Design is the great practical art. When done well, it's the perfect marriage of function and aesthetics. And today it's being done especially well, thanks to the influence of design-first brands like Apple and Target and a consumer culture that craves innovation like never before. In the following pages, we look at how visionary product design is changing our world, giving us new ways to think about who we are and what we can do.
The Way We Live
The Door That Says More
A stylish home is in the details, and none makes a stronger statement than an entrance. Now the Italian company Lualdi has enlisted three American architects to design distinctive, specialty doors. Dror Benshetrit's model turns an entryway into art (with a diagonal fold that makes the lower half cant inward, so the bottom looks ajar). The paneling of Robert A.M. Stern's wooden portal evokes American prewar apartments. David Rockwell's design, with its tall, leather-wrapped handle, echoes his work at New York's Chambers Hotel. "We spend time picking fixtures and furniture, while doors are thought of as utilitarian," Rockwell says. "But they define your first impression of a space."
The Smarter Alarm Clock
In 2006, Boston industrial designer Gauri Nanda introduced Clocky, an alarm that jumps to the floor and runs away when it goes off, forcing you out of bed. This year she's back with Tocky, which replaces Clocky's wheels with internal motors that propel the baseball-size gadget. Easier to pack for travel than its predecessor, Tocky features a screen interface, playd MP3s, and can record personal wake-up messages. "Alarm clocks don't have to be impersonal machines that just beep at you," Nanda says.
Building a Better Kitchen
Magnetic stovetops | At a glance, this Samsung range looks like any other, but two of its four burners use induction, a technology known—until recently—mainly to professional chefs and to home cooks in Europe and Asia. This energy-efficient process uses magnetic fields to heat pots and pans, boiling water faster and keeping the stovetop cool instead of turning your whole kitchen into an oven.
Multitasking cookware | Chefs know the perils of the wok: airborne stir-fry and splattered ovens. Nikolai Carels has solved the problem with a sort of half-pipe for fried rice (or omelets or burgers or fish fillets). His Boomerang wok for the Dutch firm Royal VKB has a cupped edge that lets you turn ingredients with a push of the spatula. No flip equals no fallout.
Mobile kitchens | For the average American, who moves 11 times in his lifetime, Seattle's Henrybuilt makes it easier to transport a gourmet setup between addresses. Its new collection of islands combines old-world craftsmanship with 21st-century flexibility: Built to spec, each acts as a modern-day hearth for cooking, entertaining, and cleanup, with room for stoves, ovens, sinks, and storage.
New Ways to decorate
Interior designer Tui Pranich offers, essentially, a home in a box. His Tui Lifestyle package (above; tuilifestyle.com) lets you choose a kit—furniture, dishware, bedding, electronics, even artwork—then meet with a consultant to fine-tune the collection. Within 72 hours, you get a white-glove installation. "All you need to bring is your toothbrush," he says. If you'd prefer to do more of the work yourself, visit us.mydeco.com, a search engine created by Great Britain's mydeco.com, which offers a similar all-in-one toolkit. There you'll find 7 million home products from more than 1,200 U.S. retailers, plus interactive 3-D room-planning tools. As Pranich puts it, "The most important thing is how you put everything together."
The future of Lighting
The energy-sucking incandescent bulb is an endangered species: Europe will phase it out by 2012, and the United States soon after. But the alternatives, long scorned for their poor light quality, are improving. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs), once confined to electronic devices because of their dimness, can now illuminate whole rooms: Philips' EnduraLED (usa.philips.com) and Panasonic's EverLED (panasonic.com) emit the same glow as a 60-watt bulb while running on a fraction of the energy, and they won't need replacing for about a decade. And in 2011, the British tech company Hulger will begin exporting the Plumen (above; plumen.com), a high-design model of the long-lasting, environmentally friendly compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) shaped like a sinuous glass feather. "Energy-efficient bulbs have become a symbol of the need to exercise restraint," says Hulger cofounder Nicolas Roope. "The Plumen helps us embrace change."
Tools for Cleaner Living
The Humanair, a tabletop purifier from Humanscale, creates a toxin-free bubble around your desk or bed without producing a draft or any distracting noises.
With their colorful built-in carbon filters, these reusable bottles created by industrial-design impresario Karim Rashid let you take your purified tap water to go.
$10 for an 18.5-oz model; waterbobble.com
The VIOlight's two UV bulbs kill 99 percent of strep, E. coli, salmonella, and H1N1 on your earbuds, Bluetooth headset, and cell phone (which has been shown to be more germ-ridden than a toilet seat).
The Smarter Fan
AM02 Tower Fan by Dyson, $450; dyson.com.
The British inventor James Dyson puts the air we breathe to work in surprising ways. His Air Multiplier, introduced last year, is the first fan without blades, featuring a hollow ring that utilizes the physics of airplane flight to produce a smoother breeze. The new floor model has a racetrack shape, increasing the volume and focus of its airflow. The fans' inspiration lies in the Airblade, a hand dryer that uses air to scrape moisture from skin, and the designer's iconic line of bagless vacuums (which includes the diminutive new Dyson City, for apartment dwellers). All of these inventions place equal weight on aesthetics and functionality. "We tire of things that look good but don't do what they're meant to," Dyson says.
Rethinking Furniture Design
Front to back: Branca chair by Sam Hecht/Industrial Facility for Mattiazzi Design, price to be announced; industrialfacility.co.uk. Corvo chair by Noe Duchaufour-Lawrance for Bernhardt Design, from $1,150; bernhardtdesign.com. Great Camp chair by Paul Loebach for Matter, $26,500 for a set of four; mattermatters.com. Hennen Mobile chandelier by David Weeks for Ralph Pucci, $9,600; ralphpucci.net.
These days, discerning consumers want furniture with a backstory. "Mass production was a 20th-century phenomenon that made a huge amount of goods available at an affordable price," explains London product designer Sam Hecht. "That repeatability is not special now. People want something more." Namely, the hand of the maker. But today's craftsmen are using new tools. Take Hecht's Branca chair: It looks simple, but its parts were cut by a robotic, computer-numerical-controlled (CNC) machine before being sanded by humans. The curves of Noe Duchaufour-Lawrance's Corvo chair sprang from a computer but proved so complex that the piece had to be carved by hand. Paul Loebach's rough-hewn Great Camp series looks handmade, but it's shaped by a CNC machine that chops like a hatchet. And David Weeks' sculptural Hennen Mobile is a laser-cut-aluminum light fixture with an artisanal finish. These furnishings have the inviting quality of time-tested craftsmanship, but they reflect the present. Hecht compares this new approach to the shift from industrial food. "We've experienced the convenience and perils," he says, "and now we're searching for something that, in addition to technical proficiency, has a human essence."
The Way We Work
Building a Better Office
Horizon LED task light by Michael McCoy and Peter Stathis for Humanscale, $400; humanscale.com. Sayl chair by Yves Behar for Herman Miller, $400; hermanmiller.com. Jack table by Della Valle Bernheimer for Lerival, $3,090; lerival.com.
With corporate culture growing increasingly communal, cost-conscious, and plugged-in, it needs furnishings that can work overtime. Yves Behar's Sayl chair for Herman Miller reduces materials by replacing the usual hard plastic frame with an injection-molded mesh backrest. The result is an ergonomic seat that's attractive, affordable, and significantly lighter than typical task chairs. Similarly tuned to modern needs, Lerival's Jack table conceals messy wires with its V-shaped steel tray, while its Corian surface can be milled to suit varying organizational needs. And Humanscale's Horizon lamp uses optical films to cover its LED lights, reducing glare on your computer screen and projecting a wider, more diffuse glow than a standard desk lamp. Plus, its life span is around 25 years of daily use. "Corporations are evolving away from a status-centric environment," Behar says. "The idea of the corner office is going away."