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.