Frugal Soap, designed by Ji Woong Kim. An elegant and well thought out design. The shape of the soap perfectly matches that of the dish, so that it doesn’t end up sitting in a pool of water, and keeps its form. The concavity of the top is printed with the instruction to fit your last piece of the previous bar into the top to prevent waste. It’s not the first time a soap has used these concepts, but it is all brought together with an elegance and simplicity of design that should have regular old bar soap designers hanging their heads in shame.
I never expected this blog to end up so heavy on the robots, but I have to admit, I’m a sucker for a mesmerizing machine. This little robot does one thing, and I find it astounding how few resources it needs to do it. It solves Rubik’s cubes.
Did you ever have that friend when you were a kid who would come over to your house and mix up your cube? They obviously were hopelessly incapable of ever solving it, but they messed it up anyway. Then, out of frustration at being outsmarted buy a mindless lump of plastic, they sought redemption by peeling off all the stickers and putting them back in the right order. The stickers wouldn’t stay of course; I think that glue from the 80’s was made of hooves and gum. If I ever get another cube, I’m painting it.
Now that the geeky kids of yesteryear are growing up and looking for new challenges, they are seeking extra geek cred by building robots to solve the cube. This one is by no means the fastest, but it is truly a pleasure to watch as it gets up close to squint at the cube, then kicks it over for a look at another side. After it has had a good look, it stops for a moment to ponder. Like a scene from Hero (one of the most awesome king-fu movies ever), the real masters fight the battle in their heads, rather than through trial and error. By the time it kicks back into motion to start twisting, it has already visualized the whole solution. There is something about how robots move. It lacks the grace of biology, but it has an eerie jerky precision, like a zombie lurching about in the endless pursuit of brains. The best part about this little guy is that you can make it yourself. It is made from mindstorm lego sets.
When it comes to artists and inventors, Theo Jansen is my unrivaled favorite. Theo would probably object to me putting his work into the perfection category, since he sees better than anyone the endless adjustments and innovations tomorrow will bring for his creations, but I think they qualify. When we look around us, we tend to consider ourselves the most evolved creatures on the planet, because we are intelligent, and we are in control, but in the eyes of evolution, that is simply not the case. There are animals on this planet that have gone nearly unchanged for tens of millions of years, not because they are inferior, but because they have reached a point where they are perfectly evolved to survive in their respective environments. Theo Jansen creates creatures out of tubes and air hoses, check valves and plastic bottles, and then sets them loose on the beach, where they are powered by the wind. The Strandbeesten walk, run, hunker down, and avoid danger, all with a brain made of coke bottles.
Good design doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be hard to make, or use difficult to come by materials. I hope this video is a design inspiration to all of you, even those of you who never fold your shirts. I don’t see much to be improved in this device. It is inexpensive, easily manufactured, recycled and recyclable, functional, does its job easily and well, and takes up very little space.
Some inventions are only around to fill a temporary void. Think of the Brother-P-Touch, that digital typewriter that was so popular in the 80’s, or that machine that converts your VHS Tapes to DVD. But sometimes, a machine that has reached something approaching design perfection, a machine that is as much art as function, lives on and becomes an antique, and object of historical exhibition. I think this automatic book scanner may be such an item. There are only so many old books in need of scanning, and new books will start in digital format, but if we were going to keep a few book scanners around after the demand were gone, I would want this to be one of them. It is a pleasure to watch, a whispered intake of breath gently lifting each page while it scans both sides, an exhale letting go and moving on.
There are a lot of specialized sharpening devices out there. everything from that big glorified rat tail file you see cooks often using as a knife sharpener, to flat stones, to contraptions with guides and ceramic wheels. I was recently given a Speedy Sharp tool sharpener, by the best landscape designer I know, and I think it is enough of an improvement over the others in a general purpose sense to have achieved design perfection.
The Speedy Sharp isn’t much more complicated than it looks, just a well shaped chunk of carbide with a rubberized grip, but it works better than you would imagine. I don’t think I’ve ever needed more than a few swipes to sharpen anything and it doesn’t chatter or leave rough spots, and it is small enough to not take up a noticeable amount of room wherever you may keep or carry it. It is great for tools or sharpening knives.
I’ve been using my Speedy sharp for six years now and it looks like it did the day I got it.