Monthly Archives: July 2006

simple functional design improvements

When I was trying to write the conclusion for the A/C hack entry I couldn’t think of any specific examples of design improvements that came about through pure iteration, rather than an a break through in technology. I found two on my last business trip that illustrate the concept nicely.

2006-Ford-Fusion_integrate.jpgThe first is the integrated automobile key with remote. I think BMW and Mercedes have been doing this for several years now. Most new cars today that include remote locks use this approach. The key pictured here is for a Ford Fusion. At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, it really bothers me to have too many items in my pocket. I keep the least amount of keys that I practically can on my key chain. Combining the remote and the key saves at least 30% of the space taken by separate components. I suppose that many more cars today use a remote system than did even five years ago, but there aren’t many other reasons why remotes could not have included the key since the day they were first introduced.

curved_rod.jpgAn even stronger example of a simple change that makes a big difference is the curved shower rod. By curving the rod outward from the tub, much more usable space is provided when the curtain is drawn closed. Models available today provide additional elbow room from six inches to an entire extra foot. If you’ve used a shower with a curved rod you know how much of a difference that extra space makes. I first came across a shower like this in a Westin hotel a few years ago, but just about every hotel I have stayed in the last year uses one now.

So, both of these design innovations are relatively new; they’re just now becoming common in the market. Why did it take so long to realize that such a simple change could make such a useful difference? How many other products or applications that we use every day could be more useful with just a simple tweak or change?

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Posted by on July 27, 2006 in design


Air Conditioner Hack

Here’s a non-computer design related entry. My friend Wayne inspired me to fix my air conditioner drain issue. Mine’s been leaking condensation into the overflow pan all summer. The overflow pan is doing its job, carrying the water away outside the house through a PVC line out to the eave. But rust is building in the pan, and the fact that water was dripping out meant it was flowing somewhere that it wasn’t designed to, and that is never a good thing.

The end result, an easier to maintain drainWhy was it leaking where it shouldn’t thus dripping into the overflow pan? Because the main line (a closed line from the air handler to the sewer line) must have been blocked. Given the system is over 35 years old, there’s no telling what gunk had built up in there over that time. But because the line goes right into the air handler without any connectors, I couldn’t find a non-destructive access to flush or snake the pipe. A bad design (a closed system) kept me from maintaining favorable conditions for maximum throughput.

Armed with various elbows, t’s, and connectors to fit my 3/4″ pipes, PVC primer and cement, a Dremel (I’m always looking for something to Dremel), and a brand new and wonderfully designed shop vac , I headed up into the attic.

The project took much longer than it should have for several bone-headed reasons I won’t go into now. But by the end, I had cut open the line and used the shop vac (and a few drain-cleaning chemicals) to get water flowing easily through the line again. When I put it all back together, I replaced the first elbow joint with a T and a cap so that every few months I can easily pour some bleach down the pipe to keep it clean.

The AC ran intermittently through the night (it might just be psychosomatic, but it felt like it ran cooler). In the morning, the overflow pan was completely dry. There’s still lots of rust in there, but cleaning that is a project for another day. Checking the pan again this evening, a full day of operation after the clean-out, it is still dry. I can assume that water is flowing out in the route it was originally designed, and holding up well during the year’s most active use.

So, why didn’t they install the pipe with an easy way to maintain it in the first place? Could have been time or cost constraints. Or, it could simply be that design often takes several iterations before an ideal solution is produced.


Posted by on July 24, 2006 in fribble



my worlds collide – Stat City Tee

Data visualization and visual design combined on a cool looking t-shirt. Click the image to see a larger rendition. Using chart elements to create a sity(that’s what happens when I try to type Sim City too fast, then change my mind mid-sentence) city scene like Sim City. There’s even a legend on the side. If you look at the pictures of the models on the site, it looks like SharePoint Google Analytics (thanks, Jeremy) in the background.

Threadless is great. Jenny loves her Spanish Teacher and Scrabble shirts.

I can’t wait until mine arrives in the mail.


Posted by on July 20, 2006 in fribble


Genius + Brilliant = Geniant

Last week was my last at Hitachi Consulting. I started at Geniant on Monday, and I am very excited to be here.

This was a gut-wrenching decision that kept me up many nights over the past several months. The people at Navigator (now Hitachi Consulting) have been truly wonderful to work with. The intelligence, work ethic, integrity, and fun that this group has surpasses any employer or client I have worked for before. There are too many co-workers and clients to name (well, the friends list at the right is a good start) that I am proud to have worked with while at there Navigator.

So why leave? The gig at Geniant will provide more opportunities for me to work on UI-specific projects with many talented UI designers and developers. It’s a chance for me to follow some specific goals I have for growing as a UI consultant.

As I get settled in at Geniant, I’ll likely be posting more about UI ideas and experiences here on my blog (yeah, actions speak louder than words, I know). I hope you’ll stop by the website once in a while, or better yet, subscribe to the feed in your favorite news aggregator

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Posted by on July 19, 2006 in fribble