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Published: 16 Jul 2018

Simple Design Tweaks Give Plugs New Commercial Potential

L-R: Will de Brett, Kim So Young & Jo Sung Ick

As new technology emerges, designers are reconsidering everyday household items – creating innovative updates that offer improved functionality and respond to shifting consumer habits. Here, we explore two projects that illustrate how a simple design tweak to a conventional electrical plug can have an impact on practicality and user experience.

Mi Plug is a creative redesign from Northumbria University student Will de Brett. It is a circular device encased in plastic with a flat surface that is indented inwards on the top and outwards on the underside – and the plug doesn’t include the metal prongs traditionally inserted into a socket. Instead, the plug features an internal magnet that jumps into position and sticks to the receiver, which has a corresponding circular indent.

The magnetic tessellating shape allows multiple plugs to be stacked onto one another, simultaneously connecting several appliances to electricity without the use of excessive power points. It is also easier to use for people with limited mobility and eyesight.

The use of magnetism is also explored in the Ball-Tab extension cord by Korean designers Kim So Young and Jo Sung Ick. The extension cord features four round indented sockets with a magnet at each base to hold a spherical receiver. This allows the receiver to swivel in the direction of the appliance, reducing bends in cables and avoiding potential damage. 

A thin light is embedded around the rim of the receiver to clearly indicate when it is in use, and each sphere can be turned upside down and safely tucked away so it doesn’t gather dust when not in use.

By refreshing everyday products, brands can unveil new creative and commercial opportunities. See, Redesigning the Everyday: Retuning Daily Habits for how design is elevating mundane utilities into covetable must-haves.

Published: 6 Jul 2018

K-Design Awards: 3 Ways to Add Value in Packaging

Clockwise L-R: Rong Design, EKDP, Rong Design

Now in its seventh year, Korea’s K-Design Awards celebrate the best in spatial, industrial and communication design. We share our three favourite packaging projects and the key learnings they illustrate.

  • Chinese packaging studio Rong Design created a chocolate bar theatrically titled Chocolate the Planet. The top of each bar is moulded to mimic the surface texture of either Mars, Earth or the Moon, and a similar pattern is printed on the inside of the otherwise unassuming packaging.

    Using texture as a canvas elevates goods from the everyday to an experiential indulgence. For more ornate packaging examples, see Packaging Futures: Luxury
  • Also from Rong Design is the Fulu bottle, inspired by the shape of the calabash. In China, this fruit is celebrated as a symbol of good fortune, due to its tough skin making it suitable for use as a vessel. The form of the bottle cinches inwards in the middle, like the fruit, and is tied with a leather strap for easy carrying.

    Here, form is used to add functionality and reference culturally specific images. This creates both a modern and traditional quality that emphasises the product’s practical and symbolic relevance to the targeted consumer. 
  • Korean packaging company EKDP has developed a bottle cap that simplifies plastic recycling. When unscrewing the lid for the first time, rather than breaking away from the bottle top – leaving a small ring around the neck that needs to be cut off to be recycled – the entire cap splits off.

    This simple detail means that one step is eliminated from the recycling process. In a time where sustainability is a must and no longer a nice-to-have, brands need to really consider how design can influence the life of the product beyond consumer use. See Packaging Futures: Sustainability for more.
Published: 25 Jun 2018

Smart Packaging Leads Beauty Consumers to Online Content


Near-field communication (NFC) technology blurs the divide between physical and digital products. Goods become gateways to content, connecting consumers to aesthetic and lifestyle branding beyond the physical object. Brands need to start thinking about how they can use this technology to add value and inspire meaningful engagement opportunities.

US-based ethical skincare brand Yuni is working with Norwegian company Thinfilm to embed its packaging with NFC technology. Electric chips are fitted seamlessly into the product’s paper wrapping – meaning all users need to do is tap the packaging with their smartphone to create a cloud-based connection which takes them directly to branded mobile content. 

We’ve seen this technology in packaging before – and featured NFC company MyPack Connect as one of the influencers in our 2018 Look Ahead. However, it’s the pairing of the beauty sector with this technology that is of interest in Yuni’s case. Branding in this industry is largely conducted through social channels, with influencers and vloggers sharing their favourite products in haul and tutorial videos.

Yuni’s new packaging connects consumers to how-to videos with product-specific application instructions and tips – bypassing the need for research when they get home.

Digitally connected packaging is enabling shoppers to experience a ‘try before you buy’ scenario, where videos present a realistic preview of the product and its effects in-store. YouTube is rated as the most reliable source for information about consumer products (PR Week, 2015), revealing the power that recorded content – and an unfiltered, undoctored insight into a product – can have on consumers.

For more creative examples of how tech can be used to augment packaging, see Packaging Futures 17/18: Digital. NFC chips are also being used to unleash new functionality in consumer products – see 2018 Olympics: Payment-Embedded Merchandise for more.

Published: 19 Jun 2018

Inclusive Design Introduces New Market to Gaming


Digital gaming attracts a huge and powerful player base around the world, with e-sports battle arena game League of Legends enjoying a following of 100 million (Statista, 2017). With this number of engaged users, gaming needs to consider the diversity of its fans and use intelligent design to cater to different abilities and methods of play.

Xbox, Microsoft’s gaming division, has taken a step towards making gaming more accessible for users of mixed abilities with the Adaptive Controller. Designed in collaboration with charity organisations and gamers, the device is flat and rectangular – breaking from the curved palm grips of the traditional model – and sits easily on a table or on a gamer’s lap.

Two oversized A and B pads feature as a softer and larger update on the old model’s pointer finger buttons, while external input points allow users to connect additional joysticks, pedals and switches. The function of these can be programmed to suit the individual user.

“A gamer can game with one hand and one foot, or one hand and their shoulder, or even one foot and their chin,” says James Shields, Xbox product marketing manager. By offering adaptive controls and plug-ins, the controller is an example of how design can incite users to rethink conventional interactions and create products that are both imaginative and inclusive. 

This push to serve mixed-ability consumers is gaining momentum across design categories, from graphics and lettering to wearables and ride-ons (see our blog posts on Inclusive Typography and Design for Disability). With 12.6% of the US population reporting to have a disability (Pew Research, 2017), there is a huge opportunity for brands to build on this inclusive mentality with accessible products that move beyond pure utility to excite and empower. For the latest gaming developments from this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, see Connected Play is Changing the Game at E3.

Published: 18 Jun 2018

Tiny Off-Grid Holiday Homes Tap Micro-Living Trend

The A45 micro-cabin by Bjarke Ingels Group

A rising number of consumers are banding together in essentialist communities, with the shared desire for a more intentional, minimalist way of living. New York start-up Klein is set to appeal to these consumers with its affordable, self-powered micro-cabins that can be erected in remote locations within weeks.

The company lets people go online to choose and customise sustainable houses designed by architects from around the world. Within six months of ordering, their micro-cabin will be installed in any location in two weeks. Currently available for pre-order, its first prototype is the A45 – a 13-foot-long wood and glass cabin designed by Danish architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group.

Rising real-estate prices and construction costs make it increasingly difficult to own a holiday home. Klein hopes to change this, with planned prices for the houses ranging from $50,000 to $300,000.

The smart idea chimes with the Swedish ethos of lagom – meaning "not too much, not too little", which is inspiring people around the world to enjoy the bare necessities.

"We're seeing more people opting for the tiny life, eschewing larger, family-sized homes for the simplicity of smaller houses," says Kate Johnson, senior editor of Consumer Lifestyle at Stylus. "These so-called 'tiny housers' choose to downsize due to environmental and financial concerns, as well as the desire for more time and freedom."

Such micro dwellings also allow users to reconnect with the natural world – a key consumer desire we explored in Nature Embracers and further unpacked in our A/W 19/20 Design Directions Essence report.

Published: 15 Jun 2018

Ikea x E-Sports: Ergonomics for the Gaming Generation

Area Academy

The Swedish manufacturer has acknowledged the huge influence of e-sports with a new collaboration tackling ergonomic seating design for a generation that sits playing computer games for up to 20 hours per day.

As revealed in Designing Amplified Experiences (part of our Active Lives Macro Trend), e-sports is big business, with revenue forecast to reach $1.5bn by 2020 (Newzoo, 2017). Ikea has long dedicated its creative focus to improving ergonomic design, and with gamers sitting down for up to 20 hours a day – sometimes resulting in sports injuries – the pairing is a logical fit.

The collaboration – announced at Ikea’s annual design conference Democratic Design Days last week – is with Swedish e-sports education platform Area Academy, and US medical wearable company Unyq. The latter creates custom prosthetics from digital body scans, which are used to create 3D-printed casts that are tailored to the user’s body. Ikea wants to bring this technology into its stores, demonstrating that customisation is possible within the mass market.

Unyq’s scanning technology will be located in Ikea stores next to its standard chair models. Users create a 3D map of their body, which can be saved and sent to Ikea with their product choice via an app. From these scans, Unyq prints cushions that fit onto the product and feature a lattice structure that guides the user into the correct posture.

The speedy and scalable production made possible with 3D technology is driving new commercial opportunities by creating custom-fitted product. This is a major theme within our A/W 19/20 Design Direction Burst, which explores how designs are being left open-ended to enable users to realise products that reflect their bodies, needs and creativity.

Published: 11 Jun 2018

Kanye West to Develop Low-Income Housing

Jalil Peraza

Expanding beyond his fashion label to enter the world of architecture, US musical artist Kanye West has announced Yeezy Home, a new creative branch of his brand that’s promising to develop affordable housing. 

Minimal information has been released so far about this new project and how it will cater to low-income families. However, render images of a prototype dwelling reveal a modern and luxurious single-storey house, with rooms set around a central zen garden. The interior is spacious and minimal, featuring pre-cast concrete, metallic finishes and a skillion roof. The rapper’s preference for brutalist-inspired spaces is clear, with the images resembling Yeezy’s headquarters in California, which are similarly sparse and concrete-dominated.

West’s plan to move into architecture was revealed in early May, with a call-out on social media for architects and industrial designers wanting to collaborate and “make the world a better place”.

As explored in our A/W 19/20 Design Direction Burst, industry barriers are being broken down by an energetic generation unafraid to enter new domains, leading to inventive mash-ups of genres and aesthetics. West’s project looks set to inject a fresh perspective into architecture by combining his experience in both music and fashion, and invites a new audience to engage with an industry that’s often criticised for its lack of diversity.

For another example of a brand breaking free from expected product categories and exploring new ways to capitalise on established fans and branding, see Adventure Branding: Land Rover Creates Outdoor Phone. For more on how brands are colonising new product spaces and platforms to extend their influence, see Making Brands Indispensable.

Published: 28 May 2018

Sustainability Solutions: LuxePack New York 2018

72% of consumers would pay more for sustainable packaging

Rising consumer demand for sustainable packaging and a recent wave of corporate pledges to do better were evident at LuxePack NY (May 16-17), with more suppliers promoting sustainable concepts.

  • Will Consumers Pay More?: Swedish manufacturer BillerudKorsnäs presented the findings of a 2017 consumer panel across 16 megacities. Seventy-two per cent said they would pay more for products packaged in ways that provide “substantial sustainability benefits”.

    LuxePack vendors said smaller brands and their consumers are leading the way. “Customers will pay up in the niche sector,” said panelist Anne Sanford, founder of NYC-based fragrance brand Lurk. Generally speaking, she said: “The more you give options to choose sustainably in an easy manner, the more they will do it.”
  • Upending Perceptions of Value: Panellists urged luxury brands to help shift the perception of premium products being weighty. “Luxury packaging isn’t heavy glass jars anymore,” said Michael Robinson, head of packaging innovation at L’Oreal. “There’s too much energy and material sucked up in that thing.”

    Signs of change in the luxury sector include Chanel’s lightweight, ultra-thin bottle for the new Gabrielle fragrance, which launched in September 2017, and Guerlain’s redesigned Orchidée Impériale cream jar (see also LuxePack Monaco 2017). 

If the tension is luxury versus sustainability, design and innovation can be the bridge to help resolve that. Luxury is the ability to choose, and we can choose differently.

Michael Robinson, head of packaging innovation, L’Oreal
  • Bottle Aligned with Brand Ethos: Seed Phytonutrients, a L’Oréal USA natural bodycare brand that launched in April 2018, uses an innovative pump bottle by Ecologic Brands. The outer packaging is made with recycled corrugated cardboard that’s compostable and can stand up to use in the shower, and is held together by interlocking tabs, avoiding the need for glue. Within, a lightweight liner is comprised of 80% post-consumer recycled polyethylene. In keeping with the brand name and ethos, a packet of seeds sits between the liner and the shell – customers are encouraged to plant them.
Seed Phytonutrients
Seed Phytonutrients
  • Tackling Plastics: As discussed in Evolving Plastics, plastic litter (especially in the oceans) has become a high-profile concern, helping to shake up traditional approaches. For instance, German packaging company Linhardt is exploring sustainable fillers to use in conjunction with conventional plastic – chalk is one promising option.

    Companies including Express Tubes and WWP (both American) promoted their polyethylene tubes made from sugarcane ethanol. Wista, based in Brazil, claims to be the only company producing both a tube and a pump from this bioplastic. See also Sugarcane Bioplastics: Sustainable Applications.

    Chinese company Golden Arrow’s moulded fibre is made from bagasse (sugarcane fibre) for burst strength, and bamboo for tensile strength. Its green factories use 100% renewable energy and recycle water on-site. The company is currently expanding from consumer electronics packaging into cosmetics and food. 
Express Tubes
Golden Arrow
  • Paper-Cup Progress: The plastic-based lining in paper cups prevents them from being easily repulped. Signalling a growing impetus to find solutions to this issue, Starbucks launched its NextGen Cup Challenge in March 2018.

    Finnish company Kotkamills has introduced a proprietary water-based dispersion barrier that can replace a polyethylene plastic lining, while UK manufacturer James Cropper touted its CupCycling scheme. After used cups are collected from partners including McDonald’s, the plastic lining is separated from the fibre, with the latter then being made into paper or packaging (see our blog post for more).

  • Packaging Reincarnated – Musical Box: French company Dapy Paris showed a box with an integrated Bluetooth speaker, positioned as a way for packaging to enjoy a “second life”. Brands could also provide custom playlists through an accompanying app.  

  • Collective Action: Corporate collaboration will be essential to making strides, according to US-based sustainable packaging consultant Sandeep Kulkarni. He praised the new Sustainable Packaging Initiative for Cosmetics (SPICE), which was launched this month by L’Oréal and global sustainability consultants Quantis to explore topics including bioplastics, finishing and decorating processes, reusable/refillable packaging and take-back programmes. Members include beauty brands Shiseido, Coty Inc. and Clarins Group.

For more, see Packaging Futures: Sustainability and Packaging Innovations 2018.

Starbucks launched a NextGen Cup Challenge in March
James Cropper
Dapy Paris
Dapy Paris
Published: 10 May 2018

Preview: Luxe Pack New York 2018 – Sensory Packaging

L-R: Virospack, Glaspray

Packaging trade show Luxe Pack New York returns on May 16 and 17 to reveal how brands can utilise new materials and manufacturing processes. Talks will explore the potential of marketing packaging on social media, the increasing demand for sustainable materials, and how to create designs that connect with consumers’ senses. 

Ahead of the event, we highlight two brands that exhibit how sensory-focused packaging encourages personal and physical product experiences.

Virospack, a Spanish manufacturer of cosmetic and pharmaceutical dropper bottles, has created a finish called Tactile Print for the surface of cosmetic bottles. The 3D effect offers a visual sense of depth and encourages consumers to pause and touch the product.

The decoration can also be used to add braille typography to existing packaging, allowing consumers of mixed abilities to understand and engage with the product. See also Push for Inclusive Typography and Packaging Futures: Diversity.

Similarly, Taiwanese fragrance packaging company Glaspray’s new Hybrid Qex spray bottle features a machine-engraved surface design on the glass bottle’s outer “shell”. The design is available in three effects: Brushed, coarse Diamond, and smooth indented Carbon Fiber.

The shell fits around an inner liquid cartridge, allowing users to refill their fragrance and switch between exterior surfaces. The design is geared towards the high-end market and caters to luxury consumers seeking products with sustainable credentials. For more, see Luxury Design Recalibrated.

Dewi Pinatih, Stylus’ senior editor of Product Design, will be presenting our A/W 19/20 Design Directions at Luxe Pack New York. Look out for our full coverage of the event, publishing May 28.

Published: 8 May 2018

Wearable to Feel the Virtual World

Disney Research – a team of labs exploring new digital technology within The Walt Disney Company – has unveiled the Force Jacket prototype. The wearable uses air to create physical sensations that mimic impact in the digital world, allowing wearers to enjoy realistic virtual experiences.

The jacket is fitted with 26 small air pockets that are remotely controlled via a computer, and can inflate to create precise points of force and vibrations. The inflatable segments are attached to an internal vacuum and air compressor to realistically imitate a range of 14 different “feel effects”, such as a hug, punch, and even a snake slithering over the body.

The speed, strength and duration of time it takes for the air pockets to inflate and deflate can be adjusted to accurately reflect the force of a particular digital scenario. The settings can also be tweaked to suit the size and muscle mass of the wearer, ensuring consistent experiences for users of different body types.

With augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) technology gaining mainstream acceptance, designers are becoming inspired to challenge conventional ways of engaging with media. As examined in our Macro Trend report Designing Amplified Experiences, new tech is breaking free from the confines of handheld controllers, focusing on the feet, arms and upper body to create life-like gaming experiences.

For more on how AR and VR are being used throughout different industries, see Education Innovation, Retail’s VR Future and State of Mobile: Augmented Reality.

Published: 1 May 2018

Milan Design Week 2018: Sound-Generating Glass

Soundscape at Milan Design Week

A new glass which generates sound – created by Japanese glass technology firm AGC Asahi Glass – was among the host of material innovations unveiled at Milan Design Week 2018. An ethereal soundscape designed in collaboration with Japanese architect Motosuke Mandai was installed within the vaults of Milan Central Station to showcase the discreet technology.

Laminated within the glass is a layer which counteracts reverberation and allows clear sound with a wide bandwidth to be emitted. Shards of the transparent composite material were suspended throughout the space, with different sounds assigned to each fragment. Distinct, crisp sounds were formulated as visitors moved around the soundscape.

AGC’s ongoing research delves into how we block and generate sound with glass, so that acoustics can be moulded by our built environment. Dual-function materials will allow our future spaces and products to have light and sound incorporated into their very fabric. As technology is absorbed into our walls and ceilings, the shape and format of the products we use will be redefined. 

See our complete coverage of Milan Design Week 2018 for key trends across colour, materials, branded environments, lifestyle and product design. For a complementary aesthetic direction and more on responsive materials, see our Evolving Landscapes report.

Published: 24 Apr 2018

Norway’s Sustainable Smart City

Oslo Airport City

Norway has announced plans to build an 'energy positive' smart city beside its major airport by 2022.

Oslo Airport City will occupy four million sq m of space and house the airport's growing workforce of an anticipated 40,000 people by 2050. Designed by Nordic Office of Architecture and Haptic Architects, the city will be powered entirely by renewable energy and have the capacity to sell its surplus energy supplies to surrounding communities.

All cars in the city will run on electricity, while incorporated high-speed light rails will ensure that residents are never more than five minutes away from access to public transport. Other green technology integrated into the plans includes auto-lighting on streets and in buildings, as well as smart-tech waste and security management.

Alongside business and cargo hubs, renders of Oslo Airport City also show a large indoor swimming pool and cycling route encircling a lake, catering to Norwegians' interests in sports and outdoor leisure activities.

"This is a unique opportunity to design a new city from scratch," says Tomas Stokke, co-founder of Haptic Architects. "Using robust city-planning strategies such as walkability, appropriate densities, active frontages and a car-free city centre, combined with the latest developments in technology, we will be able to create a green, sustainable city of the future."

The smart cities market will be worth over $2tn by 2025 and Europe is set to have the largest number of smart city project investments globally (Frost & Sullivan, 2018). Learn more in High-Octane Hubs, part of our Smart Cities Spotlight Trend.

Published: 19 Apr 2018

Cooper Hewitt Explores Inclusive Sensory Design

Tactile Orchestra

New York’s Cooper Hewitt museum is hosting The Senses: Design Beyond Vision, which explores how design impacts an individual’s ability to receive sensory information. Visitors can interact with more than 40 objects and 65 conceptual projects – many of which address conditions such as dementia and blindness. 

  • Colour Palate: New York designer Emilie Baltz’s screen-based installation explores the dynamic between food colour and palatability. Visitors use a series of levers to manipulate the appearance of products like ice cream and soda. Similarly, prismatic chocolate bars from LA chocolatier Compartés illustrate the relationship between colour and appetite. For more on food design that stimulates the senses, see Crafting Craveability in our Industry Trend The Future of Flavour.
  • Tactile Materials: Several installations probe the interplay between the senses. For Tactile Orchestra, a collaboration between design firm Studio Roos Meerman and social innovation incubator KunstLab (both Dutch), visitors trigger musical sounds by stroking a furry wall. Meanwhile, an immersive fragrance pod from American perfumer Christopher Brosius imbues plush pom-poms with an aroma intended to evoke winter. For more on tactile design, see our A/W 19/20 Design Direction Captivate.

  • Inclusive Tools: An auditory map from Washington DC’s Smithsonian museums demonstrates how technology can ease everyday life for those with sensory impediments, while London designer Simon Kinneir’s chopping board features indentations to help people with sight loss prepare food. See Design for Disability for more inclusive innovations.

The exhibit complements the museum’s current show Access + Ability (see our blog post) and runs until October 28 2018.

Published: 16 Apr 2018

Push for Inclusive Typography

LR: Kosuke Takahashi, Apple

Brands and designers are increasingly catering to consumers of mixed abilities, creating targeted products that both appeal and empower (see Design for Disability). We look at two graphic design projects that demonstrate this surge in inclusive design by encouraging everyone to understand, engage and express themselves.

Japanese designer Kosuke Takahashi’s typeface Braille Neue aligns Japanese and English characters with the braille alphabet, allowing for information in public spaces to be accessible to people with full and limited vision.

The typeface is simplistic and angular, resembling a dot-to-dot drawing, whereby braille impressions act as markers that guide the form of each letter while adhering to classic character shapes. Braille Neue’s continuity with standard characters allows for the typeface to be easily implemented into existing signage. Takahashi aims for the typeface to be adopted at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

Similarly, in March this year, Apple created a series of 13 new emoji characters that represent people with mixed abilities – depicting wheelchairs, guide dogs and hearing aids.

The graphics have been submitted to the Unicode Consortium, a US non-profit organisation that develops text standards and chooses which emoji are added into messaging vocabulary. With an average of 60 million emoji used on Facebook and five billion on Messenger in any given day, the mass adoption of these images encourage greater public acceptance and offer candid ways to express individual experiences.

Read Packaging Futures: Diversity for how sensorial design is creating brand experiences that translate across consumers of mixed ability. Also, read Cooper Hewitt’s Accessible Design showcase for the latest innovations in disability product.

Published: 12 Apr 2018

Writing Robot Transforms Any Wall into Digital Screen


Italian design studio Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) has unveiled Scribit, a writing robot that can draw and erase digital content on physical surfaces, enabling a wall to act as a screen.

The circular drawing device is suspended on cables, allowing it to accurately move up and down, and left and right. The robot interprets imagery as points along a vertical and horizontal axis and uses this information to plot down four coloured erasable markers held within the device.

Users can upload digital files and send these to a mobile app to be recreated as illustrations. Scribit uses the same precision technology to remove markings with an internal eraser, making it possible to respond to information in real time and display updating news feeds on any vertical surface, from whiteboards to glass or plaster. 

Scribit reacts to growing concerns about screen dependency. By translating the accuracy and fast-paced flexibility of digital technology to a physical medium, the device allows users to remain connected while away from their phones and computers. Consumers yearning for digital detox through analogue experiences is a key theme within our A/W 19/20 Design Direction Captivate, which examines how products are tapping into the human psyche to offer impressive digital-like effects in physical spaces. 

See Essentialist Communities for insights into how and why consumers are seeking low-tech lifestyles, and Circuit for how embedded, human-centric design is catering to this emerging consumer group. 

Scribit’s crowdfunding campaign launches on June 5 after being presented at this year’s Milan Design Week. Our Milan coverage will be published on April 27.