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Category: UI / UX

Never face “decision paralysis” due to a few one-star reviews on items you’re buying online, thanks to the “SURPRISE ME” purchase randomizer!

Background:

In the post-online-shopping world, there are now nearly innumerable purchasing options for every style of item.

If a person wanted to buy a particular style of baseball cap in the pre-Internet world, they would have the following option:

  • Go to a store
  • Purchase one of the, say, 4 or 5 suitable caps that are in stock.

But in the Internet-shopping era, the process is as follows:

  • Go online
  • Find literally thousands of options at nearly all price points
  • Find hundreds of reviews for each cap, ranging from “This hat saved my life ★★★★★.” to “This hat burned down my village and destroyed everything I ever loved. However, shipping was fast: ★★★☆☆.”

The issue:

A person may be unable to decide on a suitable purchase due to two factors:

  1. The overwhelming quantity of options (“overchoice“).
  2. The incredible amount of information available about each option (“analysis paralysis“). This is especially seen in purchasing of consumer electronics (e.g. a new stereo system or a television).

The solution:

Fortunately, the solution is very straightforward, and can be implemented by any web shopping site (see mockup in Figure 1):

  1. The user finds an item on the web site that is similar to what they’re looking for.
  2. The user adds this item to their shopping cart with a special button marked “SURPRISE ME.”
  3. Instead of adding the exact clicked-on item to their cart, the web site adds a similar randomly-chosen item that costs anywhere between 75% and 125% of the price of the clicked on item.
  4. The user is not informed of the actual contents of their shopping cart at checkout, only the total cost.
  5. A few days later, the mystery item arrives at the user’s house by mail.
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Fig. 1: Here, we see an online store that has a “surprise me” button that will allow the user to purchase a random item that matches their requirements (at left). (This is an alternate version of the situation described in the “solution” section above).

Conclusion:

Using the system above, decision paralysis can be avoided. This increases both the rate of all-devouring consumption of your customers, AND your company’s profit margins!

PROS: Could be legitimately implemented, probably does not break any local or national laws!

CONS: The rate of returns might be extremely high.

Never get run over by a car again, thanks to this high-visibility LED modification for your laptop bag! Might save over one million lives per year in the world’s most crowded cities.

The issue:

In large cities, there are many perils for pedestrians: cars, bicycles, motorcycles, horses, etc.

Even the sidewalk is not a safe zone from scooters and bicycles!

At night, the problems are even worse, since pedestrians are generally un-illuminated and are frequently wearing all-black coats in the winter months.

Proposal:

Since many commuters carry a laptop bag, briefcase, or purse, it would be easy to put some sort of high-visibility indicator on this object: for example, an LED light (see animated designer laptop bag in Figure 1).

This would be less intrusive than wearing a high-visibility vest, and might be an easier sell to fashion-conscious commuters.

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Fig. 1: Fashionable designer laptop bag with caution tape and an LED light. Possibly OSHA-approved?

Figure 2 shows the same briefcase as a still image.

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Fig. 2: Thanks to this LED strip, the pedestrian holding the laptop bag is less likely to be hit by a scooter, bicycle, or car while walking on city streets.

Conclusion:

This is clearly the next evolution in fashion: reserve your designer laptop bag now!

PROS: Should reduce pedestrian fatalities and the city’s overall fashion rating at the same time.

CONS: May make your coworkers jealous and cause them them to plot against you.

Throw away your laptop privacy screen and use this camera-plus-software approach for the ultimate in security!

Background:

Laptop privacy screens (or “monitor filters”) reduce the viewing angle of a laptop screen in order to prevent evildoers from snooping on sensitive information on your laptop (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: Since this laptop does NOT have a privacy screen on it, the suspicious individual at left is able to view this contents of the laptop (despite being at an extreme off-center angle).

The issue:

Unfortunately, these privacy screens have a few downsides:

  1. They are inelegant to attach. Often, the attachment points block a small amount of screen real-estate.
  2. They slightly darken the screen even when viewed directly head-on
  3. When collaborating with coworkers, removing and replacing the screen is time-consuming.

Proposal:

A high-speed camera could, in combination with facial recognition and eye-tracking software, be used to determine who is looking at the screen and exactly what part of the screen they are looking at.

Then, the privacy system simply scrambles the contents of your laptop screen as soon as it notices an unauthorized individual looking at your screen (Figure 2). (When you are the only viewer, the eye tracking camera can recognize you and not scramble the screen.)

 

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Fig. 2: With the camera-based privacy filtering system, the laptop instantly scrambles the screen as soon as it detects that someone besides the laptop owner is looking at the screen. Note that the contents of the laptop look similar at a glance, but are actually scrambled nonsense. This prevents passers-by from immediately realizing that a software privacy filter has been applied (and potentially attracting unwanted attention).

In an extra-fancy system, the scrambling mode could be operational at all times, with the laptop only unscrambling the very specific part of the screen that the user is looking at (Figure 3). This is similar to the idea of foveated rendering, where additional computational resources are directed toward the part of the screen that the user is actually looking at.

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Fig. 3: It might be possible to selectively unscramble only the part of the screen that the user is actively looking at. The region in the user’s peripheral vision would remain scrambled.

Conclusion:

If you own a laptop manufacturing company and are looking for an endless hardware task to employ your cousin or something, this would be a great project!

PROS: The laws of physics do not prevent this from working!

CONS: Might be impossible to use a laptop in a coffeeshop with this system activated.

An “audio radar” hardware device could theoretically bring positional audio and distance cues to both deaf gamers and people who just play games with the sound off. Maybe someone should crowdfund it??

Background:

Closed captioning (e.g. [Wind howling] or [Ominous footsteps] in a movie) supplements traditional subtitles with information beyond just dialogue.

For a movie, this information is usually sufficient: a viewer doesn’t usually need to know exactly how loud the wind was howling, or which direction the footsteps are coming from.

The issue:

Unfortunately, in video games, the direction and loudness information is important! But closed captioning does not provide this information. Even if certain sounds are close-captioned (e.g. [leaves rustling] or [zombie sounds]), this information is too vague to suggest a useful course of action.

Consider the following scenario:

You encounter a hallway lined with doors while exploring a haunted Victorian mansion. The text [“Zombie scratching at door: LOUD”] appears at the bottom of the screen.

Since you have no idea which door the scratching is coming from, your ability to push furniture in front of the correct door (and thus escape from brain-devouring) is down to complete luck.

Proposal:

Since it is unlikely that many games will include all sound information as text in the near future, we need a game-independent hardware device for this purpose.

Thus, the following proposal: a hardware “audio radar” (Figure 1) that plugs directly into the audio output for your game console or PC. This device would indicate the location and distance of any relevant sounds in the in-game audio.

 

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Fig. 1: This “audio radar” analyzes incoming sounds and provides a detailed description, location, and distance for each relevant sound. Above, the “dangerous” sounds have been highlighted in red, while the merely “suspicious” sound here is shown in purple.

This could probably also be implemented as a phone app, rather than a dedicated hardware device.

PROS: Might actually be useful!

CONS: People would definitely complain about this being cheating in a multiplayer game! (Unlike keyboard-and-mouse use in console games, however, this device would be completely undetectable.)

Finally, a revolution in user interfaces: move BEYOND the keyboard for numeric input! You can easily type numbers on your phone using this one never-before-seen UI / UX paradigm. Free yourself from the tyranny of the keyboard!

When using a computer, phone, or tablet, it is occasionally the case that a user must type in numbers.

Typing numbers on a computer with a 12-digit physical numeric keypad is fast and easy (Figure 1). Unfortunately, laptops frequently no longer have these hardware keypads, and smartphones and tablets never did.

The issue:

The “soft” keypad on most phones provides no tactile feedback and is often a completely separate part of the onscreen keyboard interface (i.e. you may end up in a completely different “numeric input” mode instead of the standard alphabetical layout you are familiar with).

This may lead to the user inputting incorrect numbers or, at minimum, taking longer than is necessary to input their data.

 

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Fig. 1: The numeric keypad (A.K.A. “numpad”) shown on this smartphone is not easy to interact with. It would be easy to input the wrong number and have your pizza delivered to the wrong house (or some similar calamity).

Proposal:

Fortunately, modern smartphones and tablets have a number of additional sensors that we can repurpose for fast and unambiguous numeric input.

Below: see Proposal T (“Tilt sensor”) in Figure 2 and Proposal M (“Magnetic compass”) in Figure 3.

 

 

 

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Fig. 2: Proposal T (“Tilt sensor”): in order to input a number, the user simply tilts their phone to a specific angle and holds it there for, say, one second. The value entered is the number of degrees the user tilted the phone (from –90º to +90º). For single-digit inputs, we could make the process simpler and map the range from –45º to +45º to 0 to 9, as shown above.

 

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Fig. 3: Proposal M (“Magnetic compass”): here, the phone’s magnetic compass is used in order to determine the user’s compass orientation (a number between 0 and 359). The user simply physically rotates themselves (and their phone) to point in the direction of the desired numeric input. In the example above, we have divided the orientation value by 10 in order to reduce the degree of precision demanded from the user (as shown on the left side, an orientation of 270º results in the input “27,” as would 271º, 272º, etc…).

Additional Input Methods:

There are alternative input methods that may also be useful for numeric input. For example, to input the number N, the user could:

  1. Raise their phone N inches into the air
  2. Quickly cover up their phone’s camera N times
  3. Shriek at their phone at (50 + 5*N) decibels. This would be faster than relying on normal voice input, since it would not require complicated machine learning techniques to process.

There may be additional yet-undiscovered methods as well!

PROS: Frees users from the technological dead-end of the hardware keyboard. Finally, innovation in the user input space!

CONS: None.

Stop being confused and confounded by currency figures in old movies and books! This new “inflation adjustment” movie-and-book currency calculator will solve all of your narrative befuddlement.

Background:

In many movies and books, a financial amount is discussed at some point. For example, a character may remark that a heist “could be worth 100,000 florins” or “the estate had fallen on hard times, and now generated only 576 denarii annually.”

The issue:

Is the amount discussed above a lot of money? Or is it a paltry sum? Who knows!

This can be both narratively confusing: e.g. in a situation where an outlaw spends a week scheming to pull off a stagecoach robbery and then gets a $500 share in the ill-gotten goods. Are we, the readers, supposed to think that the outlaw has done well for himself, or is that amount equivalent to a week of work sweeping floors in the saloon?

Proposal:

Movies should have the option to pop up an inflation-adjusted and currency-adjusted figure (Figure 1) for any amounts of money mentioned by the characters.

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Fig. 1: If a bunch of characters in the Old West are murdering each other over a treasure, it would be nice for the viewer to understand the value of the treasure: is it actually worth something, or are the characters murdering each other over something valueless? Narratively, it could work either way, but it would be useful to know what the intended interpretation is!

Similarly, e-books could easily have an option to display the current modern inflation-and-currency-adjusted value (Figure 2) of any mentioned quantities.

 

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Fig. 2: Books that are set hundreds of years in the past often discuss currencies that no longer exist. This can be difficult for a modern reader: is a “ryō” a lot of money? What is a “ducat,” anyway? Here, the obsolete foreign currencies are converted to a modern equivalent.

Conclusion:

This would also provide an excuse for book and movie publishers to periodically update their works. “Oh, you have the 2014 copy of Price & Prejudice? We’ve updated it with the new 2020 inflation figures—you should really re-order 100 new copies for the school library. Isn’t it important that students have access to quality educational materials?”

PROS: Helps the reader properly interpret a narrative with more complete information.

CONS: Actually performing the adjustment may be difficult. For example, if a high-quality Viking canoe is valued at “ten steel hammers and ten yards of cloth,” should we naively translate that to the modern cost of such things—e.g. approximately $140 in 2020 dollars?

Make microwaving even easier with a synchronized-turntable solution that prevents you from ever having to reach all the way into the back of the microwave to get your reheated beverage! The true chef’s choice.

Background:

The microwave oven is an amazing boon for the diligent cook and lazy food-seeker alike.

Sure, a microwave can heat something up in almost no time, with no open flame and using very little energy, but could it be even more convenient?

The answer is yes.

The issue:

Most modern microwaves contain a turntable, which allows food to be heated more evenly (Figure 1).

Unfortunately, there is a horrendous downside to this turntable: when a user puts an object in the microwave (such as a cold coffee), they tend to place it on the “near” side of the turntable (close to themselves)—but the rotation of the turntable may cause the object to end up on the far side of the turntable at the end of the elapsed microwaving time.

Now the user will have to reach all the way into the microwave to retrieve their warmed-up beverage.

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Fig. 1: The turntable feature allows food to be more evenly heated as it is subjected to the microwave’s deadly science fiction cooking rays.

Proposal:

This is a simple software-only fix: the turntable rotation speed should be synchronized to the total cooking time so that the turntable will have moved back to the starting position when the timer finishes.

E.g. a 40-second timer could result in a turntable speed of one rotation per 20 seconds, while a 30-second timer would require one rotation every 15 seconds.

Figure 2 illustrates the benefits of this new system.

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Fig. 2: In a traditional microwave, the resulting position of the coffee mug is anyone’s guess (it could be FAR (top right) or NEAR (bottom right)). But in the new and improved “ultra convenient synchronized turntable microwave,” the mug is guaranteed to return to its starting position (unless you open the microwave before the timer goes off).

Conclusion:

This is the next differentiator for high-end microwaves. You saw it here first!

PROS: Makes cooking even more decadent.

CONS: Does not work if you open the microwave early.