Building Social Quirks Into Design

At my Mum’s house, and my childhood home, we have this quirk in the kitchen where the dish washer door comes down and pretty much blocks the kitchen entrance. To a designer, or someone carrying a heavy tray past, this might seem like a flaw. I’ve realised it’s not, and that designers, if they’re not already, should consider this kind of thing a feature they should intentionally include in kitchens, or indeed anything. Let me explain.

That bottleneck has created some interesting moments in our family history. Nothing major, but nothing brings people together like having to negotiate a hazard. Folk have to give way; folk have to pass trays over; folk have to try to keep the dish washer door shut. Dogs get stuck; people learn to sidle past each other; people meet in the bottleneck and fall in love. (Well, OK, not the last bit, but you get my drift. In short: A design flaw creates an interpersonal space that helps to bring people together in a quirky way.

So good kitchens (and good design) should not just be about function, form and beauty. They should include quirks, annoyances, absurdities — elements that somehow precipitate social interaction, or at least force users to behave a little differently. I wonder how many times an awkward relationship or bit of family distance was altered for the better by that bottleneck next to our dish washer.

Warm Your Coffee With USB

Not a lot of interesting stuff to report today so I thought I would offer you this (not particularly new, but still cutting-edge) gadget for USB port: a coffee warmer. AkibaLive reports the Sunbeam USB-bus powered coffee warmer will “keep your coffee warm at a temperature of around 40 degrees Celsius for 120 minutes. The device can fit any size coffee cup, comes with a power on/off switch and is made of high quality insulation material so you won’t get burned. Oh, and it doesn’t need a driver.

If you’re really serious about the issue of warming your coffee, here’s the company webpage showing a chart comparing the temperature of your coffee with or without a USB-bus powered coffee warmer. The warmer comes in blue, white or yellow, along with a warning — Don’t touch the metal heat area — and a whacky catchphrase: “Warm your coffee or tea in a cool way!”

Sunbeam are actually way ahead of the pack on cool post-tech uses of the computer. I already have their USB-powered fan — “This nifty UB Fan is dvisable either to cool you on the way, in a stuffy meeting, or to protect your Notebook as an external cooler” — but am saving up to buy their desktop PC CD-drive replacement cigarette lighter which comes with the obligatory warning (“Please don’t touch the Cigarette Lighter after heated!”) and will, like all good cigarette lighters, also recharge handphones. To be honest, I’m still trying to work out when I would use this product, but that won’t stop me getting it.