2-0-1-2 … LIFT-OFF!!!

January 11, 2012
Tired of not being able to fly into space for under a million bucks? Of course you are. Not to worry though. This year several companies are slated to start offering trips just beyond the space barrier for far cheaper than ever before… A form of “affordable” space tourism with tickets in the $100,00-200,000 range.

What will this new form of tourism do for fashion? Time (and space) will tell.

Trips won’t exactly get you to Mars — or Neptune, which would be so much cooler — but will include “up-and-down ‘suborbital’ jaunts more akin to a giant roller coaster ride, offering about five minutes of weightlessness”.

And this is only the beginning. Quoting the New York Times article, “By 2017, it’ll be just like scheduling a flight to L.A.,” one galactic travel agent predicted. “In California, it would be similar to buying a house.”  Unsettling California comparisons aside, this is a big deal, by any measure. Space vacations! A breakthrough that will stand apart from the more earthly trends in technology this year.

So a belated Happy New Year, friends. Barring the apocalypse, 2012 is bound to be a big one. Can’t you just feel it?

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Where am I going?

September 6, 2011

At least there's an insightful news ticker down there.

A nice find on Failblog.org, reposted here in honor of that last great milestone of summer — Labor Day. How much do we love these airport Departure/Arrival screens? Designed to fulfill such a simple need, most of them suffer from such a simple yet stifling usability gaffe. They cycle through the flights, gates, and city info waaay too fast. They mean well. They do. But it doesn’t matter how big the screens or the font size is, most of us still need time to sort out our ABCs.  “N is after L in the alphabet, okay.  Okay..  ah-ha! New York.”  But no sooner you find your flight it’s gone isn’t it, refreshed in a column over, or two, or three TV panels away.

Slooow down, Airport Flight Departure Information screens. We’re in a hurry but we ain’t going that fast. We’re not machines like you. Not yet.

And get that anti-virus updated. It’s a sick world out there.


Life’s Easy in the Sunshine State

March 23, 2011

A recent trip to sunny south Florida unveiled a surprising number of simple-yet-effective designs scattered throughout the region. Maybe it’s part of an effort to cater to the high proportion of Florida residents who are elderly (a huge theme of 21st century design). Maybe it’s because many of Florida’s neighborhoods are so new and shiny, not bogged down by the old conventions and standards that other dense urban areas suffer from. Maybe the state is quietly harboring a large number of crafty designers — drawn south to the tropical climate. Whatever the reason, good work Florida. You’ve reminded us that its not always the knock-out designs that improve our world, that sometimes getting the basics right is most important of all.

Let’s start with my absolute favorite: a standing shower where the knob is actually in a logical place. Where you can turn the water on and control flow and temperature without getting wet. No more turning on the water on one side of the curtain and getting in the other side. No more awkwardly craning your naked body to dodge the water that may be too cold or too hot (It’s okay, we’ve all done that). It’s a shower that’s designed for showering. Beautiful.

Staying with the bathroom theme, this Florida bathroom had two doors, one that opens to the house and one to the outside. I scratched my head on this one for a while. Then I realized it’s Florida. It’s always nice out. There are patios and pools for entertaining. Bathrooms that may need to be accessed by guests. People in beach towels. Guests who you might not want to trek through the rest of your house. Sensible.

These parking space numbers on a coastal stretch in Palm Beach were labeled next to the car as opposed to painted under the car on the space itself.  So you could read them once parked. Smart.

“Beaches… THAT way.” I’m told, when crusing down I-95 on a sunny Saturday. Some highway signs understand their audience (as seen on other coastal freeways). Always refreshing.

Then there’s the Sun-Pass: a digital highway pass that beeps back at you when it’s been read by the toll sensors, as opposed to doing nothing at all. That’s called feedback, that’s a good thing. It’s still an ugly gray box stuck on the inside windshield, but at least it communicates. No more speeding through the toll-booth wondering whether you’ll be receiving a ticket in the mail in five to eight weeks. Hear the beep, know you’ve paid your toll, rest easy.

And of course, rocking chairs strategically placed in a waiting areas are always a win. As I’ve called out before. Works just as well as on the front porch. The ones pictured here were found in a South Beach hotel lobby.

Rock on, South Florida.

Rock. On.


Earth’s Nuttiest Airport Designs

July 23, 2010
Cliff-side airport

Looks safe from here. And what a view.

Aviation has always been a huge part of ergonomics and interface design. Partly because of the linked military history, partly because of the grave consequences of design errors involved in trying to keep a large hunk of metal flying through the air (you know… cause it ain’t natural).  And there’s airports, a crucial part of that equation.

Popular Mechanics put together a list of the 18 strangest. From islands to intersections, cliff-sides and frozen tundras, here’s a tribute to the modern gateways of the world in this travel-heavy time of year. Happy flying. And safe landing.


How a Robot Evokes Real Human Emotion

November 2, 2009

Get excited robot junkies and futurists, this video out of Boston Dynamics showcases a new four-legged transport “dog” designed for the military. Surprisingly enough, the most illuminating part of it isn’t the technology itself – which is pretty amazing – but people’s reactions at the :35 and 1:27 marks.  

Go ahead and watch.

Now did you feel yourself cringe at those parts? Did you feel even the slightest pang of feeling for the thing? That, my friends, is empathy. Empathy towards a real-life robot. Now what does that tell you?


What the ‘L’ Taught Me About Design

July 18, 2009

On a recent sunny summer afternoon I hopped off the Chicago ‘L’ and found myself in front of what appeared to be the station exit under a big bold sign labeled “Out”. But I hesitated. As clearly as it was marked, I didn’t see so much an exit but a human death trap: a giant carnivorous plant with rusty iron teeth. Add the deafening rumbling of the train above and the high-pitched squeal of the aging turnstile and it was a less-than-inviting gateway into urban America.

This man took his chances.

This man took his chances.

Call me melodramatic, but this was my instinctual response to encountering the exit , my emotional response. I had consciously realized it was an exit of course, but it was my survival instincts – all processed in a fraction of a second after digesting my environment – that held me back. And in this case it was my hesitation that declared the victor in the clashing of my logical and instinctual halves.

So I waited and held my breath and let someone else brave the path before me.  I finally stepped out, free at last, but not without a chilling reminder of another important design guideline. Functional clarity (what something does), and emotional design, (the feelings a design evokes, usually based on aesthetics) should both be taken into account when designing, systems, gadgets, environments — everything. Simple enough, right? And no, I’m sure next time I won’t hesitate before leaving the station.


A Novel Lesson in (Truckloads of) Consequence

April 6, 2009

The consequences of human factors neglect in design naturally range in severity by system and environment (think nuclear power-plant meltdown vs. a customer not buying a blender on your website). This video from Failblog.org provides a memorable illustration of consequence… I’ll let you decide where on the continuum of disaster it should fall.

It may seem like common sense to say something went horribly wrong here, but we can narrow it down to at least one of the following areas of design oversight:

1)     Use-cases: Was it considered that trucks might find their way under the bridge?

2)     Messaging: Where signs/roadblocks/warnings/deterrents adequately aimed at trucks and tested for effectiveness?

3)     System Limitations/Standards: Did designers forget to measure the bridge height or take into account standards for underpass height?

4)     Builder Error: Was the height of the bridge misjudged or simply measured improperly?

Regardless, one would think after the string of failures observed at least #2 would be revisited in the short term.  So many flayed trucks, and for what I ask… for what.