Lazor’s first impression of this wearable intravenous fusion pump was of “good visual porn.” That’s because Matt Backler presented the N-One much like an iPod accessory: strapped around the upper arm of an attractive, athletic woman. Lazor soon learned the N-One has the more serious function of monitoring and distributing IV fluids or medication. The concept would allow doctors to employ wireless communications to control dosages from a distance so patients would be spared hospital visits. Remarking on the device’s good looks, Williams noted, “Hospital products are normally very creepy. This is sculptural, humane, and a lot less intrusive.”
—Name: Matt BacklerSchool: Vicotria University of Wellington School of DesignCity: Wellington, New Zealand
Accessible Aircraft Seating System
Sondra Law’s project is a custom wheelchair that can be converted into an airplane seat. It was designed to reduce the number of passenger transfers that disabled people must endure at the airport, including those from car to gate and from gate to plane. “The indignity needed to be addressed,” said Lazor. “This gets marks for empathy.” He and Williams wished the system presented a more sophisticated and groundbreaking design than what, in effect, struck them as a rolling cabin seat. But Nikitas saw no such drawbacks: “An enormous problem was identified and a solid solution was applied,” she said. “Now we’ll see if it ever goes into production.”
—Name: Sondra Frances LawSchool: Parsons the New School for DesignCity: New York
Fully Loaded Chair
Alexander Reh dedicated his Fully Loaded Chair—a lounge made entirely of shotgun shells and powder-coated steel—to the memory of Hunter S. Thompson, the boozing gonzo journalist who shot himself in February of 2005. After studying the photos, Williams and Lazor raised doubts about the chair’s comfort, but Nikitas loved Fully Loaded precisely for that reason: “It’s seductive torture,” she said. “I’m drawn to it because it’s a beautiful object, yet also an excruciating one.” Nikitas speculated that some might even find the discomfort to be “therapeutic,” like acupuncture.
—Name: Alexander RehSchool: Pratt InstituteCity: New York
Grasshopper is a walk-behind tractor with an engine that can run on any kind of organic matter, including dried grass, coconut shells, and agricultural waste. Besides being environmentally friendly, it would potentially assist farmers in developing countries who cannot afford to buy, repair, or operate expensive equipment. “It’s obligatory for students to be thinking about how to serve people in underprivileged circumstances,” Nikitas commented. “This might make a big difference in a village.”
—Name: Russell HenningSchool: San Jose State UniversityCity: San Jose, CA
The Ta-Da Series
“An object falling off a table—who doesn’t live with that anxiety?” Lazor asked when lobbying for Silvia Grimaldi’s Ta-Da Series. A furniture collection that plays off our attitudes toward possessions, Ta-Da alters the typically passive relationship between objects and users by introducing household items that work best in tension-provoking circumstances: A lamp turns on only when it’s dangerously close to tipping over, or a table reveals its pattern only when coffee is accidentally spilled on it. “It challenges our expectations and provokes a psychological and emotional relationship with our furniture,” Lazor said. Williams and Nikitas wondered whether the products could find a market, but they were charmed by the collection’s originality and humor.
—Name: Silvia GrimaldiSchool: Central St. Martins CollegeCity: London
Janus Resource Awareness System
Dominic Peralta’s Janus system raises consumers’ consciousness of their environmental impact, and not by beating up on SUVs. Its hub is a wall mirror that doubles as a touchscreen to register and display, in dollars, exactly how much electricity we consume in our homes and the effect of dimming or turning off lights. The jurors thought the hub’s design sacrificed aesthetics for engineering but found no fault with the concept apart from its limited scope, which they would like to have seen extended to water and gas. “Left-on lights and dripping faucets add up to a considerable burden,” Williams said. “The reason we persist with these wasteful ways is because we’re not aware of their impact.”
—Name: Dominic PeraltaSchool: San Jose State UniversityCity: San Jose, CA
The number of hours students spend online in pursuit of an education is probably matched by the time they spend there looking for distractions. Jeanne Komp’s three interactive web-based games remove both the grind and the guilt by helping aspiring designers to learn about typography even as they procrastinate. Serif is a parody of Westerns in which players choose from a list of typographers (Doc Baskerville, Wild Bill Caslon) and try to shoot out words that contain poorly kerned letters. Faceoff is an exercise in typeface identification in which players must match similar fonts. And Type Invaders is a riff on Space Invaders involving errant punctuation marks. “There are a billion books about typography, but this teaches it in a manner that suits today’s students,” Nikitas said. “Plus it can introduce K12 students to the discipline.”
—Name: Jeanne KompSchool: Philadelphia UniversityCity: Philadelphia
The greatest generation and the iPod generation aren’t likely to exchange instant messages anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say to each other. Katherine Wakid’s digital quilt—a cotton blanket with a built-in computer that can upload photos and record spoken narratives—combines high technology and cozy craft to encourage communication between teens and their elders. Though the jurors doubted that tech-savvy youngsters would bother with a quilt, Williams pointed out that the product itself was not as important as what it represented. “Even if it’s just a metaphor for something that grandparents are comfortable with, it’s clever,” he said. “It’s like a campfire. It stimulates conversation.”
—Name: Katherine WakidSchool: California College of the ArtsCity: San Francisco
Described by Lazor as “the most user-friendly project of anything we’ve seen,” Biostep is a pressure-sensitive floor tile that can convert footsteps into energy stored in a high-capacity battery cell. Based on research undertaken at MIT’s Media Lab, the tiles
are designed to look and feel like rubber flooring. Ideally they would be installed in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic so that the footfalls of shoppers at a mall, say, could light the stores. The jurors liked that Biostep derived its power from common routines. “It’s great because it’s universal,” said Nikitas. “Not everybody drives, not everybody rides a bicycle, but everybody walks.”
—Name: Team BiostepSchool: Pratt InstituteCity: New York
The jurors liked that David Schwen’s Pumafresh membership program promotes recycling by offering participants who turn in old sneakers a discount on their next pair. But they worried that the problem would ultimately create an incentive to be more wasteful. They also wondered whether Puma would actually use the old shoes to manufacture new ones. After debating for half an hour, they agreed that Schwen’s idea was too important to discard. “The entry is refreshing because it’s not about giving birth to another material object, but rather managing the objects that are already out there,” Williams said. “If designers could make recycling fun rather than a personal virtue, more recycling would happen.”
—Name: David SchwenSchool: Minneapolis College of Arts and DesignCity: Minneapolis
Improbably true to its name, Haejin Kim’s Hot Fridge not only chills its contents like a standard refrigerator, but also channels thermal energy, produced during the cooling process, to a second compartment that keeps other foods warm. “It challenges our assumptions about energy use,” said Williams. “Think about all the things that generate heat, like computers. This is just one application, but I can imagine so many others.” Though Lazor pointed out that the miniature size limited the unit to dorms and cramped New York apartments, he also liked the shrewd solution for energy conservation. It’s “brilliant in that it takes a commonsense approach,” he said.
—Name: Haejin KimSchool: Royal College of ArtCity: London
Zippo Home Fire Extinguisher
“I’d run out of the building, I’d jump out of the window, I’d do anything other than use a fire extinguisher,” said Nikitas, referring to the confusing instructions on many commercial models. That’s why she and her colleagues liked Yu-Chun Sun’s project. Not only does the sleek, bullet-like canister feature simple instructional icons, but Sun ditched the standard hose-and-lever system that might prove unwieldy under duress for an easy-to-grip handle similar to a gas pump’s. The jury’s only worry? That deviating from the traditional red color associated with firefighting might be another source of confusion.
—Name: Yu-Chun SunSchool: Art Center College of DesignCity: Pasadena, CA
Though video-game obsessives grow younger by the year, Legos and building blocks remain popular toys. Purin Phanichphant is working to guarantee such basic playthings never go out of style: His Cubot consists of battery-powered modular blocks that can be joined not just in entertaining shapes, but also to create crazy movements. A clump of blocks with wheels might race around the table, while a corkscrew-shaped design could crawl like a worm. Lazor loved the blocks because “they’re not programmed, they’re not hierarchical, and you can do anything with them.” Williams was impressed by the effort to achieve simplicity with a twist: “Designers can get carried away with aesthetics that connote advanced technology,” he said. “Here the form tells children instantly what to do with the blocks, but it’s still high-tech.”
—Name: Purin PhanichphantSchool: Carnegie Mellon School of DesignCity: Pittsburgh, PA
Imagine bringing your own shopping cart to the supermarket every time you needed groceries. According to Franco Vairani, driving your own car in the city is just as inconvenient, which is why he, along with MIT’s Smart Cities think tank, developed the Bit Car concept. Ideal for short distances, the compact two-seater features an outer shell that collapses like the legs of a baby carriage and enables the cars to fold into one another when parked. Stored in parking lots or other high-density spots, the vehicles would be available for borrowing, like airport luggage trolleys. Williams pointed out that the option would be especially attractive to drivers who are averse to public transportation. “People love their cars, but this way they can keep a private enclosure without having to own it,” he offered. “It’s proposing a radical new set of behaviors, but it could definitely work.”
—Name: Franco VairaniSchool: Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCity: Cambridge, MA
The Bold Cane
It’s a vexing irony for older generations that, as average life expectancy is increasing, so too is the culture’s infatuation with youth. In designing another paradox—a chic cane—Vivian Barad transformed an object typically associated with feebleness into a lightweight, stylish accessory that Lazor found “remarkably human.” The jurors were turned off by the prototype’s turquoise color (too hospital-like, they agreed), but they applauded Barad for rethinking an everyday object that was crying out for attention.
—Name: Vivian BaradSchool: California College of the ArtsCity: San Francisco