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Brush and rinseThe proposal was simple. One paragraph, one page of action photos, one tagline: “Brush & Rinse: Toothbrush prototypes that can redirect water from your faucet to your lips for easy rinsing.” The jurors loved the way a common-looking toothbrush, gently tweaked, could shape tap water into a fluid parabola as perfect as the St. Louis Arch. They talked about the wonderfulness of harnessing the appeal of water play to transform a universally unloved chore, repeating comments about the power of design to create moments when ingenuity boosts utility to an emotional “A-ha!” Their solidarity was too strong to rouse any pithy debate, however. “Will it entice kids to brush their teeth?” Wong wondered. No matter, said Jeremijenko: “It rescripts a daily activity into something fantastical.”

How does it work? On his monthly “day off” for experimentation, consultant Scott Amron decided that lavatory tap water had sufficient pressure to be diverted into a drinkable stream, and that a toothbrush was the perfect diverting tool. Amron made many prototypes. Of those submitted, one bounces water from the head of the toothbrush; another sends it down the shaft and up through a hole in the base. The designer hopes to bring new dignity into the bathroom, where yucky inconvenience has gone unnoticed for centuries. As he wrote in his entry: “Current methods of getting water into our mouths for rinsing after brushing are sloppy, create waste, and place unnecessary stress on our bodies. And people love water fountains.”


The jurors swooned. “It’s all here,” Wong said. “Beautiful,” said Doyle, who admired the way the jellyfish theme was carried out in this proposal for a community of translucent plastic houses highly adaptive to changing aquaculture, just like their namesake. Designed for a Vitra Design Museum/Art Center College of Design exhibition of smart houses circa 2030–2060, this scheme hypothetically sits on an ex-Navy landfill in San Francisco Bay (Treasure Island). Creating a new “amphibious urbanism,” hundreds of houses are sited in a series of new wetlands that remediate the island’s remaining toxins and filter storm-water runoff. The skin of each house funnels and filters rainwater, then purifies it for domestic use with UV light powered by thin-film photovoltaics. Also inside the skin, fluid-filled pockets containing phase-change material act as a latent heating and cooling system. Delighted to see a project “located on a real and specific urban site,” Jeremijenko decided this was a “feasible use of contemporary systems engineering.” As for that curvaceous bio-sexy form, the architects explain that it’s “parametric mesh that uses the efficient geometric logics of Delauney triangulation and its complement, the Voronoi diagram.” Dig?


In the Bay Area, Lunar Design has been playing with water. “Liquid” is a set of shiny little jewels that are actually thumbtacks shaped like raindrops; “Fluid” is a mini-Brancusi sink stopper imitating the concentric water ripples the object might create if dropped into a kitchen drain. Doyle admired the notion of “water” retaining water. “I like the droplets with their teardrop metaphor because there’s so little to it,” he said. We set out to design common objects so lovely they’re “worth framing,” the Lunar team stated. “A key power of design is its ability to stop and make us appreciate beauty.” Indeed, the jurors stopped quietly to enjoy the simplicity of this entry and recall that form can still speak volumes.


Last year’s jury gave Boston-based Design Continuum this award for designing the $100 child’s laptop commissioned by the MIT Media Lab. This year, the prize went to San Francisco’s Fuseproject for designing the latest prototype, the XO, for One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), the nonprofit spin-off formed to make and market cheap, durable laptops to kids in developing countries. With a slew of new physical features, the XO clamshell seals up tight for transporting by handle or strap. Opened up, it comes to life, with flip-up rabbit-ear wi-fi antennas and a transformer hinge that lets the screen swivel around to serve as e-book reader, gaming device, or regular laptop. The super-wide touchpad doubles as a digital tablet for drawing and writing. Less impressed by the redesign than by the demand multiplying throughout Africa and Asia, Jeremijenko stipulated that the editors include graphics to show that successful “sales is the reason the project is being given yet another award.” All three jurors, however, admired the niftiness of the design: rugged, animated, and happy.


Only a decade ago, plug-and-play, or your computer’s ability to merge instantly with a hundred different kinds of external peripherals—PDA, camera, scanner, printer, etc.—was radically new. Today, we’re so comfy with the Universal Serial Bus, we use the term USB as a synonym for a universal connection. Fascinated with the rise of a USB “subculture,” five people collaborated on messages about love, health, and security with the design and exhibition of USB-enhanced objects from daily life. Among these were “eternal love,” two wedding rings bearing USB connectors; “lauschangriff,” a stethoscope with a USB chest piece; and “French connection,” a bra with USB-hooked cups offering “unplug and play” potential. Jeremijenko admired the “tangible wit” of showing that information is not limited to screens. Doyle liked the way the project’s “satire about connectivity” reminds us that “in the end, technology comes down to the interface.”