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Published: 19 Oct 2018

China’s Future Home: Flexible, Playful & Connected to Nature

Open Architecture

Ten of China and Japan’s top architecture firms explored how the home could and should respond to the pressures of future living with a series of conceptual pavilions for House Vision, an exhibition within Beijing Design Week (September 26 to October 5). The installations exposed three consumer needs – flexibility, fun and connection to environmental resources – that will be pivotal to future architectural practice. Here, we give you the highlights.

Chinese studio Open Architecture queried how humans might settle on another planet with its Mars Case pavilion. The pod design features a cube-shaped metallic base housing the kitchen and bathroom, as well as a soft-skinned extension that inflates to create a living space. The pavilion constantly recycles air, water and energy to enable inhabitants to exist without access to natural resources. The design is also aimed at the growing community of nomadic consumers seeking sustainable housing alternatives – see our A/W 19/20 Design Direction Essence for more.

Chinese studio Penda took inspiration from traditional hutongs – and their role as communal meeting places – in its Urban Cabin design for Mini Living. A playground-like interior creates a sense of being in a public space, featuring a swing and moveable puzzle-shaped seats. A periscope protruding through the roof connects inhabitants to the outdoors, enabling them to look around the house and syphoning sunlight into the space.

Beijing-based architecture studio Blue used modular wall and storage sections to imagine how design can be used to activate China’s abandoned buildings. Its pavilion was filled with five-metre-high box structures that create semi-enclosed private living spaces. Users can position sofas, chairs and tables inside and outside of these structures, using the divides to delineate social and intimate settings.

Each project appreciates space as a vital commodity and explores how new ways of managing it can create buildings that nurture their inhabitants, even when in a restrictive environment.

Penda x Mini Living
Blue Architecture
Published: 16 Oct 2018

Beijing Design Week Highlight: Sensory Chair Collection

Yuming Hu

Furniture is increasingly being considered as a tool to support emotional states as well as the body, with designers employing physically stimulating elements to engage the mind. This is illustrated in a new chair collection by Chinese designer Yuming Hu, which explores how sensorial design can help the user achieve improved relaxation, productivity and ergonomic support.

Exhibited at this year’s Beijing Design Week (September 26 to October 5), the range of six chairs engage the body in different ways. Each chair is designed to satisfy the micro-movements that one’s hands, arms, back, legs and feet make when sitting down.

One chair has a back that extends out into a large hoop decorated with curved barbs that hold two smaller hoops. This design allows the user to stretch out their arms and back by reaching up to hold onto the smaller hoops while remaining seated.

Two curved wheel-like legs on one chair enable the user to rock forwards to assist with standing up, while a curved backrest on another allows the sitter to position themselves at any angle.

To help with concentration, the chairs feature pedals and silver balls to engage the feet and fingers. According to Hu, the hands need to be considered more often in design: “The activity of the hands is very rich. Imagine that holding a glass of red wine in your hand will make you more confident when talking to others. The satisfaction of hand movements will make us feel natural and safe.”

By incorporating responsive elements into design, users are able to release nervous energy and find their unique position for comfort. For more on the importance of sensorial design, see Sensory Product within our Spotlight Trend The Sensory Opportunity.

Published: 16 Oct 2018

Smart Caption Glasses: Theatre for the Hearing Impaired


As of October, London's National Theatre will offer Smart Caption Glasses for hard-of-hearing audience members. The glasses provide live subtitles, enabling theatregoers to enjoy performances as they unfold in real time.

Developed by tech company Epson, the software follows live production dialogue and stage directions, such as audio and lighting cues, to provide instant subtitling. This accommodates changes in pacing that might occur during performances. It also ensures that hard-of-hearing audience members reach significant points in the production - such as jokes - at the same time as the rest of the viewers.

The Smart Caption Glasses can be linked to a touchpad that allows users to alter the subtitling font size, colour, placement and the background display to suit individual needs. The technology could also potentially be used to offer foreign-language subtitles to non-English-speaking audiences, similar to US health-tech company Starkey's recently released translating hearing aids.

The glasses will be available for the National's 2019 season, including at some performances of a touring production of Macbeth. The glasses can be reserved through the National Theatre's online ticketing interface, with booking launching at the end of October for members, and November for the general public.

In the UK, there are 11 million people with hearing loss, making initiatives such as these a wise investment (Action on Hearing Loss, 2017). Time and again companies are proving the commercial benefits of appealing to traditionally under-represented consumers.

For our take on some of the recent designs accommodating a wide spectrum of abilities, see our Design for Disability report, as well as blogs on inclusive clothing for children and adults, and on new technology for the visually impaired.

Published: 12 Oct 2018

Open-Ended Toys Teach Code Through Magical Interactions


Children’s toys are being reframed as life-training tools, embracing simplified tech as a catalyst for computer-based dexterity (see also Gen Alpha: Childhood Rebooted). UK tech company Kano takes this a step further with its Harry Potter-branded coding kit, which explores how toys can help develop children’s skills, while fostering a sustainable relationship between child and product.

The wand coding kit comes in four pieces, which children assemble by following a step-by-step instructional guide. The wand pairs with an accompanying app, which allows users to programme spells to be triggered in response to a range of movie-inspired hand gestures. Children code by moving around brightly coloured blocks, with a split screen presenting the JavaScript version of their actions.

The app features a series of games – from levitating feathers to taming fire – that children play using their wand as controller. These actions physicalise the game and offer users an immersive experience, recreating the magic of the popular film series – for more on gesture-based interaction design, see our A/W 19/20 Design Direction Burst.

Kano’s open-ended design allows this sense of magic to be extended outside of the game, with the motherboard able to interact with other electronic devices. “You can use the wand to turn the lights on in your house,” says Kano’s director Aaron Hinchion. “This is something you can do whatever you want with.”

Modular design is key to Kano’s mission, tackling the throwaway culture in electronics. Incorporating no glue or screws, the plastic components can be recycled, with users then able to use the motherboard in different projects – or even craft their own wand out of wood.

Allowing hardware and software to run independently helps products respond to changes in age and interest, as well as future-proofing toys so that they can be enjoyed beyond childhood.

Published: 10 Oct 2018

Femtech Fave Releases First Silent Wearable Breast Pump

London-based femtech company Elvie has just launched the world's first silent wearable breast pump. The device is free from the tubes and distinctive noises of a traditional pump, allowing discreet and hands-free milk expressing.

The Elvie Pump sits in the wearer's bra, allowing the user to continue with daily tasks while expressing milk. Like Elvie's Kegel training device (see our blog), the pump comes with an app that records data on factors such as milk production and pumping history. More importantly, the app allows the device to be controlled remotely, meaning the user doesn't need to fiddle with the pump while it's in their bra. The device has the potential to revolutionise breastfeeding for all mothers, especially those who return to work while still pumping. A single pump costs £229 ($300), with the double unit retailing for £429 ($560).

Traditional pumps are noisy and require the use of bulky machinery, often forcing users to find a private place in which to express. In the UK, although mothers have no legal right to breastfeeding breaks in the workplace, employers must meet obligations under health and safety, flexible working and discrimination laws (NCT, 2017). The NHS advises that the toilet, often one of the only private spaces available in a workplace, is not a suitable place in which to express milk (NHS, 2018).

The Elvie Pump is designed to be unnoticeable and allows women to express discreetly, as highlighted in its promotional video. Brands stand to benefit by following Elvie's example and providing tech that supports breastfeeding mothers. The hashtag #NormalizeBreastfeeding has over 740,000 mentions on Instagram, illustrating the growing movement towards destigmatising this natural act.

Our report Motherhood highlights further ways in which consumers can be supported in this chapter of their lives.

Published: 5 Oct 2018

Creatives Move Out of the City for Fresh Inspiration

City Quitters

Can creative inspiration be found outside of the melting pot of urban centres? And can innovation thrive in a rural setting? New book City Quitters by UK trend forecaster (and out-of-house Stylus expert) Karen Rosenkranz explores how young designers are moving further afield in search of a fresh perspective for their work.

As explored in New Metropolitans, cities are undergoing a demographic shift. Millennials (aged 24 to 37) are increasingly relocating out of urban areas, while boomers (aged 54 to 72) are stepping in to their place.

According to Rosenkranz, the rising cost of urban living and fierce competition are making it harder for creatives to thrive in a city environment. The dulling effect of financial anxiety and long work hours, plus a global homogeneous aesthetic fuelled by identikit social media feeds, led her to question whether “fresh, original thinking is no longer the preserve of a thriving megacity?”

For Italian artist Ivano Atzori and American set designer Kyre Chenven – two of Rosenkranz’s ‘city quitter’ subjects – the move to a small valley in Sardinia, Italy, steered the formation of their interdisciplinary studio Pretziada. The duo looks to the region’s design vernacular to inform their work, evolving traditional making techniques to peddle Sardinian crafts to the world.

This migration of creatives to the countryside will help rid rural life of simplistic utopian clichés, and instead, foster a fresh visual language that directs heritage crafts into the future.

For more on how crafts are being revived to offer consumers a sense of belonging, while fulfilling the innate human desire to create, see our S/S 20 Design Direction Journey.

City Quitters: Creative Pioneers Pursuing Post-Urban Life is published by Frame.

Published: 28 Sep 2018

Creative Manufacturing from Israel’s Emerging Design Talent

Maayan Agustina Gianella

Graduates from Israel’s Holon Institute of Technology (HIT) are using fabrication processes from different eras and industries to reinvigorate product design. Here, we spotlight four designers applying candy manufacturing, electrical systems and low-value packaging materials in unexpected ways.

  • Inspired by the sweet-making process, designer Mayaan Agustina Gianella adds non-uniform colour to her collection of clocks by pressing recycled thermoplastic powder into irregular layers.

  • Sigma is a handmade jewellery collection by Shany Herzberg which draws on the industrial beauty of electrical circuits. Conductive brass, insulating black rubber and cable components are paired in the 23-piece collection, which features electromagnetic coils and varistors dipped in thick, liquid rubber.

  • Lost Wax Shell by Dan Meushar is a series of lighting fixtures made with ceramic moulds produced using the lost-wax process (an ancient method of metal casting). Mottled textures and characterful forms deliver a resolutely modern interpretation of this ancient craft.

  • Packed by Rimon Simhony incorporates the expanded polystyrene used to protect products during transportation into the product itself. Mirrors and glass bulbs are combined with chunky styrofoam, stimulating a dialogue around high and low-value materials.

See our Middle East & North Africa Top 10: Colour & Materials report for more.

Dan Muesha
Maayan Agustina Gianella
Rimon Simhony
Shany Herzberg
Published: 30 Aug 2018

AI-Generated Bespoke Packaging Communicates Rarity


As explored in Democratised Design, brands are using the custom capabilities of automated tech to excite consumers by offering insight into a product’s history and conveying a sense of rarity. New German wine label Brute illustrates the potential of this technology in packaging, using algorithms to generate bespoke patterns that reflect the unique character of each vineyard.

With fierce on-shelf competition, packaging needs to provoke an emotive reaction from passers-by. One way of doing this is to develop and communicate a distinct identity for the product. This is achieved in the packaging for Brute, a wine label started by two grape-growing brothers who wanted to express the tumultuous weather conditions of Hamburg’s vineyards to build the personality of their wine. 

Developed by international branding firm Landor, Brute uses data collected on the region’s wind, rain and sun to create evocative and informative graphics. German code artist Patrik Hübner wrote algorithms that translated this data into patterns used on the bottle’s paper wrapping, and real-time evolving graphics featured on the brand’s website.

Rising concern over the ethical and sustainable credentials of food and drink is driving consumers to learn more about the backstories of the brands on their plates and in their glasses (see Alcohol Trends 2018: Imbibe Live). Brute’s data patterns reinforce the small-batch production of its wine, and that the final product is the result of its natural environment, as opposed to being mass-produced.

Now is the time to embrace the fast-paced personalisation available through artificial intelligence to create visual branding that communicates your product’s nature and narrative. Take note of our S/S 20 Design Direction Journey, and employ technology as a creative collaborator to tap into consumers’ imaginations and cut through on-shelf clutter.

Published: 28 Aug 2018

Sensor-Fitted Ball Creates New UX Language for Music-Making


A new fluid language for interacting with product is emerging, with sensor-driven technology enabling consumers to ditch the screen in favour of more exciting engagement experiences. Translating this into music, London-based Oddball Studios has released a palm-sized sensor-fitted device that users bounce to create electronic music.

Oddball acts as a percussion trigger, communicating any impact experienced on the device’s surface to a paired mobile app, which plays back the sound through speakers or headphones.

The ball is pressure-sensitive, meaning that users can increase the intensity of the sound by bouncing it more forcefully. The thick rubber exterior covering the ball protects the internal technology, allowing users to safely kick, hit and juggle the device to create sounds that express the unique character of one’s movements and environment.

Via the mobile app, users can loop sounds to create multilayered solo performances and the playback can be altered further to achieve high-quality audio effects in real time.

Oddball liberates the process of making and recording music from the studio and computer to reframe everyday surroundings as an inspirational landscape for creativity. This spontaneous, body-centred interaction with product reflects the spirit of our A/W 19/20 Design Direction Burst, which explores how tech is breaking down the barrier between the digital and physical world to incite playful and exciting user experiences.

This personal engagement with product is a trend that will continue to evolve as consumers seek emancipation from their screens without losing touch with tech. For more on this emerging trend, see Motions for a Mixed Reality in our 2018 Look Ahead.

Published: 23 Aug 2018

Designing Inclusively: August’s Best Mixed-Ability Packaging


Thinking inclusively about product and packaging is steadily becoming a must-do for brands. As noted in Packaging Futures: Diversity, consumers are demanding that companies consider individual experiences, and rewarding those that do with loyalty and praise. We look at two recent examples of inclusive packaging to reveal innovative strategies that cater to this market.

Since 2017, the packaging of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats has featured a large white heart where parents can write personalised messages on their kids’ lunchbox snacks. However, this design overlooked the estimated 64,000 legally blind children in the US (AFB, 2018). 

In response, Kellogg’s released a series of heart-shaped stickers printed in braille, conveying messages such as “You’ve got this” and “You’re a star”, that can be placed on the packaging. Also available is a cardboard audio box that plays a 10-second recorded message when opened.

Similarly, Xbox improved the packaging of its Adaptive Controller to serve mixed-ability users (for more on this gaming device, see our blog post). After hearing some users have to open products with their teeth, Xbox worked with disabled gamers to develop a “no teeth” design.

For the shipping box, cardboard and paper elements are used in place of tape to avoid the need for sharp cutting utensils. This joinery features large holes that act as easy-to-hold pull tags, with double-sided tags enabling access from both sides. Small enclosed boxes positioned at each end of the product offer protection without the need for bubble wrap.

Brands need to invite a diversity of users into the design process for a better understanding of how consumers engage with both product and packaging. Adopting a user-focused approach will help designs not only appeal to users of mixed ability, but also unveil creative interactions that inspire new enthusiasm for existing product.

Published: 21 Aug 2018

Elevated Everyday: Shoppe Object and NY Now Gifting Update

Mud Australia

At trade shows NY Now and the inaugural Shoppe Object (August 11-14), designers presented refined, gifting-worthy products that add ease and sophistication to everything from dog walking to phone charging. We recount the highlights.

  • Help the Host: Holiday dinners are shifting in structure – a trend analysed in our report The New Festive Meal – and designers are responding with serving solutions that make entertaining easy. Sydney-based ceramics company Mud Australia introduced a stylish oven and dishwasher-safe roasting tray that looks sophisticated enough to function as a centrepiece. 

    For more casual gatherings, hosts can grab a polished bamboo chip-and-dip bowl from French company Ekobo, or single-use recyclable plastic plates from New York-based L’Entramise, which come in an array of muted metallic hues. 

    Meanwhile, San Francisco-based Aplat showed its zero-waste line of canvas plate covers, intended to protect meals during transport and ween consumers off plastic wrap and aluminium foil.
Mud Australia
  • The New Handy: As discussed in the Lifestyle Trends section of our Gifting Update 2018 report, designers are reinterpreting utilitarian tools as beautiful objects that instil mindfulness and optimise efficiency.

    Australian brand Tactica debuted its ultra-light flight-safe multitool, encompassing a wrench, screw driver, bottle opener and box opener. Also from Australia, Orbitkey presented its redesigned key chain, intended to reduce bulk and prevent keys from jangling. Using a proprietary lock that fits snugly through each key’s hole, Orbitkey secures up to seven keys in a thumb-sized stack. Users can also slip in add-ons such as a USB flash drive and bottle opener.

    Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s KerfCase won an NY Now show award for its three-level all-wood pencil case with magnetic closures, and Brooklyn design duo Chen Chen & Kai Williams highlighted its hefty metal pen at Shoppe Object, which comes with a cap that screws on like a bolt.
Chen Chen & Kai Williams
  • Elevated Electronics: Designers are reimagining uninspiring electronics chargers as display-worthy pieces. French brand Usbepower introduced a sleek universal desktop charging cube that supports both USB and traditional devices and comes in a variety of colours. For wireless charging, Brooklyn-based Courant debuted a catchall with an in-built charger. The product is coated in Italian pebble leather and available in three muted hues.

  • Rug Resurgence: Two companies presented cruelty-free interpretations of animal-hide carpets and throws. Texas-based Domada launched its series of repurposed oriental rugs in the shape of animal hides at Shoppe Object, while at NY Now, Dutch company Doing Goods highlighted its critter-shaped throw rugs.
  • Design-Driven Dog Lovers: Next-gen pet accessories embrace playfulness and individuality. New York brand Mr. Dog showed its updated series of cartoon-like robot cases that attach to leashes for carrying dog-poop bags. Meanwhile, Vuff – also based in New York – introduced its line of lightweight, one-size-fits-all, easy-care plastic mesh collars and leashes, whose sleek profile is intended to appeal to a mature consumer.
Doing Goods
Mr. Dog
  • Inclusive Self-Care: Consumers are retreating to products that nurture their wellbeing – a topic explored in our report Serving the Self-Care Generation – and designers are creating items that provide solutions for everyone, from men to children. 

    At Shoppe Object, Californian brand Boy Smells presented its range of candles intended to thwart the gender binary by mitigating typically feminine aromas with masculine notes. Toronto-based Way of Will introduced its skincare range infused with proprietary essential oil blends designed to stimulate mental activity. 

    Meanwhile at NY Now, French-based beauty company Nailmatic highlighted its children’s line. The newly expanded range includes certified eco-friendly soap and bath bombs. 

  • Kids In Motion: Ergonomics are no longer just for the office, and companies like New York’s ErgoErgo have launched supportive chairs for children that encourage them to stay active even while sitting. Similarly, Dutch brand Wobbel asks kids to test their balance with a rocking wooden plank that can be used for seating or playtime.
Boy Smells
Way of Will
Published: 17 Aug 2018

Inclusive Sensorial Design for Autistic Users

Tink Things

Autism affects one in 160 people worldwide – a number that is reportedly growing (WHO, 2017). As highlighted in Design for Disability, this represents a huge proportion of society that could benefit from inclusive goods. We look at how sensorial design is catering to autistic users’ needs in both furniture and merchandise, creating emotionally tailored product and praiseworthy branding.

Croatian brand Tink Things creates kids’ furniture with “sensory intelligence” in mind. Designed on the premise that learning and creativity are processes that involve the entire body, the Mia and Ika chairs explore how furniture can support the mental state of autistic children.

Mia is a cocoon-like spherical enclosure of black fabric held within a timber frame. The seat has a gentle swing to help with concentration and soothe the child, and the soft, embracing form can be opened up and closed off to create a sense of privacy and escape when they’re feeling overwhelmed.

By contrast, the Ika chair is for kids who need physical stimulation. The seat is a soft, padded swing suspended by rope from outer timber legs. It encourages the child to rock and bounce to release frenetic energy for more engaged learning.

Meanwhile, in a bid to encourage people with mixed abilities to attend this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the event is handing out backpacks filled with sensorial contents to entertain and calm individuals with autism. The child’s version features a fidget toy, a soft toy, ear plugs and a water bottle, as well as a list of relaxed performances. The adult’s version is larger and comes without the soft toy.

The festival also features one of the UK’s few Changing Places toilets, which is an updated disabled loo that better caters to those with learning and physical disabilities. The design has an enlarged floorplan, an adult-sized changing bench, a hoist system, a privacy screen, and a centrally positioned toilet.

Published: 15 Aug 2018

Clare: the Paint Brand Empowering DIY Home Renovators


As explored in Here Come the Homebodies, consumers are spending more time and money on home improvements. In the US alone, annual spending is expected to reach $350bn by 2019 (JCHS, 2018). Building on this momentum is Clare – a new online paint company adopting algorithms and a ‘less is more’ approach to empower DIYers.

Clare is the new project from US interior designer and TV personality Nicole Gibbons, who realised the frustration that homeowners feel when trying to navigate endless colour charts and uninspiring home retail stores. “With little guidance, it’s always been a confusing, overwhelming and cumbersome process,” says Gibbons. “It was obvious that the paint industry wasn’t evolving to fit the needs of today’s consumer.”

Clare offers a decluttered colour palette of 55 low-chemical, low-pollutant shades, with the range selected to suit a diversity of spaces and individual tastes. For consumers needing a little extra help, the Colour Genius – an algorithmically sorted colour consultant – suggests a personalised shade based on eight questions about the user and their space.

Consumers can also try before they buy with colour-swatch stickers that can be wiped on, peeled off and repositioned for an instant, mess-free means of testing and comparing paints within the home. Meanwhile, Clare’s blog keeps consumers engaged with a growing database of tips and inspirational case studies to help guide them with their decorating.

In the US, more than 60% of consumers prefer to take on DIY projects rather than hire professionals or opt for pre-made product, with 58% choosing to go it alone because they enjoy it and feel they can handle the job (Venveo, 2015). Brands need to cater to these motivated homemakers by reframing their services as enablers of action and creativity.

Published: 10 Aug 2018

Harth: Rental Furniture Platform Shaking up Luxury Retail


Spurred by a lack of resources and real estate, consumers are choosing to ditch home ownership in favour of subscription access to shared housing, communal offices, pooled transport and hired goods. Harth is a luxury rental service for designer homeware that’s shaking up retail to cater to transient, 21st-century lifestyles.

Harth connects users and brands with other users looking to decorate their home or event for a specific period of time. Users can make money renting out pieces that are in storage or not in use, while enabling others to dress up transitory spaces without committing to the full price or taking their belongings with them if they move.

Harth was founded by in-the-know creatives Henrietta Thompson, editor-at-large of Wallpaper* Magazine; and her husband Edward Padmore, an experienced corporate entrepreneur. The couple’s collective experience in the design industry promises to explore how the shared economy can best serve makers and clients, while advocating this system for the high-end market.

Still in the pre-launch phase, customers can sign up to Harth by filling out their details online and completing a short phone interview for security purposes. Once a member, users can choose from a catalogue of one-off vintage and new-range product, which is then installed by Harth’s logistics team.

Goods designed for shared environments are becoming more widely accepted, with co-living being acknowledged by influential furniture brands – see the communal sofas from Milan Design Week 2018. However, rental formats have been slow to infiltrate the luxury market. Brands need to embrace more fluid and forward-facing approaches to ownership to future-proof their services and win over sustainably conscious consumers.

Published: 8 Aug 2018

Inflated Floor Mat Boosts Employee Health & Productivity

Joonyeon Jo

Increasing work hours and growing public concern over wellbeing are driving individuals and businesses to invest in improved office ergonomics. UK designer Joonyeon Jo explores the potential of tactility within this environment to improve both user health and productivity.

His Motion Office project aims to introduce movement and activity into the corporate workspace. The design consists of two elements: Motion Desk and Motion Ground. The first is a thin stand-up desk that can be adjusted in height for different users. The second is a floor mat fitted with small triangular tiles in glazed ceramic, timber, glass and bronze. The mat is inflated slightly using motion airbags, while heating elements warm up the tiles in certain areas.

Jo employs a multitude of sensory features to create a dynamic and changing physical environment to suit and awaken the body. The uneven surface of the mat aims to mimic nature, making the user more aware of their surroundings and, in response, encouraging the circulation of blood to the head, supporting more engaged work. 

US employees spend an average of 8.1 hours at work each day – the majority of which is inactive and desk-bound (Centre for Active Design, 2016). Physical activity, even through minor sensorial interactions, is being used as a means to break the monotony of extended sedentary working hours, and incite a more natural and interactive state of being. 

As explored in our Active Lives Macro Trend reporting, consumers are seeking to reconnect with their bodies and discover moments of intrigue and exploration in their everyday lives. Brands need to consider how they can cater to this emerging need, and reinvent the office so that employees are both physically and mentally absorbed in their work. For more, see Blueprint for the Modern Workplace.