Over a year ago, I compared the methods for inserting accents and other special characters in Windows and Mac OS X. Lion dropped yesterday, and among the many new features is an even better method of inserting such characters. When typing a letter that you intend to be a special character, hold the key down for an extra second, and a little popup will display the options.
Each option is numbered, so you can press the corresponding number key on the keyboard to insert it, or if you prefer, click it with your cursor. This is much easier to learn than the key combinations (which still work, by the way), making even the most obscure characters easy to insert.
My favorite IDEA 2011 winner has to be Puma’s Clever Little Bag, which won a gold award in the Packaging category. Once again, I recommend pointing your browser at Fuseproject’s own website to learn about it. Like so many great, contemporary designs, this is the result of taking an object that hasn’t changed in decades—the shoebox—and finding a better solution.
The challenge was to look at one of the most difficult and stagnant issues facing the retail industry in regards to sustainability and environmental harm: packaging, and more specifically shoeboxes. Boxes contribute to millions of tons of waste a year and even with proposed second uses, they are eventually thrown out.
The cleverness of the solution is told by the numbers:
65% less cardboard used
8,500 tons of paper saved
20 million megajoules of electricity saved
1 million liters of water saved
10,000 tons of CO2 saved
500,000 tons of diesel saved
275 tons of plastic avoided
This is design at its best, creating work that serves the client, their customers, and the environment.
I was interested to see how Service Design is being treated in IDSA’s IDEA awards. Now in it’s second year, the Service Design category of IDEA 2011 holds two gold winners, no silver or bronze, and two finalists. In 2010, there was one gold, one silver, and two finalists. As usual, the brief descriptions of the winners aren’t enough information for me to make my own evaluations. This year’s entries seem a little more appropriate than last year’s, but it is difficult to tell how innovative they really are. I want to know how the designers went about solving the problem. I want to know what the various components of each solution were and how they worked together. I want to see some evidence of the service’s success.
For example, the gold winner, “Bedsider for the National Campaign for Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy”, has a three-sentence description. The first sentence gives us the problem space: “unplanned pregnancy in women between the ages of 18 and 29.” The second sentence gives us a brief description of the solution: “…a birth-control support network that focuses on five key areas—awareness, motivational drivers, digital offerings, services and loyalty…” The last sentence gives us the opinion of, I assume, one of the designers. From the thumbnail image, we can guess that there is a website involved. They credit the design team from IDEO and provide a point of contact with an email address. That’s all.
To learn more, I had to turn to Google, which turned up IDEO’s own case study. I recommend that you check it out. As I expect of IDEO, the service appears to be compelling and well-executed—worthy of the gold IDEA. They also, of course, provide a link to the Bedsider website. If IDSA doesn’t want to go to the trouble of providing more than a few sentences in the description, couldn’t they at least provide links to relevant information?
IDSA announced the winners of IDEA 2011 at the end of June. I’m finally getting around to perusing the gallery. There are a lot of great designs, of course, but one in particular immediately caught my eye due to it’s similarity in concept to one of my student’s projects.
Pure is a water bottle designed for adventure tourists and world travelers that filters and sterilizes water from any source within two minutes. Pure contains two chambers. Dirty water is scooped up from a lake, stream or dirty puddle by the outer chamber. The inner chamber is then plunged through it, filtering water particles as small as four microns. Once filtered, the water is sterilized by a wind-up ultraviolet bulb.
Having used finicky water pumps on backpacking trips, I love this design. My student had a similar idea, but unfortunately didn’t take the time to research the science and technology behind water filtration. The end result was a concept and form study with nothing real to back it up. Timothy Whitehead of Loughborough University, on the other hand, has a working prototype that is proven to filter out 99.9% of impurities. It was also the recipient of a 2010 James Dyson Award. A more detailed write-up can be found on Inhabitat.
It’s a little disturbing when I’m reminded just how dependent I am on technology and how little I actually know about it. A couple nights ago, we had a short, but heavy, storm with strong winds. A tree fell over and took down some power lines, leaving our house without power for several hours. Apparently, the electricity went off and on several times before staying off. I know that isn’t particularly good for electronics, but this is the first time I’ve seen evidence of the fact.
The power was back on when I got home from a meeting at the church, but I noticed that it was rather warm, and the air conditioner wasn’t running. I checked the thermostat to find every indicator on the LCD display lit. The unit was unresponsive. I checked the manual and the website. I disconnected the unit from the wall and plugged it back in. I was beginning to believe it was fried and decided to send email to Honeywell’s customer support, as their phone support was closed. Long story short, after the thermostat sat on my desk for awhile, I plugged it back in, and it worked fine.
Then, when I went up to my bedroom, I noticed my digital alarm clock wasn’t displaying the time properly. I pressed the button that should switch modes to allow me to set it, but all it did was beep at me. None of the buttons worked. I tried removing the backup batteries, thinking they might be dead. I finally unplugged it from the wall, waited a minute, and then plugged it back it. It came back on and worked fine.
Then, a couple days later, I tried to print a document to my wireless color laser printer. After awhile, I realized that nothing had printed. In fact, the printer hadn’t awakened from sleep. My Mac reported that it couldn’t connect to the printer. I tried turning the printer off and back on to no avail. Finally, I figured out that I had to re-setup the wireless connection—something I haven’t had to do since I first took it out of the box.
These all turned out to be minor problems that were solvable in a matter of minutes, but it makes me think about all of the various devices and systems I rely on that, once you get past the user interface and intended behaviors, I have very little knowledge of. When the robot revolution comes, I’m going to be in trouble.
The Cooper-Hewitt recently announced the winners of the 2011 National Design Awards. I was pleased to see that Ben Fry is the winner in the Interaction Design category. Ben has created some fantastic information visualizations and authored the O’Reilly book, Visualizing Data. He has a Ph.D. from the Aesthetics + Computation Group at the MIT Media Lab and was the Nierenberg Chair in CMU’s School of Design during the 2006-2007 school year. He is also one of the creators of Processing and has published books on using the language. He is an outstanding representative of our field, deserving the recognition.
Also of particular note are Steven Heller, author and editor of over 130 books and winner of this year’s Design Mind category; Rick Valicenti, winner in Communication Design; and the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement award, Matthew Carter, designer of many popular typefaces, including some of the most used, such as Verdana and Georgia.
I have thousands of photographs. I have hour upon hour of family videos. I have many year’s worth of design work, writing, email, financial records—the list goes on. It’s priceless, completely irreplaceable, and it’s all on hard drives sitting right here beside me. Yes, you better believe I have a backup strategy.
I’m a faithful listener of TWIT and MacBreak Weekly. They’ve mentioned several times the “3, 2, 1 backup plan”: three copies, two types of media, one copy offsite. I got Apple’s Time Capsule not long after it was released. It’s ability to back up all of the machines in my house over the network was very attractive, and Time Machine is brilliant. It contains a 1 TB drive, which is enough to back up my Mac Pro and my daughters’ iMac, including the 300 GB external drive that contains my iTunes library. Then I got a Drobo specifically for storing my video. It’s a RAID array, so the data is protected against drive failure. It’s currently housing about a Terabyte of data. So, everything is somewhat protected, but what happens in case of a house fire, theft, or some catastrophic failure? It’s all within six feet of each other.
One of the TWIT network’s regular advertisers is Carbonite, an online backup service that is affordable and convenient. However, one of their limitations is that they will only back up the internal drive. I was hoping for a solution that would cover my video. I researched a number of options, but only found one that would give me unlimited space, including external drives, at a price I was willing to pay.
Backblaze is charging me only $3.96 per month for unlimited storage. They have a free trial, which I used to confirm that it would work. Setup is simple; retrieval works as advertised. All of my data, including the video, was backed up, in the background, in about two weeks. For a fee, you can request to have your entire archive sent to you on DVD or a thumb drive, but you can retrieve any file online at any time. It’s a no-brainer. Everyone should be doing this.
I received email from Intuit a few days ago warning me of the impending arrival of Mac OS X 10.7, it’s discontinuation of Rosetta, and the resulting incompatibility of Quicken 2007. One might think this wouldn’t be an issue; after all, who would be using software that old? Surely there’s an upgrade. Well, that’s the thing. There isn’t an upgrade. Intuit released Quicken Essentials for Mac—a ground-up redesign of the product that is significantly lacking in features. A lot of people are still dependent on Quicken 2007. Intuit gave us three options:
Try Quicken Essentials for Mac - In their own words, “This option is ideal if you do not track investment transactions and history, use online bill pay or rely on specific reports that might not be present in Quicken Essentials for Mac.” In other words, if you don’t mind down-grading, try this.
Try Mint.com - I already use it, and it’s useful as a current snapshot of my financial activity. It’s not appropriate for actually managing my accounts.
Move to Quicken Windows - The hell you say?!
Of course, there is another option: switch to a different company’s product. I’m giving iBank a try. It has a lot of reviews from folks that have already successfully switched from Quicken, and it appears to do everything I use Quicken for accept bill pay, which I’ll have to do through my bank’s website. iBank has a free trial, so I’m able to make sure it works before ditching Quicken. It imported all of my accounts with full histories and categories without a hitch, and I’ve already downloaded transactions from one of my credit cards. So far, so good.
Intuit could have taken advantage of this opportunity to get users to upgrade. For some reason, however, they’ve decided that they don’t want to provide a full-featured product for the Mac market, or at least not in time for Lion. As a result, I expect many users, like me, will take the opportunity to find something else. I’ll probably uninstall Quicken by the end of the week.
My family attended the Beauty and the Beast live show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The actors on stage wore elaborate costumes while performing choreographed dance numbers on a set inspired by the film, just as one would expect. But I barely noticed what happened on stage. You see, we were sitting on the far right side of the theater close to the stage, and there was apparently a group of deaf people seated a few rows in front of us. There were two Disney staff members—a man and a woman—standing on the floor signing the entire show. They weren’t costumed, nor did they look like the beautiful people on stage. They were average folks in street clothes, but I was enraptured by their performance. They weren’t just signing the show; they were acting out the parts of each character, switching off between the characters as each spoke their lines, using facial expressions and charade-like impersonations of the characters, as well as artful signing, to communicate the story. It was a mesmerizing performance much more powerful than anything happening above them on stage. They stole the show.
It doesn’t take fancy costumes or the body of a model to effectively tell a story. In fact, sometimes that stuff just gets in the way.
It brought tears to my eyes to see a man sitting somewhere behind me come down immediately after the show, gesticulating wildly at the two signers. While I can’t read sign language, it was easy enough to understand that he was thanking them profusely and asked permission to hug them. They weren’t there for my benefit, but I felt the same way.
If you’ll allow me to channel my inner Seinfeld, what’s the deal with internet charges at expensive hotels? My family stayed in one of Disney’s resorts during most of our vacation. I had gone fully expecting to have an internet connection in our room, but no, they wanted to charge me 10 bucks a night. I would have paid more for one week than I do for an entire month of service at my house, and I’d bet that much again that the bandwidth would have been paltry. Thanks to my iPhone and a 3G connection, I didn’t miss it too much. After eight nights at Disney, we switched over to a DoubleTree just outside of Universal Studios. I got to our room and eagerly attempted to get on their WiFi network. No dice. They also wanted $10 for 24 hours.
And yet, any less expensive hotel provides free internet. In fact, we stayed in a Hilton Garden Inn (Hilton owns DoubleTree) during the trip home and had free internet there. I would rather stay in a less-finely appointed hotel and have free internet. Yes, Mr. Hotel Manager, it’s that important. You probably look at it and say, “Well, for the price he’s paying for the room, what’s another ten bucks?” But I look at it and say, “For what I’m paying for that room, you better be including internet access!”
It’s obvious Google has suddenly taken a keen interest in design. I’d be interested to know why. Not only is it apparent in the new Google+ and their announcement that they are rolling out a new visual design across their products, but I happen to know that they are making a huge push to hire interaction designers. I’ve seen job descriptions, and I was contacted by a Google recruiter who found me through DesignAday. I’m curious as to whether there has been a significant cultural shift within the organization. Google has not been known as a design-oriented company, and we all know the story of Douglas Bowman.
I like the concept behind Circles. This is an idea that I’ve heard discussed in relation to Facebook on more than one occasion. We all have different groups of family, friends, and acquaintances that we relate to differently. I’m going to have very different conversations with my coworkers than I will have with members of my church or with my in-laws. It makes sense then to facilitate communications differently between these groups on line. The user interface for Circles is cool, but as I don’t have an invitation, I haven’t been able to really try it out. I’m curious as to how it will scale.
I really can’t see Hangouts being used heavily. How often am I sitting at my computer and willing to have a random video chat with any of my friends that happen to drop in? Sparks is just a saved search feature—handy, but not groundbreaking. Huddle is another chat app. Individually, there’s nothing groundbreaking here, but the proof is in the pudding. How well will they all work together? It looks good at first blush, but I’ll have to reserve judgment until I can actually use it. All I know right now is that it’s a little annoying to get notifications about people I know who are using it without the ability to do anything with them.
So, on the one hand, I’m feeling optimistic about Google’s seemingly new embracing of design, but on the other, I’m not all that excited about Google+. I was, however, impressed with the design of their “tour”.