‘Air Ink’ by Graviky Labs

In 2013  Anirudh Sharma and a team at the MIT media Lab had the idea for ‘Air-Ink’ and since then they have developed ‘KAALINK’ a retrofit device for exhausts and chimneys which can remove 95% of the particular matter pollution without inducing back-pressure, as well as a method of purifying the collected soot and turning it into usable ink. Unreal.

Air pollution continues to be a significant problem across the world, contributing to a high number of health problems and premature deaths, 20,000 a year in America alone. In other countries such as India where the laws regarding pollution are much slacker air pollution poses an even greater threat.

The obvious solution to this is simply to clean the air, to filter out the harmful particles before they can do any damage to the general population and their lungs. Devices which can do that are good design, 100%. They solve the problem through pure function.

But, what makes ‘Air-Ink’ great is that it goes beyond the obvious solution. Graviky Labs haven’t just looked at air pollution and asked, “How can we prevent it?”, they have looked at it and asked, “How can we USE it?”. That is what makes the KAALINK great design.

45 minutes of vehicle exhaust fumes produces enough ink for 1 pen, which essentially means if you had one on your car you could easily produce enough ink for all your inky needs from your commute.

Of course the only way to really get rid of air pollution is to educe the use of fossil fuels ‘Air-Ink’ is a great and really interesting way of reducing the problem in the short term.

As I’ve already said I think what makes it great is how it deals with the problem. It goes beyond the obvious solution and takes something that is normally considered to be solely harmful and instead allows us to see it as something which can also be useful.

This design changes your perspective, it makes you look at everything else around you and ask what else are we missing, what else could we use? Great Design thinks differently. Good design solves the problem and in most cases solves it well, but great design solves it in a different way, a better way.

T learn a bit more about ‘Air-Ink’, ‘Graviky Labs’ and their ‘KAALINK’ device visit Interesting Engineering and check out ‘Air-Inks’ video.

Or take a wee look at their Kickstarter campaign.


Dieter Rams’ 6th Principal

Dieter Rams’ 6th design principle is “Good Design is honest; It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.”

Honest design is hard to define and often even harder to achieve and that is why I believe that ‘Great Design is Honest’.

I believe pretty strongly in the principles of honesty and transparency, and like Dieter Rams I don’t believe that honesty within design is too much to ask for, I think it is something we should expect, not be surprised by.

But what is honest design? What did Dieter mean, what do I mean?

To me honest design is primarily design that doesn’t manipulate the consumer. It is design that has a clear function and does that thing well. It is a product that is made out of the material it looks to be made out of, or a product where the actual materials are disclosed.  It is something which has not been designed to break down in order to force the consumer into buying the latest one. Honest design is not releasing a product as something brand new when the only thing that has changed is the appearance.

It is much easier I think to explain honest design through examples of dishonest design.

Fake pockets on clothing for example are dishonest, they are purely decorative but not obviously so, instead they pretend to have a function. Releasing a car with all the same internal workings but a slightly different body is dishonest, claiming a car is better in performance that its rivals when it has the same engine is also dishonest design. Dishonest design is a piece of furniture made from MDF which has been designed to look like solid wood, and where the customer is left to assume that it’s solid wood.

Dishonest design contributes massively to our throw away culture, which in turn contributes to the increasing climate change, global waste problem, overuse of resources and exploitation of workers. If all design were honest we would produce far fewer things, people would have products which lasted and which were updated only when something BETTER was produced.

One of Dieter Rams’ best quotes, in my opinion is ‘Less, but better’. He is a believer, as am I, that we should be designing things which are better, actually better, and not just more of the same.

Dieter Rams’ was a wise man, and  his design principles remain as relevant today as they were when he wrote them. To have a look at the rest click here!

Check out some of Dieter’s work below and see whether or not his designs were honest…

On a slightly unrelated note, here is a pretty good song about Dieter Rams (loosely…), ‘Dieter Rams’ Has Got His Pocket Radios’

The Menstrual Cup

Disclaimer: Although this is a brilliant piece of design, the premise is pretty grim. This post will refer to periods and the other associated items, so be warned-it is likely that this will not be your cup ( pardon the pun), of tea, so leave now or forever hold your peace!

After nearly a year of pondering-I finally gave in and decided to buy a menstrual cup.

First off, I should probably explain what it is. A menstrual cup is a silicone ‘cup’ which is inserted into the vagina during a period to catch the blood… yes it sounds pretty gross..

There are a lot of reasons why a menstrual cup is a good idea, nay- a great idea! The most significant factor to me was that it is far more sustainable than traditional sanitary products. An average woman will use around 5 pads and 16 tampons per cycle, over a year this equates to 60 pads and 192 tampons a year. Which in my opinion is crazy! Each of these items will end up in landfill along with their wrappers and applicators and so on, the cotton will hang about for 6 months and the plastic elements, as we well know will still be knocking around in 100 years or so.

Alternatively you can have 1 menstrual cup which can be reused for 5 or more years-if that isn’t a compelling argument I don’t know what is.

Then of course we can look at the financial argument. 1 menstrual cup can cost anywhere from £10-£30. If you keep it for a minimum 5 years that works out at between 16p-50p per period. Whereas the average woman in the UK using traditional sanitary products, can expect to spend around £4 per period (this of course includes that dastardly, and not entirely fair tampon tax…). Another win for the cup!

The other key argument is that there is next to no chance of developing TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome), from using a menstrual cup-Yay! (For those not in the know, TSS is associated with tampon use and can be fatal, so removing the risk is pretty darn delightful!).

As far as using one go’s, I can now vouch for it being far less grim than I had anticipated. Before using one I imagined using it to be like a scene in ‘Saw’, with me gagging when I had to use it. The reality was far less dramatic, it takes a little getting used to, granted but after putting it in and taking it out a couple of times its not any more difficult than using a tampon, and its a lot more comfortable than fighting with a pad!

All in all, I’m glad I bought one and I would 100% recommend it to friend!

But what makes it ‘Great’ Design?

What makes it great is not just that it’s more sustainable, safer and cheaper than existing products, what I think makes it truly great is what it represents. The menstrual cup, which has existed in some form since the 1860’s and has been commercially available since the 1930’s, is a product which was designed by women to solve a very female problem. It is a great example of why women are needed in design and engineering. If women are not represented in STEM areas then everyone misses out and problems which do not affect men go ignored!

Find out more about the history here!

An Overlooked Icon?

Inspired by ‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’, and with the a new perspective on what might be great design, I would like to explore the humble, flushing toilet bowl.

Watching the ‘Throw Down’ I was struck by how much more there was to the design of a toilet than I thought- this was demonstrated by one potter’s toilet firing water at one of the judges when they tried to flush it due to a terrible/ non-existent rim, another’s failing to flush all the water away because the shape was wrong and another’s left without any water at all after flushing because the u-bend didn’t work!

All these years I had imagined the toilet bowl to be a fairly simple thing with all the important mechanics happening in the actual flushing mechanism in the tank- but I was wrong. So much of the toilets success comes from the form of the bowl!

The rim has to be designed in such a way that the water comes out, at force hitting the front and the back of the bowl, while at the same time not firing water out of the bowl. In addition to this the bowl has to be the right shape at the bottom to allow all the water to leave smoothly, again without any water splashing out and the shape is also vital to the proper working of the U-bend, and then of course there’s the U-bend itself! Until researching for this blog I hadn’t fully acknowledged the importance of the u-bend. The u-bend we recognise today was designed by Thomas Crapper in 1880, developed from a similar plumbing bend (the S-bend) designed in 1775  by Alexander Cummings. The U-bend, essentially, stops our toilets smelling and being all round disgusting. The u-bend creates a water trap, ie. that bit of water that is always at the bottom of the toilet and this little pool of water prevents the gases from the sewers drifting back up our plumbing and into our homes! Outstanding!

What really makes the humble toilet great design though is how revolutionary the flushing toilet was in its time and how well the original form has stood the test of time. Since the Victorian era when the flushing toilet was invented and commercialised the design has barely changed. Why? Simply because it works, it works so well that in all that time we have changed nearly nothing about the toilet bowl. All that has been done are minor alterations to the overall aesthetic.

That is seriously impressive, apart from the ‘safety’ bicycle I can’t really think of anything else that has changed so little in so much time!

The toilet bowl is incredibly functional, pleasing in form and capable of being beautiful without it’s function being compromised and has remained the same for a century because it works so darn well- if that isn’t great design , then I don’t know what is!

I’d also like to give an honourable mention to the toilet bowl featured in this blog image- it was made by Ryan, one of the contestants on this years ‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’. He made a turtle to make the toilet seem less frightening to children (adorable and very clever), and lets face it, it’s beautiful- if I could I would have this in my house!

It is easy to overlook the natural world when considering great design, largely because it is often considered to have no actual design, or at least no intentional design…

However if we look at the world around us as something that has been designed, then I believe we are able to gain a much greater appreciation of just how complex and beautiful it is and ultimately how astounding it is that it works and even exists at all!

When I look outside and see the trees growing towards the things they need, light and water,seemingly without anyone programming them to do so, and see birds, able to glide, hover and fly in a way we are yet to replicate; when I think of the human body, full of pumps and valves, chemical reactions and mechanical movements, full of complex joints and interactions it astounds me. What also astounds me is the common belief that all of these things, things that we are only ever able to copy small parts off, are believed to be the product of coincidence, chance and time- that they simply happened into existence.

Nature is full of great design. The fact that plants are able to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, and gain energy from sunlight with such efficiency, that a chameleon can change colour, that our brains are able to process 400 billion bits of information a second, that hummingbirds can fly backwards. There are so many elements of the natural world that we have been studying for years with the hope of somehow discovering exactly how it works so that we can copy it.

The designs found in nature have been honed over thousands of years and, like many of the things which we design and make, have been through countless iterations- each one a little different and better suited to it’s environment. It’s no wonder then, that we look to nature so much as a source of inspiration and guidance, an endless resource of what really works.

It is no wonder that then that so much of our modern innovation in technology is inspired by nature.

Nature, by the standards I’ve already set out in previous blogs is surely the peak of truly Great Design. Nature betters lives, nature is ethical, it’s exciting, it inspires and it is functional in every way. To top it all of nature is consistently the perfect combination of beautiful aesthetic and brilliant function.

(I say consistently but there are some exceptions, for example the Blob Fish and the Deep Sea Angler, which I think we can agree are not particularly ‘beautiful aesthetic’…)


In 2012 I got the amazing opportunity to go to the Olympics in London.

My dad loves athletics and has always dreamed of going to the Olympics, his event of choice has always been mid and long distance running, he was a cross- country runner in his youth, and so when the Olympics came to London he applied for a great deal of tickets in the hope of getting to just one session.

He succeeded and I’m glad he did. Not because I love sport, I have never been the sporty type- I enjoy watching some of it- the men’d diving, gymnastics, Rugby… though I can’t say it’s always for the love of the sport.

What I found really exciting was the atmosphere in the stadium and the stadium itself. Each building in the Olympic village was completely different and yet in a strange way they all tied together.

The athletics stadium was the centre piece of the village, and in many ways the Olympic Cauldron was the centrepiece of the stadium.

The pictures don’t quite do the real thing justice.

The cauldron was designed for the 2012 Olympics by the Architect Thomas Heatherwick, as requested by Danny Boyle, director of the opening and closing ceremonies.

The cauldron was made up of 204 copper petals each carried out by and inscribed with the name of a different competing country. Each petal was then attached to steel stem and once the cauldron had been lit the petals rose in rings uniting at the top as one flame.

Watching the ceremony on the TV I was in awe of how beautiful it was, and also how unique. In terms of Olympic cauldrons, Heatherwick’s really was incredible- it wasn’t just a stationary vessel for the flame but a dynamic sculpture.

As with so many other things that I have written about in this blog, what I think makes it truly great it what it represents and how it represents it. The 2012 cauldron is a represention of how the nations come together for the Olympics, though all separate, and unique for a brief time we come together with the same goal to be a part of something incredible.

Olympic cauldrons are always sculptural, they always to their job, they are very often beautiful, but most things involving flame are, but few are this special. It did what no other cauldron has done which is allow every nation to be part of lighting the Olympic flame and made every nation an integral part of keeping the flame burning. This is a privilege which is normally reserved solely for the country hosting of course Greece, from which the flame begins its journey every 4 years.

I believe that Heatherwick’s cauldron was the perfect combination of both great art and great design since not only was it spectacular to look at but it’s function was improved by its form rather than hindered by it.

If you want to remind yourself of how it looked being lit, I recommend giving this a wee watch!



A bit of NI…

As I’m currently missing the motherland, it’s perhaps about time I wrote about some element of NI’s ‘Great Design’.

I have chosen the Titanic Museum, or to give it it’s proper name ” Titanic Belfast”.

Titanic Belfast was built as the focal point of the Titanic Quarter regeneration project, and was opened in 2012 to commemorate the infamous Titanic’s maiden voyage. The aim was to attract more tourists to the area and showcase to the world Northern Ireland’s proud shipbuilding history- it’s unfortunate really, that our most famous ship was one that ws such a tragedy.

I have to say that when they first unveiled it, I really wasn’t a fan. I initially thought it was very big and garish with its sharp angles and bright silver sides. It seemed out of place, out on its own in the docks among what still looked a lot like a building site, and to be honest it still does look a little lonely out there.

But in the years since it was built it’s really grown on me. The more time I spend looking at it the more detail I see.There’s probably also an element of ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’, in there as well.

I consider it ‘Great Design’ because of how well it reflects its subject matter. Each corner representing the hull of a different ship, the silver facets dancing in the (very rare) sunlight giving the illusion of the boughs breaking through waves and swaying as it crosses the Atlantic. They’re to scale as well, giving you a sense of the sheer size of these ships that is otherwise hard to visualise. The building itself is 126ft high, the same height as its namesake.

Then there’s the reflecting pools at the base, rippling in the constant breeze and giving a beautiful reflection of the underside of the faceted hulls- demonstrating again the enormous size.

In the sunlight, and actually when its lit up at night the same sharp angles, and faceted silver sides are also reminiscent of the great iceberg which defeated the Titanic on her maiden trip. In the true Northern Irish spirit of giving our landmarks alternative and humorous names, lest anyone should ever accuse us of taking ourselves too seriously- Titanic Belfast has simply been nicknamed “The Iceberg”. It’s not as good as “Nuala with the Hoola”, but I suppose it’ll have to do…

The interior is also beautiful, full of acid stained steel, mirroring the fate of the great ships the museum remembers. The atrium makes you think of the bottom of the docks and gangways themselves, you can imagine yourself at the bottom of the dry docks looking up at the unfinished ships when standing on the ground floor looking up through the atrium, flooded with light and surrounded by 5 floors of balconies and exhibition entrances-it feels a little like being surrounded by the scaffold of a building in the middle of construction.

Honestly, I really do think this building is brilliant, and no the NI tourist board is not paying me (although maybe they should be…). I like it for much the same reason that I love the costumes and the sets in the Lion King. I like that it represents something without trying to copy it and that it instead attempts to capture a sense of it. What I think makes it ‘Great’, is its success in doing so.

Great Design Knows When to Stop

This post is really more of a rant than anything else BUT it does have a point. We can all learn a valuable lesson from the disaster of the ‘Deluxe Collectors Edition’…

When I was 11 or so I bought Titanic on DVD, at the time the Deluxe Collectors edition was on sale at the same price as the ordinary version. I was persuaded to get the collectors edition because with all those extra features it was clearly the best value for money!

Big mistake! 

The issue with this DVD is that they have simply added too much. They have added so many features that the film no longer fits on one disc.

Let that sink in for a moment before I go through the devastating  implications.

Due to the large amount of special features and behind the scenes stuff included on the discs in the Collectors edition, just as Mr Andrews declares the sinking of the ship a “…mathematical certainty…”,  the screen goes blank and the message “Please insert Disc 2”, pops up… Nightmare. I then have to get up, remove the disc, insert the second one and then go through the myriad of menus before I get to rejoin the Jack and Rose.

This is far from ideal. This process though not that long or difficult really ruins the drama of the moment, and importantly causes this DVD to fail at the one thing it was supposed to succeed at!

A DVD has one job- to allow you to watch the film that’s on it.

I think this is the perfect illustration of when less is more. Sometimes designers think that they need to keep adding more to their products to make them stand out. They add more controls, more compartments, and in this case more commentaries until the entire product becomes cluttered and the primary function has gotten completely lost.

Anyone can see that for this collection of DVD’s they should have simply put all the special features and ‘behind the scenes’ videos on the other 3, available discs and left the first one free to host just the film, because at the end of the day people don’t buy a film for the pleasure of watching the alternative ending…