impact, because every product gets multiplied by millions of passengers and by the fuel cost to repeatedly lift that weight to 30,000 feet. With that in mind, MAP's redesign of Virgin Atlantic's food trays stand to save the company quite a bit: shrinking the tray by a third and reusing it for multiple courses, and using a non-slip material that eliminates the need for disposable paper liners, the overall weight of the service setup is reduced by 291lbs per plane. There are quite a few other details to the design, discussed in Wired and Gizmodo articles - worth a quick read!

Toilet-Paper Sensor Block: Adapting to adaptations...

I've written about the frustrating false-flush tendency of automatic toilets before, but here's a new salvo in the arms race between man and machine: putting toilet paper over the sensor to prevent accidental flushes. This would seem to make sense - until you realize that we're creating a complex adaptation for a device that was designed to adapt to our inability to use a simple system in the first place. Seriously, when it gets to this point, shouldn't we just be using a manual mechanical flush handle? The usability path has come full circle, and it seems we should have stayed where we started.
[Photo from Duey Rando]

Seat-back tablet holders for budget entertainment...

Good design can happen in airplane seat-back entertainment systems, but usually doesn't - and regardless, those systems add cost to the plane (plus complexity, weight which increases fuel use, and the expense of licensing content). Meanwhile, travelers more frequently carry their own fully capable entertainment systems with them, in the form of tablets and smartphones. UK carrier Monarch has done the math and opted for tablet holders instead of seat-back systems on their new lower-cost seats. It remains to be seen just how "universal" these holders are - from the photo, it looks like only full-size tablets will work - but the idea is a good one which feels better than DIY alternatives. I'll entertain myself, thanks - you guys just concentrate on flying the plane, and maybe serving up some drinks.
[via Gizmodo]

HeadFoams: Personal audio, Nerf-style...

Parents are always looking for products that are both (1) indestructible and (2) unable to cause injury when flung at high speed - and "monobody foam" is a manufacturing method / marketing term that can provide both. That's why HeadFoams, "the world's first monobody foam headphones," sound like winners to me. It's especially clever to show an image of kids seemingly trying to break these things, and failing. Keep your Beats - my kid will be rocking out Nerf-style!
[via Gizmodo]

Smart fan targets humans (in a good way)...

A step toward the robot apocalypse cleverly disguised as an improved comfort device, the human-sensing oscillating fan blows air only where there's a person to enjoy it. Seriously though, this is a textbook use of smart sensing: directing resources only toward the intended use instead of brute-forcing air all around the room, improving both effectiveness and efficiency. Just make sure yours doesn't become self-aware and use its targeting system for evil!
[via Gizmodo]

SaddleBaby: Your beast of burden...

My daughter is just about to hit the age where she'll be able to ride on Dada's shoulders, so this caught my eye: the SaddleBaby claims to make shoulder-riding "a safe & fun way to bond with your child!"  And you know, I'm sure it's a smooth ride. But if I have to schlep one more thing to strap to myself, adjust, clip in, tighten, insert tab A into slot B, ad nauseam, I'm gonna lose it. (Not that you weren't lifesavers at times, Bjorn and Ergo!) But this is one parenting activity that I'll be doing the old-fashioned way - if nothing else, the look on that guy's face in the photo has convinced me to steer clear!
[via Gizmodo]

Drinking Fountains Adapted to Water Bottles

We've already seen a water bottle that adapts to drinking fountains, but this one seen by Mark Hurst goes the other way around: an airport drinking fountain adapted into a water bottle refilling station. (This one's from Delta, which has impressed me recently with usable design.) It's an overdue solution, especially in airports where you can't bring your own water through security - just bring your empty reusable bottle and refill it, instead of supporting the scourge that is commercial bottled water. Refreshing in more ways than one!
[From, and photo credit to, Mark Hurst]

Fuut: While you work, your feet can relax!

If there's one thing wrong with most workspaces, it's that there's not enough hammock in'em. Fix that with Fuut, the hammock for your feet for your desk. This image alone sold me - and if that's not enough, it's adjustable for low ("work") and high ("rest") positions. Working barefoot is just a bonus!
[via Gizmodo]

Hotel Buttons: Good, bad, and ugly...

I recently stayed in a Marriott in Shanghai, where the light switches practically begged for some commentary. The good: text labels so I can actually tell what's going to happen when I flip a switch! The bad: it's still not natural mapping, which could have made it intuitive without resorting to labels. The ugly: the sticker on the Do Not Disturb button trying to tell you which way is on, but still not even being clear about it; plus, the "For Power Only" key card which defeats the power-saving function of using your actual room key. Still, I'll take this setup over Phoenix's mystery buttons!

In-Flight Interface: "Are we there yet?"

Fresh off of holiday flights with my 18-month-old daughter in tow, I'm especially appreciative of anything that made the experience better. So my thanks goes out to Delta for a superb in-flight entertainment system: not just the selection (Hannah enjoyed Ratatouille as seen above, among others), but the interface was helpful - even clever. Circled above is the critical info I kept wanting to know - the time to arrival - which popped up without having to stop the movie. We even noticed that when watching movies from the general selection, that red button is labeled "Flight Info" - but when watching kids' movies, it's "Are we there yet?" It was a little extra nugget of delight in a long flight that needed it!

Viora: Building a better coffee lid...

Coffee has risen to the status of a luxury experience these days, but there's often a little something between you and your sensory escapism: the lid. A thin barrier of plastic keeps spills at bay, but also blocks the aroma and alters the flow of the fluid. Viora is determined to make the best of this: admitting that these disposable lids are necessary, but designing to optimize the experience they deliver. With sipping and aroma holes placed intelligently, and walls shaped to minimize splashing, Viora claims their lid is "worthy of what's in your cup." I haven't checked their math, so to speak, but I like the approach - there's always room for improvement, even in a thin disposable plastic lid.
[via Gizmodo]

EcoSwitch: Consolidating Kitchen Machinery

Most kitchen appliances have at their core either a heating element or a motor, along with the supporting power supply and controls; the problem is that each appliance needs their own heating element, motor, power supply, and controls. But if these components could be made versatile and multipurpose, each "appliance" just becomes a simple attachment to a common base. That's the idea behind EcoSwitch, a design by frog (my employer) for General Electric. It's a promising design to consolidate components and eliminate wastes of space, of materials, and of money - a great way to get back some countertop real estate, save some money, and "save the planet!"

Cliq: Magnetic Clothing Hangers

I've always believed that magnets make everything better, and it's time to add one more to the list: Cliq is a clothes hanger that swaps the hooks for magnets. As long as you're willing to commit to the proper hanging bar (and don't have any very-metallic clothing), it looks pretty attractive to me...
[via Gizmodo]

Eco Clip makes notebooks from loose paper

Product Design is an industry that makes a lot of use of notebooks, be they Moleskine, Field Notes, Rhodia, or some hipster brand nobody's heard of (because they aren't cool... yet).  But it's an industry that also cares about ecological design and cleverness, so the Eco Clip should be right at home: a simple and reusable plastic clip that turns any stack of paper into a notebook. I haven't seen any colleagues with them yet - but it probably won't be long!
[via Gizmodo]

A Flexible-Handled Umbrella Is More... Flexible!

A tweak to the traditional hooked umbrella handle just might make it a lot more versatile - so say designers Liang-Hock Poh & Ming-Hung Lin, creators of the Red Dot-winning Flexibler concept. Something like a gooseneck-lamp degree of flexibility could allow the umbrella to hang on to a backpack or post, lean safely against a wall or tabletop, and accommodate any number of hand grips. This is the point where I usually look for some flaw to balance the benefits, but... nothing! Get this thing on the market, guys!
[via Gizmodo]

Android vs iPhone Button Review, Part 2

Believe it or not, I've found TWO whole blog posts' worth of usability nuances on the differences between iPhone and Android's buttons alone! Part 1 was here; now for part 2, focusing just on audio-related buttons:
  • Headset Inline Volume Buttons: Oh, how I miss these! It seems that Apple has a patent on them and doesn't feel like sharing. I'm hoping they have a change of heart and/or Android makers pony up the cash, but I'm not holding my breath - in the meantime, the main inline button (play/pause/answer/etc) does all its usual tricks, and Bluetooth headsets can change their volume just fine. Winner: iPhone.
  • Mute Switch: It's a feature that I loved even before the iPhone, and I miss this too. The ability to switch to and from silent mode without looking - without even removing the phone from your pocket - is a sneaky little convenience that's tough to leave behind. Winner: iPhone.
Of course, the overall tradeoff balance between Android and iPhone is huge, and different users will always care about different features. But it's remarkable how many differences pop up in just a handful of buttons, and what it says about the different design philosophies at work.

Android vs iPhone Button Review, Part 1

I recently switched from iOS to Android, swapping my iPhone 4S for a Nexus 5. Among the maaaany tradeoffs are some interesting ones related specifically to the actual physical buttons - and since this blog is ostensibly about buttons, let's take a look. Here's part 1:

  • Soft vs Hard "Home" Button: I do miss having a physical button on the front of the phone; the iPhone's home button is perfect for waking it when it's resting on a table. However, the soft home button is a much smoother experience once the phone is on - not having to apply any pressure feels lighter, nimbler, and just plain better when navigating. Winner: Tie.
  • Menu & Back Buttons: Android has the edge here. Those two extra buttons come in very handy, and are conveniently located in an area that's otherwise unused. It beats double-/triple-tapping the iPhone's home button; Apple claims that fewer buttons simplify interactions, but that's just wrong when you start depending on multiple taps and long holds. Winner: Android.
  • Standby Buttons: I thought I'd miss the top-mounted standby button on the iPhone, but it turns out that was just a learned habit that can be re-learned - now the side-mounted power button on the Nexus feels just as natural. Winner: Tie.
Coming next: Part 2, where it's all about audio-related buttons!

Pot-stirring robot steals your kid's job

Liberating family sous-chefs everywhere (or at least, everywhere with $80 to blow on superfluous products), the Stirio automatic pot-stirrer... well, automatically stirs pots. I suppose there are some recipes requiring literally constant stirring (polenta?) where this would really help - but everywhere else, it smacks a bit of consumer-product excess and technologically-enabled laziness. And now I need to find another way for Junior to help in the kitchen? I'll pass.
[via Gizmodo]

Error Messages: Design flaws, not user errors!

Usability design guru Don Norman has a wonderful rant on error messages, explaining how they're more indicative of design flaws than user errors. To sum it up: "Error messages punish people for not behaving like machines.... It's time to design and build machines that conform to our requirements." He suggests replacing error messages with "collaborative messages," which prioritize working with the human to find mutually understandable interaction, instead of simply nuking non-compliant inputs and starting over. It's worth a read, especially if you're designing these kinds of things!

MagZip: One-handed zipper, with magnets!

The zipper is over 100 years old, and has been refined to the point where new innovations aren't really expected. But Under Armour is ready to surprise us with MagZip, a zipper which does the hard part all by itself: the bottom halves snap together automatically (with magnets!), immediately ready for one-handed zipping. Convenient for everyone, but especially for anyone with only one hand or various dexterity problems. It's a pretty impressive advancement in a very mature product - assuming, of course, that it works as advertised. We'll see in "Fall 2014!"
[via Gizmodo]

Sneckdowns: Revealing unused road space...

A worthy addition to your design vocabulary and a word that's just fun to say, a "sneckdown" is an area of snow that remains on a road because cars rarely cross that area. It's handy for urban design because it shows, clearly and at no cost, which areas of road could be put to other use. Park(ing) Day proponents should certainly be interested in more permanent parking-spot mini-parks; opportunities could also exist for recycling receptacles, info kiosks, even tiny-scale solar or wind power plants. Rarely does real-world usage track itself so elegantly - all that remains is to put that info to good use!
[via Gizmodo, Streetsblog, BBC News; photo credit @nelszzp]

Affordances and Design: Underlying principles of usability

Unpressable Buttons mostly deals with design at a certain surface level - the little details that make a product usable, frustrating, or delightful - then digging a little deeper to explore why. But for those who are interested in digging a lot deeper, Affordances and Design by Victor Kaptelinin explores affordances, indicators, usability, and utility at their very base level. It presents overviews of the different psychological theories underlying all interactions between people and their environments. It explains the differences between oft-conflated concepts like affordances versus indicators (important!), usability versus utility (just as  important!), and how design can influence the relationships between them. With design so frequently being practiced only from the surface level, superficial conventions have a way of persisting and propagating. It can be helpful to take this kind of a dive to return to the fundamentals and rebuild from a sound foundation. It's not exactly a light read - unless academic texts are your beach books - but it's illuminating in a way that can give stronger roots to anyone's design perspective.

Fake virus, real work-escape plan...

If you're itching to get out of work a little early and need an excuse, nothing is more unimpeachable and plausible than computer trouble. Happy Hour Virus simulates one of three workday-ending system breakdowns, realistically enough for a gullible boss. Just don't overplay your hand, or you'll have to bribe the IT people to stick with your story!
[via Gizmodo]

"Uncomfortable" Design Jokes

Katerina Kamprani has a unique sense of humor, telling her jokes through the language of design. In her series The Uncomfortable, she aims "to redesign useful objects making them uncomfortable but usable and maintain the semiotics of the original item." Just spend a few seconds looking at each item, and you'll get the joke: the semiotics say they're reasonable products, but the arrangements make them absurdly uncomfortable to use. Buh-doom tsssh!

Popcorn with a side of acoustic sensors...

Instructions for microwave popcorn always give the same guidance: "wait until the time between pops is 2-3 seconds." And it usually works pretty well, so why shouldn't microwaves use the same method? Whirlpool's new AccuPop Cycle does, and I'm a fan - so much so that I proposed the same system in an "Introduction to Sensors" class way back in 2002! Oh well - just another missed chance to make millions, I guess...

Liftware: Stabilized utensils to counteract tremors

People living with Parkinsons and essential tremors experience difficulties with everyday tasks - and one task that's especially sensitive to tremors is the use of eating utensils. Lift Labs is helping by adding active stabilization to a modular utensil: the handheld Liftware uses sensors and actuators to compensate for tremors, keeping the end of the spoon or fork relatively still. It may seem like a small fix in the lives of its users, but every little bit counts and adds to independence and morale - very worthy design goals!
[via Gizmodo]

Smarter Smoke Detectors

It's tremendously encouraging to see long-neglected products benefit from smart redesigns, and there may be no better recent example than the lowly smoke detector. Hated for difficulty in testing, silencing, battery changing, and... pretty much everything, smoke detectors have been so badly designed that some users prefer to risk disabling them entirely. However, a new wave of products - most prominently Nest Protect and Birdi - solve those problems and then some. Each gives more helpful and gentle reminders to change the battery, and each is designed to "not just start yelling at you" for common false alarms like burned toast. They have novel interaction methods, including gestures and mobile phone integration, and monitor carbon monoxide and air quality and more. To all of which I say: it's about time, and keep it coming!

Fighting back against "Vertical Videos"

Count me among the many who have a pet peeve for vertical videos - those taken in portrait orientation with mobile phones. It's not users' fault: they're innocently holding their phones in the most natural and comfortable way! Nope, it's the design of the software, which doesn't have to allow this travesty in devices with high-res cameras and orientation sensors. Horizn is an app that smartly keeps the video always landscape and level, but this problem won't be truly abolished until it's the default functionality of the camera!
[via Engadget]

Flip Cup, a double-duty bathroom accessory

You need a rinsing cup in your bathroom, you need a toothbrush stand in your bathroom, so why not combine them? Flip Cup does just that, while cleverly allowing the cup to dry with its curved lip exposing the interior while upside down. The minty-green color is a nice thematic cue to fresh breath (the whole thing looks like a freeze-frame of sloshing mouthwash), but any grime that accumulates inside the toothbrush holder may compromise that clean feeling!
[via Gizmodo]

Ultra vs Super vs Micro

A recent project needed some sanding with 3M Sanding Sponges, and I discovered a flaw in their system. You can see the three grades: Microfine, Ultrafine, and Superfine. Okay... so which is roughest and which is finest? Those three words have no default relation to each other, so the labels become useless. Adding a number to the label would help, which I did later with a Sharpie - and for the record, from roughest to finest (according to their website) it's Super, then Ultra, then Micro. Now I'm just waiting for them to develop an even finer grade - which they'll call Super-Micro? Ultra-Micro? Super-Duper-Ultra-Micro??

Blind Minder: Green home automation

Home thermostats usually control temperature only by turning on power-consuming furnaces or air conditioners. But there are other power-free ways to heat or cool a house: opening and closing windows, curtains, and blinds. Despite being greener and lower-cost, these methods are used less simply because they're not automated - it takes conscious effort to apply them. So, Make published a DIY project that controls mini blinds automatically based on temperature - it's simple, effective, has the potential to save money and energy. I sincerely hope that soon it'll lower the barrier even further by becoming a ready-to-install home product!
[Make via Lifehacker]

21st-Century Bedside Clock

I'm staying in a hotel as I write this, and I'll tell you one thing: I'm not using my room's alarm clock. It's some feature-packed beast that I don't know how to use, and I don't want to learn - my phone will work just fine, thank you. Of course, that means I had to dig behind the bedside table to find an outlet to plug in my phone charger.  It's people like me who must be target users for this bedside clock, which swaps out the alarm (de-emphasized or perhaps not even present) for two gloriously convenient USB charging ports. Add a simple LED clock for midnight time checks, and leave all the other features behind - I don't need them. Welcome to the 21st century!
[via Gizmodo]

Design for Digital Mortality

One interesting aspect of the newness of digital services and accounts is that not much thought has been put into former users who are... no longer alive. Eventually, users and companies should should consider the inevitable: who will inherit your iTunes and Kindle libraries? What will happen to your Facebook page and Twitter feed? I'm not sure about those companies, but Google's got a plan with its Inactive Account Manager. Without ever mentioning death explicitly, the system offers the steps you'd want to consider, enabling you to automatically notify contacts, share data, and delete the account entirely.  It's good forward thinking - because in this case, a little late is definitely too late!
[via Engadget]

Situation-Specific Design: Sony's Prison Radio

Most of the attention in gadget design goes to the latest and greatest high-tech toys for first-world consumers - but that's not the only customer who can benefit from thoughtful design. The audio player of choice in prisons isn't cloud-based, streaming, MP3, or even CDs: it's the simple Sony SRF-39FP AM/FM radio. It features a clear housing so it won't be broken open to check for contraband; it eschews anything fancy, like digital reception, to conserve power and deliver more listening time for the prisoner's battery purchase.  And of course, as a radio it comes with a built-in range of never-ending free content. The right design choices for the situation are what makes it, as the New Yorker's Joshua Hunt writes, The iPod of Prison.
[via Gizmodo]

Negative-Space Packaging

ColaLife asks an intriguing question: "Coca-Cola seems to get everywhere in developing countries, yet essential medicines don't. Why?"  Coke is highly profitable, so it's developed a huge distribution network to every corner of the planet - a network that can be piggybacked by a clever design to help bring crucial anti-diarrhea medicine to those who need it. ColaLife's Kit Yamoyo is designed to fit in the "negative space" of a Coca-Cola crate, nestling between the bottles without adding any volume to the overall package. This way, it can utilize an existing distribution system to help people at virtually no cost. It's almost enough to make selling sugarwater seem noble!
[via Core77]

The dreaded "Perfectly Ambiguous Typo"

I was playing a board game the other night (I'm just that cool), when we needed to consult the instructions - and encountered what I'm calling a Perfectly Ambiguous Typo. That's where either of two possible meanings is equally likely, the context provides no clues, and the error could easily have been made either way. Behold: Nore than one playing piece can occupy a single square. It could be "More" or "No more," either meaning is viable, nothing around it suggests one versus other, and it's an easy typo to make from either original text. Fortunately, the problem was averted: the baby decided it was bedtime, so we never finished the game!