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.