2003 Student Design Review Best of Category

“O” Tissue Ring
Scott Christensen
Pratt Institute

“It’s so simple and clean and clever,” Robert Probst said of the “O” Tissue Ring. “This is the best method I’ve ever seen of removing a tissue. It comes out perfect every time.”

For a graduate thesis assignment, Scott Christensen, an industrial-design senior at New York’s Pratt Institute, explored the limits of extreme reduction. How little is needed for a product to function well? Christensen fixated on a tiny frustration: digging inside a tissue box for the tissue that doesn’t pop up. He learned that a tissue stack requires a slight pressure to engage the interlocking folds, allowing sheets to emerge one after another. The action works best, however, when the box is full, and becomes less reliable as the tissues are depleted.

After investigating alternative containers, Christensen realized that a box wasn’t necessary at all. Why couldn’t a simple ring resting on top of a bare tissue stack do the job? He experimented with various shapes and sizes. If the ring was too small, the tissues jammed; if it was too heavy, they tore; if it was too large, the design lost visual appeal.

Christensen settled on a polished stainless-steel ring that offers consistent performance. Moreover, it reduces waste by eliminating the box. Duane Smith was so impressed with the concept that he scooped it up for his Boston firm, Vessel Inc., which will start manufacturing and distributing “O” in October. “You can see a lot of complex exploration reduced to the absolute essence,” he said.

With a first commission under his belt, Christensen is gearing up for the next. “I’ve been obsessed with redesigning everyday objects for a long time,” he says. “I went back to school to study design because I wanted to share that obsession with a larger audience than just my family and friends. I have a lot more on the way.”

q & a with scott christensen

Your conclusion that the tissue box wasn’t even necessary is groundbreaking. Was this purely by chance?
It was mostly functional. The surprising part for me was how visually appealing the fresh stack of tissues was without the box. Once they were out, I couldn’t bring myself to put them back in, though you’d be surprised how many smart people told me to design a box to go with it.

How did you conclude that a circular hole, rather than a square or other type of opening, was optimal?
Because the ring moves around a little bit with each pull, I wanted to avoid a shape with a readable axis that would look messy when out of alignment with the stack. A circle is directionless and seems the most straightforward way to communicate the new idea. But I wouldn’t rule out some variety in shapes, colors, materials, a battery option for the lazy, and so on.

How would you handle dust and dirt that will collect on the tissues?
I get this question a lot. The exposure is mostly psychological because we’re not used to seeing anything below the popped-up part, which is open even with a box. The extra surface area exposed on the top of the stack amounts to 25 percent of a tissue. The others in the stack are covered, like fresh pages in a note pad. The problem I will admit to is diminished portability. You wouldn’t use this in the car, or if you like to carry a box around when you have a cold. It’s obviously for more stationary applications.

Why polished stainless steel?
Stainless is a high-quality material. It’s the correct weight. It doesn’t tarnish, rust, break, or scratch easily. It can be finished beautifully and matches most bathroom fixtures pretty well.

Do you generally seek minimal or environmentally sound solutions?
Yes. Simplicity is so rare and precious and so easily destroyed by good intentions that it takes a constant effort to keep the clutter from creeping in. Reducing the number of elements is important, both functionally and aesthetically. To me, environmental awareness in design amounts to asking, How does this get here, and where is it going next? Simplicity is key because an object is a lot easier to recycle or safely compost if it’s made from one material rather than one thousand. I hope everyone involved in making things reads Cradle to Cradle, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.

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