Sometimes it’s amazing the extent to which things become convention and cease to be reimagined or evaluated. One example: the humble toothbrush. Your toothbrush is a necessity – it keeps your teeth clean and your mouth healthy – but it has a pretty big, somewhat ironic problem: sanitation. For all that it does to keep your mouth clean, there’s only so much you can do to keep it clean. After all, you keep it in your bathroom, a place where all sorts of things of a questionable hygienic nature go on, and we all know (or should) the frightening migratory habits of germs and bacteria.
So it seems as though there is not one primary design requirement of the toothbrush, but two: that it brush, and that it stay clean. There are, of course, dozens of ways to achieve the latter of these goals, but the most simple is probably to keep the part you stick in your mouth from touching anything else in your petri dish of a bathroom (note: nothing personal, that’s just the unfortunate reality of the restroom). The conventional approach is to create some kind of holder that keeps your toothbrush upright and the bristles off the counter. Sounds reasonable, right? But then, that’s what you’ve always done.
Enter Ryan Harc, a New York design team comprised of Ryan Yoon and Hark Lee, with the revolutionary proposition: what if we just made the toothbrush stand up by itself…? And thus DEWS was born – “an upstanding toothbrush that incorporates a weight within its rounded handle base to keep the bristles away from dirty surfaces.” It isn’t terribly hard technologically, it shouldn’t prove to be too expensive (especially when you subtract the cost of a toothbrush holder or cup), but it hasn’t been done before.
Aesthetic design is great, and design for comfort is even better, but the ultimate in design is making a product better achieve the goals of the user. That’s what this design does. Let Oral-B or Colgate or whoever makes toothbrushes these days co-opt this idea and adorn it with rubber grips and crosshatched bristles with rubber tips – the crucial step in design was this one, the one that incorporated a whole new quality into the design of a toothbrush.
If I seem overly excited about new developments in the cutting-edge field of toothbrush design, it’s only because I see this kind of thinking and product evolution as being crucial (and lacking) in other industries as well. The biggest of these is the automobile industry. For everything they tell you about being completely new, redesigned, and eco-friendly, the cars on the road today are really pretty similar to what Ford was cranking out a hundred years ago. With all of the brilliant technology and innovation floating around today, it’s surprising that a metal, four-wheeled, gasoline-powered, 4-seater, steering wheel-driven, six-window vehicle with storage in back and an engine up front has so completely dominated the market for personal and family transportation. I just can’t believe that’s the absolute pinnacle of design, especially with all of the pollutants they spew (aural as well as respiratory). With product requirements as broad as they are, there’s room for a world of alternatives that don’t necessarily do everything cars do, but do all the things that we use cars for, only better.
Conventional design isn’t always the best design. I’m still waiting for them to make a car that will stand upright when I set it down.