Grobag® Egg™ Room Thermometer

“The colour of the ‘egg’ changes to let you if the room temperature is too low, too high or just right, helping you maintain a safe sleeping environment for your baby. No need to put the light on to read a traditional thermometer!”
An interesting and rather useful ambient interface implementation. What are ambient interfaces? Tom Gross at Fraunhofer gives a good definition based on the work of Gross, Weiser and Brown:
“Ambient interfaces use the whole environment of the user for the interaction between the user and the system. They present digital information through subtle changes in the user’s physical environment such as variations of light, sounds, or movements. They capture natural interactions of the user with physical devices such as switches, buttons, or wheels and translate them into digital commands (Gross, 2002; Wisneski et al., 1998). Ambient interfaces go beyond the classical graphical user interface and do not consume real estate on the computer screen; they make user interaction with the system easier and more intuitive. Their properties of a calm technology (Weiser & Brown, 1996) are particular useful for situations, in which users want and need permanent background information without being disrupted in their foreground tasks.”
Despite just being a working proof of concept, the ambient interface we created called “Girls Ambient Room” has proven to be pretty popular despite little or know marketing on our part. I wonder how we will deal with all these new bits of information entering our environment. Instead of dealing with understanding the complexity of a screen based GUI will be now have to start learning how to read our environment? Hopefully we won’t have to learn to deal with more information but better information. Thinkingliving – egg thermometer.
Via Popgadget.

Delicious Days

I’ve been spending far more time cooking these past months than I have ever in the past. Cooking and spending time in the kitchen is something we should all endeavor to do more of – it’s a great place to get together and share in what is often forgotten to be a fundamental activity among families. We all spend far too much time racing around between jobs and bringing home unhealthy “fast food”. My point is not about cooking but about a great site I found about cooking (very ungraceful segue I know).
When searching for a snack idea I came across the site Delicious Days. While I can attest that the recipes are wonderful, what really makes this site stand out is the beautiful photography. Ever article is supported by appropriate shots of food and process making you almost want to eat the screen. The design of the site supports the photography well too. There are problems but I won’t nit pick – it’s too good for that. Go check it out for yourself – Delicious Days.

Differentiation is Key to Success

“The introduction of the ultra-slim Motorola V3 clamshell mobile phone has helped Motorola sharpen its brand recognition, and the product is among the top-10 models in all the major handset markets, including China. Jim Wicks, vice president and director of the Consumer Experience Design group at Motorola, outlined Motorola’s latest design concepts during a recent interview with DigiTimes.”
Differentiation is key to success: Q&A with Motorola design director Jim Wicks

Lucky Plucky Pillow Poultry

A wonderful site full of truly special toys and crafts for children. Mahar Drygoods features products you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else – beautiful and interesting things I will likely feature more than once. Lucky Plucky is part pillow and part poultry and might make the perfect napping companion. I would watch out for the button eyes though as some kids have a knack for getting even the most securely fastened objects into their mouths. Created by Creature Co-op and available for $26.00US from Maha Drygoods.

Bacon Strips Bandages

More bacon. My daughter loves wearing colourful and fun bandaids. It has gotten to the point that every little bump she gets, and she gets allot of bumps, now requires a kiss and a bandaid to make it feel better. Though she has never tasted bacon and hopefully seldom ever will I am sure she would find these very fun. 15 7.6 cm x 2.5 cm bandages come in a 9.5 cm tall metal pocket tin which also contains a small plastic trinket to “help make even the ouchiest owies feel all better in no time.” From Sprout Home for $4.25US.

Selling UX Services

“For some UX professionals, selling consulting services is as difficult as opening a magic door without a secret password. There is no simple password that can magically open prospective customers’ minds so they can see what you can do for them. However, there are a few strategies you can use when opening a dialogue with new customers that will lead to your sales success.”
Open Sesame! Selling UX Services from UXmatters

Dad Field Bag

Do I really need a bag like this? Not really. My knapsack with a face cloth and towel would suffice. Would I buy one of these? Likely. Diaper bags in general seem like an unnecessary product category with functions that only slightly deviate from your everyday pack. But this often featured bag from Jack Spade is quite well designed, looks great, and adds a couple features that make it practical. The velcro closures which in other instances be a loud annoyance are absolutely a brilliant feature when you think about how you sometimes need to get inside your bag quickly. When someone is about to go pee you don’t have time to fiddle around with fancy buckles. The interior pockets are good for separating smelly stuff , from the non-smelly, and with the addition of a changing pad I no longer have to set down Camren with the worry of staining some shops expensive furniture. Style doesn’t come cheap as this bag with cost you $125.00US from Modern Seed.

Bacon and Egg Bib

While I don’t think I like the idea of promoting the eating of bacon, I do like buying unique well made items such as this. Handmade in Chicago (of all places), these bibs are washable as well as having a layer of clear vinyl for easy wiping. Available from Sprout Home for $16.00US. While you are there you might want to check out the neat wall decals that they have.

Time-outs: How to make them work

One of the techniques we use when Catriona misbehaves are time-outs. Its a much ballyhooed, much negative it seems, discipline technique but generally I feel the way we use it makes it an effective tool. At least most of the time. Catriona is full emotion these days and seems to constantly push the boundaries of what we consider acceptable behavior. Taking her away from the place where she was “acting up”, letting her have a chance to cool down (and us), and discuss exactly what it is she is doing wrong seems to be effective to us. I really don’t see anything negative about it at all. She is never removed from us or sent to a dark place. Nor is she sent to her room.
Parent Center has Six strategies for making the most of time-outs which you might want to read, while Peter Haiman has a Case Against Time-out which offers a counter view. I think mostly about approach of which the Parent Center article seems to provide. The timer above is an Alessi Stainless Steel and Abs Kitchen Timer which might be an attractive tool to use to time the time-out.

Your Ability to Concentrate

I have always been somewhat of a day dreamer. I can remember being reprimanded by my elementary school teachers for sitting in class day dreaming – even today concentration and focus is still something I work on. If you add the additional challenges of lack of sleep brought on by a new born and all the distractions that being a parent brings, then having good focused time to work is even harder. I’m a big fan of the concepts of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience as told by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi so I thought perhaps this book by M. Sadhu might be a good try. I’ll let you know how it works out. You can purchase Concentration a Guide to Mental Mastery at Amazon.

Conversation Notes on User Experience Design

The context of the following mishmash of ideas was from a planned conversation in last nights design class. The talk was to serve as a sort of recap of some of the things we had been talking about.
“User experience simply refers to the way a product behaves and is used …. A positive user experience is one in which the goals of both the user and the organization that created the product are met. ” – Garrett
Designing user experiences – websites, software UI – replaces human to human interaction and bring whole new kinds of interaction not before possible.
People bring with them a lifetime of experience as to how they want to interact with your product. Your interface should fit their model of how they will interact with your product – you should not deviate from this drastically but gradually, if at all …
This should seem blatantly obvious, people should form the center of any design to be used by people … you need to strike a balance.
If we are paying attention we will notice patterns in our products that produce successful experiences … and we can notice and replicate these and other patterns … are we paying attention to the successful experiences we have in our everyday life.
There are challenges:
… challenges in how people perceive “spaces in their mind” … IA is more about peoples perception than machine readable categories (though they do need to be machine readable)
… visual design is perceived differently by different people … color, form, type, all may mean different things to different people. This is especially true across cultures.
How do we understand our customers?
Some companies obviously employ very deep research programs and there is allot of science involved.
But you and I are thinking small … were not Motorola or Coke …
It’s entirely possible if you employ a small team of very experienced designers to just jump right in. To rely on their experience to create good usable products. User research still needs to happen but we need to be quick .. agile.
Start from the middle and don’t get bogged down with process. Produce something and if you are small and fast enough you can react … react to the knowledge you learn from your future end users. Allot of development today allows for this nimbleness, though you may not see it in many companies today as they are still heavily vested in the large enterprise system mentality.
Otherwise it’s wise to not only start testing early but involve your users from the very beginning. You can do this at first in the most simple way possible … talking to your target. Getting to know them, their needs, their environment. Humanize your strategy by referring to real people every time you talk about your site or product …
Tools and techniques of basic user research.

Technology as an Enabler to Experience

During one of my last design classes (they are more me having a one sided conversation) I tried to reinforce the idea of technology as an enabler to customers/users/peoples goals, objectives, and desired experience. So often technology drives the experience irrespective of what people actually want in a product. A company launches a new internal email system not based on what people want or can use but on what features the particular vendor is selling. This leads to allot of internal dissatisfaction which is often expressed either through frustration or simply lost productivity.
It is a very common approach in Taiwan and one which is very hard to break free from. Companies need to make money and selling a system based on a feature set is much easier than more qualitative measurements. I don’t necessarily have the answers but Taiwan being the copy and remix culture that it is, I bet if someone created a successful product following a customer centered approach (in practice not in theory) than others would copy.
Some large companies who make physical devices are doing this but it has yet to filter down to smaller and medium sized enterprises.
Tonight I will quickly introduce an interview with Jim Wicks, the Vice President and Director of Motorola’s Consumer Experience Design, as he has some great ideas on the subject. I find Taiwan students and business managers always tend to appreciate the advice of an outside expert, so perhaps his voice will add some credence to the idea.
Weaving Design into Motorola’s Fabric
Jim Wicks
“We are a technology leader. However, a big change in mobile devices has been to move from being technology-driven to being technology-enabled. This means things are driven by consumers’ needs, wants, and desires. Consumers don’t say, “Hey, I want a (blank).” They don’t talk about technology in terms of what they want to do. They talk about what their objective is or what their desired experience is.”
“The product is the brand. You build brand in our industry through the product and the experience. Those manifestations are tangible evidence of that change. It shapes what people internally and externally think about the company.”
“However, you could also create a product that succeeds by accident and not realize it. You could make a mistake by not building on a successful product or not being able to repeat a success. There’s a lot of things that can happen that show a product doesn’t really change the culture of a company or change the company. But a product can really bring a lot to the table to enable other things to happen that really do mean the company is changing.”
Find the patterns of your successful experience and iterate.
“The intention isn’t to trump functionality. Our products are highly functional. …
If you look at what most people are doing with their devices and what they say they care about most, you would offer functionality that addresses those primary uses really well. Plus you would create something that ‘meets their style,’ something that they see as an object of personal expression that they feel very good about, proud about, and comfortable with carrying around.
I think of it more as a balancing rather than a trumping of functionality.”
“It’s like when someone says, “Are you going to invest in design or usability?” I’m respond with, “Well, that’s the same thing.” Design is always about synthesis–synthesis of market needs, technology trends, and business needs.”
The full interview is available the Institute of Design | Strategy Conference website.

Garlic Ribs

This is an old recipe from back home I pulled out last night. It has it’s origins on a country farm where introductions to Asian food come from readers digest and the sides of instant rice.
Though it is a tad salty and perhaps not for those worried about their waistline I do I think it tastes great. Importantly, it is extremely easy.
I’ve changed it a bit to match what is available and done here in Taiwan (ie. I have no oven here).
1st) Cook the ribs. I bought precut short ribs – a bit more expensive but I don’t have the time to cut them myself. I boiled them to speed up the process and then finished cooking them in my large wok with about 2 tablespoons of crushed garlic.
2nd) Make Sauce.

  • 20oz of regular coke (600ml)
  • ~ 4 garlic buds. I used about 6 + tablespoons of crushed garlic, it was a bit much but I love garlic
  • ~ 1 cup brown sugar. I used a bit less than a cup
  • ~ 1/2 cup of soya sauce. You have to watch this as I find it makes it salty
  • 4 tblsp of corn starch
  • ~ 2 tblsp vinegar

Whisk ingredients.
3) Combine sauce, ribs, in large wok and bring to a boil for 20 minutes. Stir often. Cook covered slowly for another 30 minutes or longer. Start your other ingredients for the meal- rice and veggies.

My Daughters First Paintings

These are some Catriona’s first attempts at painting with a brush (she’s 2 1/2). She picks and mixes the colours, I clean up the mess.
I like to try different things with her. This time we would make sounds to accompany certain brush strokes. It’s fun and silly. Higher res. here.
To create these paintings we are using a Crayola Painting Set much like this but with a little bit of daddy voodoo to make the colors stand out. I can confirm that it does wash out.

Travel Art Portfolio

Catriona is as much a fan of specialized bags as I am. She has bags for school, for her dolls, for her kitchen set, and for going out hiking. At 2 1/2 she is well on her way to being an Imelda Marcos of bags. It doesn’t help that most of her toys come with some kind of carrying case which I think is not such a bad idea except for all the excess plastic around the house. This travel art portfolio is a neat idea for our budding artist. “Ideal for travel, car trips or creative activities, the tote includes twelve pieces of colored chalk, three extra large crayons, three colored pencils, a chalkboard and a 50-page notebook.” She will like this I think. $32.00US from uncommon goods.
Found via swissmiss who is featuring all kinds of wonderful items for children lately.

Stove Interface Improvement

I don’t think I have bought an appliance in Taiwan that has lasted for any real length of time. The only appliance that has last is the cheap Proton 21″ TV we bought in Taipei 8 years ago for a measly 7000NT$. We are on our third toaster oven and so far I am not too thrilled with it. Is there any device lower on your list of items that you have to buy? Other than a basic problem of not being hot enough this stove could use a little improvement in it’s interface. The middle dial that you see highlighted in the photograph above is prone to all kinds of errors. Though the nipple on the dial is a nice tactile addition to the interface, when you have a dial that turns 360º it is helpful to have a high contrast visual indication of it’s state. Something that that similar colored nipple didn’t do. A simple rough dab of red paint will suffice, thereby improving the interface and reducing the frustration of thinking you had all the burners on, when in reality you didn’t.
I have noticed lately that allot of appliances manufactured abroad have stamps on them that state “Taiwan Only”. Does this indicate that they send all their crap here while leaving the products up to standard for the Japanese and American markets?

Cars And The Rain, Breaking A Mental Model

I managed to not get lost on the way to class last night and arrived relatively unscathed. It was raining with the usual accompaniment of horrible traffic. I always wonder why when it rains here there is a seemingly great increase in the number of cars on the road. This might seem like a stupid question to ponder (and well it is) but since no one walks here, no one takes public transit, and there are the same amount of scooters on the road why the increase? This should be the study of someone’s Masters thesis at Tsing Hua I think.
When I am explaining a concept I like to use my own ineptitude to help explain a point.
I like to use the light switches in my house as a good example. I have lived in this same old house in Hsinchu for the past 3 years. In all that time I don’t think I have gone a day without pressing the wrong button to turn on the lights in a particular room. It’s a point of constant annoyance for me and jokes from others. Many of the light switches in my house are of the 2 switch variety – not unlike what I have grown up with in Canada. There is one key difference. In Canada the location of the button, top or bottom, consistently corresponded to a specific location. Up means on and the top most button means the light in front. In my Taiwan house the correlation is the opposite – hence I make many mistakes using the “interface”. It’s a simplistic example that seems to help introduce the idea of breaking a persons mental model of an interaction at your own peril.

Polar Sleeper

Even here in Taiwan the weather tends to get a bit cold. This mostly due to the dampness and buildings made from concrete that never seem to shake the cold (it might help if they would build houses that were up to required standards too). Nonetheless there are times having a nice warm sleeper comes in handy. This Polar Sleeper is certainly a huge improvement over the cartoon character junk we see in our city. It looks so cozy I wish I was small enough to fit in it too. $450.00US from Netto Collection.

Bottle Drying Stand

Found this neat item via SwissMiss. A more visually appealing way to store your baby bottles for drying but likely something that would be quickly sent to the recycling bin. “Somebody finally made a bottle drying rack that doesn’t look like it belongs in a genetics lab. This handy little tool looks good enough to leave out on the counter. 7.9″ x 9″ x 3.5″. Product certified and tested, Non toxic materials.” $11.95US from Sparkability.

Autumn Patchwork Crewneck

I have a hard time getting into all the feminine clothing my daughter has (some that the in-laws have sent are pretty far from my tastes too). I just don’t know how to mix and match all the frilly stuff she wears. So when it comes time to dress her in the mornings I rely on tops like this as much as possible. “This whimsical screen printed crewneck features a swirl of autumn leaves and blossoms on the softest brushed french rib. A contoured hem gives the style a graceful and feminine feel.” Having a selection of clothes like this on hand certainly saves me time in the morning. You purchase this for $28.00US from Zutano.

Tom Bihn’s Aeronaut Maximum Carry-On Bag

One of problems with carrying a duffle when traveling is how everything slides back and forth inside the main compartment. I solved this to an extent by buying a number of different Eagle Creek Pack-It Sac’s The Aeronaut solves this problem by dividing the compartment into thirds – a large main compartment with two “substantial” side pockets allow you to exert some control over your stuff from the outset. If you are using this as intended, as a carry-on, you might just be able to get away without using extra organizers all together.
I always associate Tom Bihn’s products with carrying laptops and though you could use a brain cell with this bag I’m a bit unsure as to how well it would work in practice.
As expected this bag has all the usual high quality materials you expect from a Tom Bihn bag including 1050 ballistic nylon and 10 YKK Uretek “splash-proof” zippers. It should fit most airline requirements for carry-on luggage but I have no doubt that this bag could survive even if you put it on the wing. Available for Pre-order from Tom Bihn for $160.00US.
Originally appeared in Pop Wuping.

Global Parent Support Group

Web site Minti lets you share, rank, comment on, and search parenting advice.
“We started with the goal of supporting parents worldwide to become better at caring for their children. Where does the best advice come from? The vast majority of parents told us “from other parents”. Minti provides an online community for parents to both share and rank advice about parenthood in an easy and fun environment.”
The site is fairly young and you might find it lacking in some information that you as an experienced parent might find valuable. I like it as a means to gauge other peoples opinions on the various trials of parenting.

The Effects Of Mobile Telephones On Social And Individual Life

“Whatever it is called, and wherever it is used, this simple, accessible technology alters the way in which individuals conduct their everyday lives. It has extensive implications for the cultures and societies in which it is used; it changes the nature of communication, and affects identities and relationships. It affects the development of social structures and economic activities, and has considerable bearing on its users’ perceptions of themselves and their world.
This report is informed by the interests, themes, and methodologies of several areas of study, including psychology, social psychology, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies and philosophy. While such interdisciplinary approaches are common to many studies of the cultural effects of technological change, few of the models and hypotheses developed in relation to other new communications technologies can be applied to the mobile without the risk of obscuring what is truly novel in the wireless world. The mobile needs a fresh start and an open mind. ”
Read the Motorola study authored by Dr Sadie Plant (.pdf file).

Letter Cushions

I love the look of these Letter Cushions by childhood interiors. Big fat colorful letters on pillows to use for fun jumping sessions with the added benefit of being able to practice our letters at the same time. I love varying the tactile objects that my daughter can use for learning, it seems easier for her to learn if she can actually pick up (or jump on) an object vs. just looking at a picture. It’s a shame they are so expensive as these pillows look like a definite buy otherwise. 20£ per pillow from Childhood Interiors. Found via Blogging Baby.

Points From Teaching Last Nights Design Class

I drove out to Hsuan Chuang University last night to teach but unfortunately took a wrong turn and got lost. I did manage to get to the class just in time only to realize that I forgot my dvi-vga adaptor. Lovely start.
Some things I learned from the experience:

  • No one has heard of Flickr or Myspace. Some people know about Gmail
  • The students are fiercely loyal to local Taiwan web sites (both applications and communities) regardless of how inferior they are to other sites in their language produced elsewhere
  • This class speaks far more English than the last. Cool
  • I said that technology is an enabler. They say that to be modern we must let technology lead. The sense I get is that they don’t really get the idea of balancing customer and business needs. They don’t really think about humanizing technology and building things that allow people to do things, with technology allowing that to happen. Pick a platform first then make people use it instead of find out what people need and pick a platform to make it happen.
  • Each year the students seem more “free” – lots of chit chat and far less discipline – almost like a Canadian classroom which is too bad
  • I dislike podiums and lecturing. My idea of class as a conversation bombed – “lets make it like the web – you have the material already – lets start with with an idea and see where it goes” – I’m naive – structure is still king
  • Everyone loves stories and loves to laugh

Overall an interesting evening if not rather distracting. The doors to the classroom were open – to the left of me were beautiful ladies line dancing to music, to the right was an old black dog constantly licking his genitals. I bet no one else can claim to those kind of distraction when teaching.

Teaching at Hsuan Chuang University

Over the next few weeks I will be teaching at Hsuan Chuang University a undergraduate class in design – this will be my forth year stressing out students as I teach only in English. It’s an elective course usually filled with bright young students from various faculties through out the university.
The topic hasn’t changed much, I spend 3 weeks talking about Designing User Experiences, and it is still as necessary as ever. Putting your customer at the forefront of your application or site design is still as foreign a concept to many here in Taiwan as it is in standard brick and mortar businesses. The language of our profession (or jargon) – user friendly, simplicity, usability, IA – may have made it’s way through many corporate design departments but in practice it’s still very much an afterthought or not a thought at all.
Hopefully talking about the concepts. methods, and tool will in some miniscule way help bring forth these concepts to the business mainstream.
Tonight I give a brief introduction, the following weeks I take a different approach by focusing on weblog usability. Since so many students today are creating “blogs” this will allow them to immediately put into practice some of the ideas we discuss. An important first step.
Creating the User Experience and Visual Design for the Web.

How Was It For You? (aiga)

I’ve always loved the look of Chinese and Japanese characters for the way look more than what they are trying to communicate linguistically. I love the space between the letter forms and the shape of the characters. I love black on white. Nick Currie writes for the AIGA about the meanings of a cross-section of Japanese signs.
“Communicating with graphic design is complicated enough when you’re operating within your own culture, using the 26 letters of the English alphabet. But imagine having to design in a country with three totally different writing styles; for instance, Japan, with its hiragana, katakana and kanji. For a foreigner who doesn’t read Japanese, even just consuming the visual chaos can be stressful. But it’s also a fascinating way to find out how many meanings can cross cultural boundaries and stay intact, and just how much, when the literal contents of signs are stripped away, the tactile qualities of “look and feel” alone might be able to communicate across cultures. ”
AIGA – How Was It For You?