Nest Thermostat

The Nest thermostat’s intuitive interface and game-changing potential aren’t a surprise: It was created by Tony Fadell, the former Apple executive who conceived the iPod and oversaw 18 generations of the revolutionary MP3 player.

IPhone 4S’s Siri

On October 4, we, like everyone else marginally interested in tech, waited with baited breath for the historic unveiling of the iPhone 5. What we got instead was the iPhone 4S, with an audio interface called Siri, a virtual personal assistant for those of us who can’t afford a real one--and a first step toward a new breed of UIs.

Business Model Toolbox app

The Business Model Toolbox is the companion app to the Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur’s popular book, Business Model Generation. Alongside the book, it promises to give "visionaries, game changers, and challengers" everything they need to turn an idea into a tangible business. At its core is the Business Model Canvas--a simple and visually elegant template that breaks a business model into 12 predefined revenue and cost mechanisms.

Little Printer

Love the tactility of newspapers but loathe the lugging them around? Good news: The broadsheet of the future may be the size of a receipt that you print at home. That’s what BERG, the London-based design consultancy, is banking on with its Little Printer--a palm-sized, cube-shaped, cloud-powered thermal printer that spits out a personalized mini-newspaper. You curate what you want to “publish” via a smartphone app. “What’s great about paper is that it’s made for sharing," Matt Web, BERG’s CEO, told Co.Design. "You can scribble on a puzzle and give it to a friend, or stick birthday reminders up on the fridge for your family to see. Paper is basically a technology tailor-made for a home full of people."

Facebook's Timeline

In rolling out Timeline, Facebook proved that interfaces aren’t always just about functionality; they can help users organize and display memories. Here Timeline designers Nick Felton and Joey Flynn reveal the lessons they learned in constructing Facebook’s new scrapbook feature.

OscilloScoop

This app’s clever UI lets you manipulate beats by skimming your fingers across three cylinder-like crowns, each of which corresponds to an aspect of the music: pitch, volume, and filtering. Touching the 3-D shapes produces changes in the musical loops, as if you were a DJ scratching a turntable. OscilloScoop is the product of 13 years of research by the interactive artist Scott Snibbe and the interaction designer Lukas Girling.

Planetary music app

Created by data artists Bloom Studio, Planetary is a free iPad app that analyzes your iTunes music library and visualizes it as a 3-D galaxy, in which artists become stars that form constellations, albums are planets orbiting those stars, and individual tracks are moons that spin around the planets.

Sifteo Cubes

These little cubes turn 2-D gaming into 3-D motion-aware blocks that can be tilted, jostled, rotated, and clicked to play a variety of games--all in the service of “intelligent play,” what Sifteo calls the acting of having fun while sharpening your spatial-reasoning skills.

Björk's Biophilia App

For her new album, perennial provocateur Björk enlisted Scott Snibbe (creator of the OscilloScoop) to make 10 interactive music apps--one for each song. Here, John Pavlus interviews Snibbe about the experiment.

Google+

How did Google+ go from zero users to 20 million virtually overnight? By fixing some common problems in social media sites. Read more about the designers’ approach here.

Shuu.sh

A Twitter feed can feel like a student seminar, in which the overeager students lap up all the discussion time, drowning out the less frequent (but no less considered) remarks of the diffident participants. The UI geniuses at BERG have developed a way to make sure you don’t miss a comment: Shuu.sh, a Twitter interface that visually reformats your feed so that infrequent tweeters are displayed in big type. Tweet hogs are shrunk down to micro-visibility.

“The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore”

Books should provide children with a much-needed respite from TV and computer screens, right? But with its well-written storyline and captivating animation, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore” could be the book-app exception to the rule. The story’s author, William Joyce, shows off his pedigree as a former Pixar illustrator with a tale that could be read aloud or viewed as a standalone animated film.

WURM

A “generative art app,” WURM combines your screen taps and swipes with algorithms to create gorgeous visual patterns based on pied wormlike shapes.

WURM

Cable interfaces are slow, wonky, and ugly. Leave it to Yves Béhar’s Fuseproject to design a solution: Peel, a cute fruit-shaped doodad that delivers programming schedules to your smartphone in a delightfully clean interface.

Co.Design

14 Of The Year's Best Ideas In Interface Design

Nowadays, our gadgets meld seamlessly into our lives straight out of the box. Once charged up, we can make sense of them after a few minutes of exploratory button-pushing. The horror of VCR programming seems like a faint memory, thanks in large part to Steve Jobs and Apple, whose intuitive user interfaces (UIs) have informed everything from thermostats to social media sites. And of course, the iPad has spawned a half a million apps, the more outstanding of which are included in this year’s list.

All of the designs profiled here share an ease of use--the hallmark of good UIs. But a new theme has surfaced: wondrous fun. From generative music and art apps to cubes that develop your spatial skills, many of these products combine the UIs more common to video games with mind-challenging play. Yep, some of this year’s best designs trick you into learning--lending credence to the value of gaming as an educational tool.

To read last year’s list, go here.

Add New Comment

19 Comments

  • Eric Harris

    Speaking of UIs... I think that group of 14 thumbnails could use something that leads a user to click them, in stead of skipping over them as just another header image. ;)

    Thanks for posting a great article. I hadn't even seen that thermostat before!

  • SuzieQ Sharky

    I love Biophila! I also love that interactive experiences burned to disks are still alive and well.

  • SuzieQ Sharky

    This app although charming in its way, should not be featured in a top 14 UI of the year list. Im sure companies like HMX, Smule, etc have apps that are a better fit for such a statement.

    SuzieQ - CCO Maddworldmedia

  • SuzieQ Sharky

    This is not an app that should be featured in a list called "14 of the years best in UI designs". Abstract music creation apps (of which there are thousands) have indeed toyed with what it means to take UI to a game-like experience. I would think companies like Smule, HMX, etc would be featured on this list. SuzieQ Sharky - CCO Maddworldmedia.

  • Gregory Scott

    The author seems to have confused UI Design with Object Design.  Afaict, almost all of these products have conventional (and frequently mundane) UI's wrapped in clean packages.

  • destroy_all_humans

    not quite a list of best interface designs, but of a few small gadgets and some ipad apps.

  • broadcastbabe

    Granted, the iPad may not have been your targeted reader for this article, but it is doubly dismaying to have the descriptions of the 'best ideas in interface design’ chopped off unceremoniously in your web page interface. Very ironic and post-modern of you…

  • ron

    the little printer is utterly idiotic and solves a problem that doesn't exit. congrats on being fooled by a cute package.

  • oldcarman

    Too bad the UI for this article is so poor! having to click then scrole to read something is a waste of effort. Particularly when these examples are too cute or lame to influence future designs.

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  • Lindsay Manahan

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  • Jesse Kinsman

    Find it strange you included the Business Model Toolbox app in this list as in your earlier article you said: "While it took me a few tries to understand how it all worked (the interface is not exactly intuitive)'
    This is a list for UI, correct? While I agree this concept is brilliant, you said yourself the UI wasn't intuitive

  • Bob

    I love the basic design and concept of the device. Here is where it and all other devices fail. They only give the temperature in that specific location on the wall. Thus heating and cooling the entire house to the temperature of the thermostat's local. Each room should have a drone that reports back to the master location. The hvac system should be set up in zones to heat and cool only when occupied or to a desired setting.
    Home hvac systems are poorly designed and incredibly inefficient. If you are seriously paying that much for a glorified thermometer then you should hire a mechanical engineer to design your home hvac system with zones and vav (variable air boxes

  • Rodney

    Great article, I hope my own idea will figure in your 2012 list. At least I will work hard for it : )

  • Ron Graham

    I like the new Facebook timeline. But if I were to poll my Facebook Friends, , I think I'd find I was in the minority, judging by their frequent and harsh complaints. So: did Co.Design poll any users before releasing this list, or did the writer work in a vacuum?