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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.