• Steven Heller

No Cavities (But More Plastic)

The blogosphere can be a spiral of confusion. Such was the case when Leen Sadder, a student in the SVA MFA Designer as Author program in Allan Chochinov’s 3D Design class, was asked to redesign the concept “of the first object we threw out after class.” Her object was an empty tube of toothpaste.

Sadder explored the history of toothpaste, its relationship to the toothbrush, the different features it carries as well as the human habits related to it. “Several prototypes were tested around an array of subjects related to toothpaste, when finally research gave light to a tooth-stick called the MISWAK” and her product named THIS.

The MISWAK is a tooth-cleaning twig used mainly in the Middle East, Pakistan and India. Traditionally, the top is bitten off with every use to reveal soft bristles similar to that of a toothbrush. Read more about it here. THIS aims to repackage and promote the miswak as an organic, biodegradable, portable, more beneficial substitute for toothpaste and a toothbrush. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to package and market the twig to a contemporary American audience, who would not be entertained with the idea of biting off the top of the stick in order to use it. The solution for this is a cigar-cutter-like cap that peels off the outer layer to reveal the natural bristles, and slices them off after use. It also protects the stick from germs and microbes. Along with packaging, a campaign was designed to promote THIS. Using photographs of various sticks and a contrasting photograph of THIS toothbrush in a clean bathroom, a series of posters and print ads was designed to show the simplicity of the product.

The only problem was the packaging. What a paradox. Beautiful package design, but unsustainable materials.

Last week Sadder updated her Behance portfolio, which was then featured by Sam Dunne on Core 77. “It spread like crazy all over the web, generating some interesting debates and reactions, especially surrounding the sustainability of the product,” notes Sadder.

“I think it’s funny to see how the truth gets twisted as more people feature it (the Gizmodo paraphrasing was particularly misleading),” says Sadder. “There was even an article that read ‘Design Student Almost Reinvents Oral Hygiene,’ when in fact all I did was repackage an existing method. And here is someone who was convinced it was a real product.”

“The speed at which this project has spread across the internet is a testament to Leen’s talent and sophistication,” explains Allan Chochinov. “What’s missing from the story, however, is the class’s acknowledgment of the paradox of the design. What might be considered an ultra-sustainable product, once again shrouded in a case of plastic and glass, is a contradiction designers ought to come clean about. Here, the student was able to realize such a finished product and ad campaign–in only three weeks–that it became irresistible to the class. ‘Who wouldn’t buy this?!’ was a resounding sentiment of her studio mates, so we stopped the class to discuss the ramifications of such a product actually going to market. It was a great case study in the power of design, and where that power might lead.”