Concept: The Food Guide


At the most expensive and sophisticated restaurants, the service tends to be the same as in a diner, just more refined and thorough. But it could be quantitatively different. Elite restaurants feature exotic ingredients and preparation that require an experienced fork and palette to appreciate, expertise many of us don’t possess and for which the menu and momentary description by the server doesn’t suffice.

Enter the Food Guide. In addition to the conventional service, a food guide would join you at the table and guide you through the meal. She would describe the chef’s philosophy, where the ingredients originated, how the meal was prepared, how to eat it, what tastes to tune in, etc. At this level of restaurant, the patrons have no presumption of conducting business or chit-chat; the food is the focus and the restaurant provides a food-centric experience.

Concept: Ambient Light-Powered Smoke Alarm

Smoke alarms have saved thousands of lives in the United States since their introduction and widespread use during the past 2 decades. The good news is that more than 90% of homes in the United States now have at least 1 smoke alarm.1 The bad news is that a substantial proportion of those smoke alarms do not work. In on-sitesurveys of homes with smoke alarms, about 25% to 30% of the alarms did not function when tested.2 Some failures are due to malfunction of the alarm itself, some are due to a dead battery, and some do not function because the battery has been removed.

Smoke alarms and prevention of house-fire—related deaths and injuries

If dead batteries are a problem, we could power them using solar panels and ambient light. The current panels probably aren’t efficient enough yet, but that’s improving.

Ambient Light-Powered Smoke Detector

Imagining the Aeron bed

Ulrike and I had a brief discussion about the thermal properties of our Tempur-Pedic mattress today (summary: great overall, but it seems somehow hotter in the summer than other mattresses) and I said for hot climates it’d be nice to have an Aeron bed. It would have a supporting mesh material that would let air circulate under your body. It would have to be stronger than a hammock and as soft as a mattress, perhaps by layering materials.

This didn’t seem unfeasible to me as I watch the progression of mesh support. First the Aeron…

back of the Aeron chair

Then adoption in other ways by other chairs, like my beloved Life…

Knoll life chair

And then Niels Diffrient upted the ante by joining separate pieces to provide support in a different way…”a limited stretch mesh pieced together like a shirt.” (See the Metropolis article)

detail of back of Liberty chair

But what really made me sit up and take notice was SaddleCo’s Flow Ti bike saddle. Mesh bike seats aren’t new — recumbants have had them for years — but in this case the saddle often has to support a person’s entire weight on two small areas that contact the cyclist’s sit bones, so it’s a higher-tech solution. In their words they use “tensioned elastomeric monofilament fabric mesh.” I think that means it’s really stong…

photo of mesh bike seat

Given that all this evolved from the humble hammock, why not return to the hammock to make a tensioned elastomeric monofilament fabric mesh hammock, aka a warm climate mattress? Consumers are rabidly switching from springs to foam, so they may soon be ready for mesh.


Riffing with Brett about how richer interaction could be used for navigation, I thought it’d be nice to have browser back button functionality that’s as fast as scrolling. Imagine you have a little slider in (for example) the upper left of the window, and sliding the handle horizontally scrolled by the pages in your history. There’d be indents so it wouldn’t stop in-between pages, but you’d see the pages scroll by for the sake of visual confirmation.

Technically it would mean keeping more pages in active memory and not just cached on the hard drive, but hey, RAM is cheap these days… what’s a few more megs?


Dreyfuss Mobile Phone

You know what would be great? If someone created a mobile phone in the shape of Henry Dreyfuss’s classic 500 Series handset (not the whole phone, just the handset)…

Yes, it’s rather large, but this could be used to our advantage. The space between the receiver and transmitter could hold a PDA…

Riffing with Liz at work, we thought perhaps it’s part of a woman’s handbag. The phone clicks into the bag to become the handle. Click out to use the phone, and carry the bag with a shoulder strap. Might look great on a black Prada…

I’m rather fond of this design, having had a 554 on the kitchen wall growing up.

Postscript: Owen also cites the ability to hold this between ear and shoulder as well as not appearing crazy while walking down the street handsfree and in monolog. Even better, he points to a brilliant hack, simply wiring the handset to plug into the mobile’s headphone jack. That led me to more examples. And even if you think this is all rather silly, they offer a designer-friendly view of the future: ‘The phone accessory will very soon take over from the phone itself as the wearable part of the device. …people [will] leave their tiny phones out of sight whilst their low cost / highly expressive handsets will worn as any other fashion devices. It will also allow designers to produce handsets without the need for heavy technological insight or investment.

Marsupial Mouse

Imagine this scene: a 40-something art director talks through a design review session in a conference room in front of her colleagues. At one point she reaches over to the Dell laptop which serves as the conference room computer to bring up a website. The laptop has not one but two pointing devices built in, a trackpad and a TrackPoint…


Both pointing devices rely on fine motor control, and she fumbles with the trackpad until the situation becomes embarrassing and the person next to her assists. The situation could be avoided with a mouse.

I’ve noticed many people who will trim their portable computing setup to the minimum but still pack a mouse, usually a full size mouse borrowed from the office. This can be eased a little with smaller mice like the Atek Minioptical…


The Dell approach amuses me a bit, inserting two different input devices that rely on such similar motor control, it seems like a desperate attempt to satisfy users who don’t like one or the other. An alternative is to acknowledge the mouse is the king of the pointing device world and include one with, or in, the laptop. Imagine doing away with the trackpad or the TrackPoint, moving the internals (e.g. CD/DVD drive) over a bit, and using the newly found space to insert a wireless, optical mouse the size of the Atek inside the body of the laptop. A button on top (providing a perceivable affordance for newer users) gently pops the mouse most of the way out the side of the case, where a thumb and forefinger can pull it out.

I call it a Joey — the name for a baby kangaroo — for its marsupial behavior.

Your email has been sent.

…and then what? What do you give them after they click Send? None of the usual approaches satisfy me. I want to give that person who just took the time to send us email a big smooch, or some sort of instant gratification, a coupon for free ice cream, a free report, something of beauty or humor.

Brett Lider and Craig Scull write in:

The confirmation page after a feedback form submit should list some recent changes made to the website in response to user feedback or usability. This helps them feel like the message doesn’t get flushed into the corporate vortex and makes the company look responsive to customers. It will take some periodic updating of the confirmation page to follow-through on this idea. And if you allow for users to sign-up to be part of a user research pool, include that link here.

Extra-Company Resource Management

Walking down 87th St this morning I passed some construction workers hanging out on the sidewalk, as if they’re waiting for someone to pick them up for a job. This makes me think about new media workers…is there a reason we haven’t moved to a project-based model of employment like the movie industry uses, employing those who are just right for a particular product (does it suck?)? Would it be helpful to put a more flexible employment system in place?

Imagine combining P2P or local RDF with resource management apps. Workers indicate their availability simply with a tag on their site or on a central site and then this info is aggregated and syndicated to anyone who wants to see it. Perhaps companies combine it with their internal systems to think more flexibly about how to staff a project.

Lazy web, I summon thee!

A Blog Reader

A user experience idea, part of the LazyWeb

BlogReader is a useful, everyday tool for many people. While other content tracking, reading, or ranking applications came and went, BlogReader has consistently provided the content readers wanted in an easy and flexible way, and in doing so has become an ingrained part of many people’s everyday lives.

BlogReader is essentially the Google of news readers: fast, smart, hip, leading edge, Net-savvy, in touch with the grass roots, and profitable.

Designing to user personas is a time-tested user-centered design process. Personas should be based on research that verifies our assumptions, but for now here’s a best guess of BlogReader users.

There are two main personas: The Occasional News Consumer and the Extreme Blog Aficionado:

    The News Consumer

  • Spends 15-30 min/day reading news

  • Wants to supplement traditional news sources

  • Willing to perform initial setup, then just wants to use the site

  • Will spend about 5 min/day on BlogReader

    The Blog Aficionado

  • Spends 2 hours/day or more reading online

  • Mostly ignores traditional media

  • Passionate about certain authors and topics

  • Wants to control his experience of BlogReader

Nancy the News Consumer
Nancy is an analyst with J.P. Morgan. She focuses on the manufacturing sector and needs to provide insightful information to her clients. She juggles numbers all day and wants to spend her time finding answers to her problems, not searching for information.

Nancy knows the big media companies suffer from groupthink – always regurgitating the same ideas. She’s hoping there’s blogs written by industry insiders who she can look to for honest, unique ideas.

She has previously set up BlogReader and visits the site in the morning during the first sips of coffee to see what’s new.

    Features Nancy likes:

  • Simple, easy user interface

  • Displays the summary of new postings

  • Automatically finds other blogs on her favorite topic

Nancy Uses BlogReader

Barry the Blog Reader
Barry is a programmer at Accelerate, a small IT consultancy in Seattle. After work he enjoys developing Linux modules and conversing with other developers about open source issues. His blog community includes specific individuals whose point of view he respects, and looks to them for links to other people with innovative and trustworthy opinions.

Barry starts, like Nancy, by going to BlogReader and reading his favorite sites. Unlike Nancy, links help him find new sites that he actively adds to his list, specifying how he wants BlogReader to analyze them. Because sites can differ so widely in editorial approach, he likes to create categories to keep them organized.

    Features Barry likes:

  • Detailed, customizable user interface

  • Can track new posts by author, topic, or even a specific issue

  • Like Blogdex, BlogReader will show him the popular links

  • BlogReader knows what other sites are in the same “community” as his favorites, which is easier than manually trying to follow blogrolls

  • The search interface lets him filter not only by keyword but also by his favorite sites

  • The ability to see how his favorite authors have set up their BlogReader sites

Barry Uses BlogReader

a snapshot of the competition