March 13, 2005

Book-shaped network storage

I think this is great: a book-shaped network storage device. What's great about it is not that it's book-shaped, but that it's designed to act like a book. That shows an understanding of how to incorporate technology appliances into people's environments and a valuable way of humanizing this technology through analogy. Plus, the engineers probably conceded optimal functionality (neighboring books will probably block some of the radio waves, and heat dissipation is certainly worse than in a standalone device) in favor of a better user experience, which is a tradeoff that should happen more often.

Here's a picture of an earlier one from the same company that has a more book-like design, but doesn't sit upright like a book:

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March 10, 2005

Home furniture mutating

Found this article in an old IDSA newsletter. It talks about how furniture is changing to accommodate new usage patterns. Some excerpts:

Many of the furniture designs introduced here last week at the International Home Furnishings Market and that will be in stores in the fall are likewise intended for a harried, hassled nation -- in this case, people who eat on the run, hypertask, work all the time, relocate often, and are too busy to pick out furniture or to give much thought to their design style.


One solution touted at High Point was the "lift top rectangular cocktail table" by Lane Home Furnishings. It looks like a regular table, but the top pulls up and toward you "so it's just about table height,"


Ottomans are getting higher -- some are at least 4 inches higher than they used to be -- the better to balance your laptop on your lap while you're sitting on the sofa. Likewise, reclining chairs are being reinvented for people who can't spare the time to simply recline.


"Now, you see your back and your foot rest operate separately," he said, making it possible to sit up straight while your legs are up and your computer's on your lap.


Since we're on our cell phones all the time anyway, why not literally be on our cell phone? This seems to be the message of the new Cell Phone Stash Chair by Lumisource, a plush chair stylized with a keypad. Fittingly, it multitasks by opening up for storage in the seat.


Where at one time consumers purchased furniture with the expectation that they would spend years, even decades, at the same address, today's manufacturers are designing for a population on the move.


As a result, a new sub-genre of home furnishings seems to have emerged, meant to suggest a kind of faux togetherness. Stanley Furniture's "Provincia Trilogy Partners Desk" would fit into this category: It's a desk for three people with two laptop stations.

On the one hand, it sounds like there's a somewhat cynical sneer to some of the pieces (or maybe just to the writer's coverage of them), but--critical design aside (what does it communicate to the user that their relaxation and work spaces have been explicitly merged?)--it's interesting to see furniture manufacturers shift their focus to design based on an understanding of the changing role of furniture. It's still pretty haphazard--the bemused tone of the article clearly shows that this is all new and wacky--but it's nice to see the industry more explicitly approaching design based on an analysis of user needs.

Posted by mikek at 06:42 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 09, 2005

Open Source Precursor

Looking through my Dad's bookshelf, I started flipping through a book called Henry's Attic. It's a fun book describing stuff that's been donated to Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum, in Dearborn. The museum is a tremendous collection of the history and culture of technology. You should go there if you're anywhere near Detroit.

One of the entries caught my eye. It was for the 1957 Liberty Mutual Insurance Company's "Survival Car I":

Among the innovations that the project spawned were the concept of "packaging" passengers for safety, simulating accidents to analyze how injuries occurred, and using dummies in auto-crash testing.


The tanklike vehicle--basically a 1961 [sic] Chevrolet Bel Aire--incorporates some sixty-five safety features for preventing accidents or reducing injuries when accidents occur.

That's not surprising, but here's the kicker that relates this as a parallel to today's open source/closed source debates:

Although auto manufacturers thought the safety features on the survival cars would not sell, more than fifty of them are standard equipment on today's automobiles. Liberty Mutual [...] sought no patents on the research or designs developed for the survival cars. [emphasis mine--mk]

Further, the DOT's site has an interesting quote about these cars from one Ralph Nader:

"That an insurance company," Nader said, "had to produce the first prototype safety car itself constituted a stinging rebuke to the automobile makers." The auto industry was hostile to Survival Cars; Nader reported that the experimental Mustang (1963) included eight of the safety features, but all were dropped by the time the car went into production.

For me the primary lesson is that eventually investment in good user experiences pay off, and resisting things that make products easier, safer and with better functionality, then sharing the most valuable insights with everyone, will pay off for everyone. Liberty Mutual invested $250K, in 1960 dollars, into their program. I'm sure that their innovations have saved many times in excess of that for insurance industries (who don't have to pay out claims) and consumers. I bet even car companies made money off of making safer cars.

Another lesson is that it probably took car companies a couple of tries, an impetus from consumers and regulators, to figure out how to incorporate these features into their cars. So iterative development, patience and perseverance are also necessary to understand exactly how to incorporate these ideas. For example, I don't see many modern cars with six windshield wipers or accordion doors (some pictures of the thing).

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March 03, 2005

John Udell's Google Maps Annotation

About a year and a half ago, I did a sketch of an idea I had about how a dynamically created travelogue could look like. It was nothing earth-shattering, but it was an interesting exercise.

John Udell has now taken this to the next level, using Google Maps and various video/photo clips to illustrate a walk he takes around his neighborhood (Flash). It's really nice and it shows what may be possible if this kind of personal data can get mushed together automatically. This said, I still don't get why there aren't more consumer-grade GPS-savvy cameras. Even if the battery life is bad, it still seems like there would be a significant-enough market for 'em.

Posted by mikek at 04:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Intimate computing, indeed

This ad from the 1918 Sears catalog is often cited by ubicomp people (including me, in my upcoming talk to the IA Summit) as an example of how electric motors stopped being special things and disappeared into our tools, with the point being that computation is likely to do the same. They refer to the sewing machine attachment when it's discussed. But one thing that I don't see many citations for is for the other interesting attachment in this ad. The one that's second from the bottom, the one right above the grinder. Yes, that's the one, the one for the vibrator. Sears was right, it really is an ad for "Aids that every woman appreciates."

(click through for the big ad--and, yes, I know there was probably some other justification for vibrators, but, really, I'm sure everyone knew what was up)

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