This LG fridge opens for you automatically – all life’s problems solved

Great news from LG. They’ve finally solved one of life’s biggest problems:

LG’s new fridge has two big features. The first is the door itself, which now has what LG calls its Knock-On feature, which allows you to simply knock on the door to reveal what’s inside. Put more simply: knock on the door and the interior lights up to reveal whatever foodstuffs you might have forgotten about. Neat. The second, and probably most important, is the Auto Door feature, which allows the fridge to detect when your foot is nearby to gently open the door. Thankfully, the fridge is smart enough to tell it’s you, and not your wandering pet or baby. Which is good, since no one wants their smart fridge to harm their baby.

Here’s the thing though – if I go to the fridge to knock on the door and reveal what’s inside, won’t the door already have detected I’m nearby and open? Am I the first to point out this obvious design flaw?

Meanwhile, The Guardian tells us:

The World Health Organisation has issued a stark new warning about deadly levels of pollution in many of the world’s biggest cities, claiming poor air quality is killing millions and threatening to overwhelm health services across the globe.

But at least we’ve got automatically opening fridges.

Forbes forces readers to turn off ad blockers, promptly serves malware

Forbes

Shocking (no, not really) news on the adblocking front

For the past few weeks, Forbes.com has been forcing visitors to disable ad blockers if they want to read its content. Visitors to the site with Adblock or uBlock enabled are told they must disable it if they wish to see any Forbes content. […] What sets Forbes apart, in this case, is that it didn’t just force visitors to disable ad blocking — it actively served them malware as soon as they did.

Add this to the list of why the scourge of online advertising is not adblockers, but the crappy ads and practices that encourage people to use them.

(original hat tip to Daring Fireball)

It must suck to be a designer at Lenovo

Apple laptops compared with Lenovo's

Spotted on Twitter. You’d think Lenovo would have followed what happened to Samsung when they pulled this cheap stunt.

And it is cheap. You might be an Apple hater but I dare you to defend this as in anyway a positive contribution to design, the user experience, or in any way innovative.

Remember when your parents bought you a ‘Walkman’ and it turned out to be a cheap knockoff that made everyone laugh at you?

That’ll be the people who get given this, that will.

I’m assuming Lenovo employ designers, rather than photocopier operators. In which case, this must be a pretty soul destroying way to make a living. ‘Want to be creative? Forget it. Copy this.’ 

Why car makers still produce life size clay models

A clay model in progress 

A fascinating look behind the scenes of automotive design by Michael Wayland (Associated Press), and the return of making models out of clay after a flirtation with technology.

Twenty-five years ago, as milling and computer-aided design programs transformed the design process, it seemed clay modelers would be all but extinct. Bean counters saw the new technologies as a way to shorten the design process and cut costs. Modeling But carmakers found they were turning out lackluster vehicles due to a lack of hands-on interaction and being unable to effectively evaluate styling.

Read the full story here

Every web designer – and publisher – should read this

fatcat01

Every web designer and site owner needs to read this article by John Allsop on the epidemic of website bloat. To sum up:

There is only one honest measure of web performance: the time from when you click a link to when you’ve finished skipping the last ad.

Everything else is bullshit.

[…]

Web designers! It’s not all your fault.

You work your heart out to create a nice site, optimized for performance. You spend the design process trying to anticipate the user’s needs and line their path with rose petals.

Then, after all this work is done, your client makes you shit all over your hard work by adding tracking scripts and ads that you have no control over, whose origin and content will be decided at the moment the page loads in the user’s browser, and whose entire purpose is to break your design and distract the user from whatever they came to the site to do.

The user’s experience of your site is dominated by hostile elements out of your control.

It’s a rather revealing article (actually the transcript of a talk, the video of which is here).

When I started out in web design, before it had even got past the ‘it’s just a fad’ phase, a big part of the job was squeezing images until they sat on the border between small enough that a typical modem would download them in less than five seconds, but not so compressed that they looked awful. Nowadays, I admit, I don’t bother with that just assuming that everyone’s on broadband or a decent mobile plan.

But all that is moot anyway given that the biggest culprit in page bloat is advertising and tracking. The reason for this is simple, but shocking.

Accepted practice today is for ad space to be auctioned at page load time. The actual ads (along with all their javascript surveillance infrastructure) are pulled in by the browser after the content elements are in place.

In terms of user experience, this is like a salesman arriving at a party after it has already started, demanding that the music be turned off, and setting up their little Tupperware table stand to harass your guests. It ruins the vibe.

So to reiterate. Page designers, writers and even site owners don’t know what their site will look like because ads are sold and positioned when the page is viewed. In print journalism, ad space is sold in a way that means the publisher knows what the finished publication will look like. From the advertisers’ point of view that makes a lot of sense. You don’t want your ad for a car to go next to a feature article on the wonders of cycling (and neither does the writer).

Imagine what server-side ad layout would mean for designers. You would actually know what your pages are going to look like. You could load assets in a sane order. You could avoid serving random malware.

Giant animations would no longer helicopter in at page load time, destroying your layout and making your users hate you.

This isn’t just ‘dodgy’ sites either.

Here’s a grab from The Guardian just now after I disabled my ad blocker.

Guardian page

Notice two things. Firstly, a window popped up asking me to update Flash. Why? Because The Guardian serves ads using Flash, despite having run several articles about the security risks posed by Flash.

Secondly, the ad on the right is for clothes retailer Namshi. I’ve never heard of them, they appear to be an Arabian company that doesn’t trade in the UK, and I’m a bloke so how well-spent was that ad budget?

Is it any wonder I block the ads? They’re annoying and completely irrelevant to me. Now I link to a lot of Guardian articles here, so am I being a bit of a hypocrite? No – I pay an annual fee for The Guardian iOS app and I read via that rather than the web. But in The Guardian’s case I pay as much not to see ads as much as I pay for the journalism – and the fact there’s something wrong with that is down to the business model, not me.

The only question for publishers is whether to get ahead of this and reap the benefits, or circle down the drain with everybody else.

I’ve said this in other posts – the great debate last year about ad blockers seemed to think that readers were being devious in blocking ads when in fact the issue really was the shit that made people want to.

I mean things like this:

Bad web ad

I’ve seen ads like that on prestigious websites. It’s not just the clickbait places.

Advertising in magazines and newspapers, on the radio and TV and in cinemas doesn’t track the reader, listener or viewer. There’s no reason it needs to on the web. And with a few exceptions ads in old media tend to be well-executed and well thought out. I can’t remember the last time anyone got excited about the latest web ad in the same way they do for, say, the annual John Lewis Christmas ad.

Content providers should sell advertising space directly, or use an old-fashioned agency to do it for them. And they should take responsibility for what’s in the ads. The number of links I’ve clicked on recently where the screen has been filled with an ad with no design, no context, just a link to something I’m really not interested in… more often than not I close the page. Whatever was there is not so interesting I’m prepared to be visually assaulted and robbed at the same time.

Running ads like this, abdicating editorial responsibility to an algorithm, devalues your brand. If you think what you’re producing is good enough that you should be paid for it, then either find a business model that allows you to charge your visitors, or use your impressions and demographics to sell ads to relevant people (Jon Gruber makes a living doing just that).

Don’t sell your users, or more importantly, their location, their sexual preferences, and their recent search history (which might just be an indicator of their sexual preferences anyway). And let’s get back to the days when web pages were crafted to load as quickly as possible without starting up your laptop’s fan just to autoplay an ad for a shoe shop in Dubai.

Instant film and a record player were top sellers on Amazon for the holidays

Apparently, the biggest sellers on Amazon’s US site this Christmas were a turntable and film for an instant camera.

Why? The Verge’s Jacob Kastrenakes has a theory:

Is it weird that cheap analog products beat out modern alternatives? Kind of. But as someone who ordered a physical book and a pack of film just yesterday, none of this seems too hard to explain away. Jensen’s turntable is a low-cost way to get someone started with vinyl, which is growing in popularity right now very much because of its analog and anachronistic qualities; plus, with built-in speakers, there’s no need for a full stereo setup alongside it, either. And while I’m surprised to hear that Fuji’s Instax Mini line has such a following, it’s worth remembering that these products have a lot less competition than any individual digital camera or home speaker — since there are fewer products to pick between, the ones that do exist are going to capture more sales.

If you want to get into something, it’s always helpful if the cost of entry is low, so the risk is low. Tom Kelley, in The Art Of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, talks about another aspect which is ease of entry. He noticed that fishing was overly complicated for kids to get in to but, more importantly, their parents hadn’t fished as kids and so didn’t know how to teach their own children. So he designed a one-piece fishing rod that meant kids could quickly try it out and, if they liked it, get more involved in it.

Vinyl seems easy enough – buy a record, put it on the record player. But like those non-fishing parents, if you’ve not got a record player in the house, you need to buy one and then you’re into a different territory. As the Not The Nine O’Clock News sketch above makes painfully clear. Same with photography. No one wants to look like an idiot, so make it easy. The fact we all have cameras on us now hasn’t dampened the interest in photography, but increased it. So if camera shops want to capitalise on that, make it less baffling to take the next step.

Ford files patent for rear tire that converts into an electric unicycle

 Ford files patent for rear tire that converts into an electric unicycle The Verge

Ford has patented an invention that allows you to turn the back wheel in to a motor bike.

The patent imagines a situation where you’d pull over (or park), lift the vehicle with the help of its automatic jack, remove the tire, and get everything else you need — seat, handlebars, motor, etc. — from the trunk.

Alternatively, you could just take a fold-up electric bike with you. That way, if someone nicks your bike, you’ve still got a functioning car…

I mean, seriously.

Hashtag backlash: marketing campaigns that turned into social media disasters

 Hashtage #fail

In the lead-up to Anzac Day, Woolworths launched the commemoration website “Fresh in Our Memories”, a play on the supermarket’s “fresh food people” slogan. People were encouraged to upload war-related photos and tributes to the site, which would automatically add the Woolworths logo and the Fresh in Our Memories catchphrase to them. Using the hashtag #FreshInOurMemories, Twitter users were quick to call out the supermarket for being disrespectful and insensitive. The then minister for veterans affairs, Michael Ronaldson, was among those who complained, and the site was taken down.

Read the full story here – there are more stories like this, all from Australia in this case.

There are some real idiots out there. Private Eye runs a regular column called ‘Desperate Marketing’ that highlights this sort of thing – famous person dies, or terrorist incident occurs, and out come the press releases selling everything from double glazing or, in the case of the Paris attacks, wine. It’s not a recent phenomenon, but social media makes it easier to do, and these things should always be slept on.

My favourite is still #Susanalbumparty.

The British electrical plug. A design classic you either ignore, or ridicule depending on where you’re from.

Apple British plug design
The new plug packaged with the Apple Watch in the UK.

Foreign visitors have been known to query the design of the British electrical plug which, compared with that of most countries, seems quite large and – if you accidentally step on one – rather painful.

Well once it’s plugged in it’s not that large at all, and far less easy to accidentally kick out of the socket. You don’t get the sparking and whiff of ozone you do in other countries because the electricity doesn’t start flowing until all contacts are safely behind plastic. And newer designs are a lot slimmer than they used to be. Apple’s patented design (pictured above) has prongs that fold away like synchronised swimmers, a solution so elegant you wonder why no one came up with it before. I hope they make it free to others to use…

But aesthetics aside, there are other reasons why the British plug is so good: it is very, very safe. Tom Scott explains why:

The Design curriculum in English schools includes… cooking

Children cooking at school
This is what design is, according to the English National Curriculum

 

Worrying news about the state of teacher recruitment in the UK.

The number of new teachers for design and technology is also more than a third below what it needs to be and there is a 10% shortfall in the number of IT teachers required.

This is a pattern across most subjects (though there are too many art teachers, apparently).

Design courses at university still recruit students who’ve done art at school, rather than other subjects – even though those subjects may be more appropriate (psychology, sociology). That’s a relic of a past age, long overdue being taken outside and shot. But given that there’s a perfectly good design curriculum in schools, why are so many children doing art instead? Is design seen as engineering?

Here’s the Key Stage 3 Design Curriculum for England:

Through a variety of creative and practical activities, pupils should be taught the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to engage in an iterative process of designing and making. They should work in a range of domestic and local contexts [for example, the home, health, leisure and culture], and industrial contexts [for example, engineering, manufacturing, construction, food, energy, agriculture (including horticulture) and fashion].

When designing and making, pupils should be taught to:

Design

  • use research and exploration, such as the study of different cultures, to identify and understand user needs
  • identify and solve their own design problems and understand how to reformulate problems given to them
  • develop specifications to inform the design of innovative, functional, appealing products that respond to needs in a variety of situations
  • use a variety of approaches [for example, biomimicry and user-centred design], to generate creative ideas and avoid stereotypical responses
  • develop and communicate design ideas using annotated sketches, detailed plans, 3-D and mathematical modelling, oral and digital presentations and computer-based tools

Make

  • select from and use specialist tools, techniques, processes, equipment and machinery precisely, including computer-aided manufacture
  • select from and use a wider, more complex range of materials, components and ingredients, taking into account their propertie

Evaluate

  • analyse the work of past and present professionals and others to develop and broaden their understanding
  • investigate new and emerging technologies
  • test, evaluate and refine their ideas and products against a specification, taking into account the views of intended users and other interested groups
  • understand developments in design and technology, its impact on individuals, society and the environment, and the responsibilities of designers, engineers and technologists

Technical knowledge

  • understand and use the properties of materials and the performance of structural elements to achieve functioning solutions
  • understand how more advanced mechanical systems used in their products enable changes in movement and force
  • understand how more advanced electrical and electronic systems can be powered and used in their products [for example, circuits with heat, light, sound and movement as inputs and outputs]
  • apply computing and use electronics to embed intelligence in products that respond to inputs [for example, sensors], and control outputs [for example, actuators], using programmable components [for example, microcontrollers].

For me there’s too much emphasis on CAD and engineering rather than research and ideation. I feel the influence of James Dyson here but that stuff could be left until later in students’ education, particularly as universities have far better facilities than schools. We get too many students who think design is about working on a computer and not enough who think it has anything to do with talking to actual people.

Bizarrely, however, the Design Curriculum also includes a section on… cooking. I kid you not:

pupils should be taught how to cook and apply the principles of nutrition and healthy eating. Instilling a love of cooking in pupils will also open a door to one of the great expressions of human creativity. Learning how to cook is a crucial life skill that enables pupils to feed themselves and others affordably and well, now and in later life.

If you look at the comments Dyson made during the consultation phase it sounds like there was even more cooking – and gardening – in there. The gardening’s gone (although I daren’t look at Key Stages 1 and 2), but the cooking remains. I’m all for cooking. I agree it’s a crucial skill and an expression of human creativity. But it belongs in a design curriculum as much as physics belongs in Religious Education.

Anyway. Back to the problem with recruiting teachers.

Until teachers are valued (financially – words are cheap) you’ll never recruit as many as you need. And that’s true no matter which educational sector you look at. Why is a city financier paid more than the people who taught her? There’s a school (no pun intended) of thought that says that teaching is a calling, a sacrifice, and that you shouldn’t do it for the money. Okay. I can buy in to the idea that someone shouldn’t seek to teach simply for the money. But turning that around into a justification for crap wages is the sort of bullshit that can only come from someone who managed to get through school and university without anything approaching common sense.

Incidentally, the Government rejects the headline, saying we’re recruiting far more teachers than ever before. But that’s not the same as saying ‘we’ve got enough teachers’. It’s not keeping pace. Numeracy isn’t just the ability to add numbers up; it’s the ability to understand what they mean.