2010 Good Design Awards

I happened to be at the Tokyo Midtown complex in Roppongi a few days ago, and I decided to have a look at the 2010 Good Design Awards show at the Design Hub facility. The awards are given by the Japan Industrial Design Promotion Organization (JIDPO). The show runs through Dec. 5, and admission is free.

Two of the most interesting items on display were air-moving fans from opposite ends of the technological spectrum. One of these was the Dyson Air Multiplier, a bladeless fan shaped like a hoop. It seemed to be turned on at a low setting in the display area, but there was a definite breeze emanating from it. It had no visibly moving parts.

Standing in front of it, I did what anyone would be tempted to do. I slowly moved my hand toward the hoop. I hoped I might feel something that would help me understand how this strange device worked. But I wasn’t entirely convinced that what I was doing was safe, so I was ready to jerk my hand back in a split second if something went wrong.

Weirdly enough, the breeze rapidly weakened as my hand got closer to the hoop. And with my hand inside the hoop, I COULDN’T FEEL ANY AIR MOVING AT ALL. This didn’t help me understand the device; it only made it more bizarre.

It wasn’t until I did some Googling at home that I finally understood how the newfangled contraption worked. (The video at the top of this entry was a big help.)

Air is sucked into the base of the device by an impeller and is then forced out through a tiny slit running around the rear inner edge of the hoop. This slit is so small that I hadn’t even noticed it. The hoop itself is designed like a rolled-up airplane wing. As air passes over a wing, it creates a low-pressure zone that contributes to lift. In the case of the air multiplier, this low-pressure zone pulls in surrounding air that “multiplies” the breeze. But that action takes place around the edges and in front of the device, which is why the air in the center of the hoop hardly moves at all.

It’s terribly clever, but I question whether it is necessary. If I were marketing this device, I would first emphasize that uses less energy than a conventional fan. (This is a green virtue rather than a frugal one, because the fans cost 37,000 yen to 54,000 yen on Dyson’s Japan site, and $299.99-$449.99 on the U.S. site.) Then I’d point out that its bladelessness makes it safer to have around kids.

The actual publicity campaign does mention these two advantages, but its predominant theme is a quixotic attempt to vilify conventional bladed fans that “chop the air up” so that “what you feel is a turbulent, almost slapping from the airflow … rough buffeting that’s rather uncomfortable.” In contrast, the air multiplier provides a “gentle breeze.”

Sorry, Dyson, but the breeze from a conventional fan is more than gentle enough for me. The only time I ever noticed the air being “chopped up” was when I was about 8 years old and used to put my face right up to a fan and talk into it. The vibrating air made my voice sound funny, which I greatly enjoyed at the time. A Dyson air multiplier would have deprived me of that childhood pleasure.

A Good Design Award-winning fan at the opposite end of the technology spectrum was designed by “DesignStudio Megane” and “Uchiwa Studio Mitani.” A traditional uchiwa fan is made with a piece of bamboo that is split into strips along one half of its length. The strips are fanned out, a roundish piece of paper is pasted over them, and voila – you have a fan. As you can see from the photos below, plastic usually replaces the bamboo these days.

Because these are very cheap to make, advertisements are often printed on the paper, and the fans are given away for free. Anyone who spends a summer in Japan will probably end up in possession of at least a couple of uchiwa without even trying. Or, as the Good Design Award text puts it, uchiwa are “seasonal consumables.”

The design innovation that won an award for the Megane and Mitani studios is that their uchiwa are rectangular rather than roundish.

With the Dyson air multiplier fresh in my mind, I thought this was to ensure that the effort of the user’s arm muscles would be focused exclusively on moving air in the direction of their own face, rather than out to the sides. However, I was wrong. What the designers really wanted to do was create an uchiwa that people would keep for a longer time because it could fit neatly among the newspapers, books or magazines they might be carrying anyway.

Another item that caught my eye was this folding bicycle by Five Links.

Other winning items at the show included a collection of labels for local food and beverage products.

My favorite among these was a box of ebi-sembei (shrimp-flavored rice crackers) that spelled out the word “ebi-sembei” in hiragana so that it looks like a shrimp.

For more info on the awards, click here.
For more info on Design Hub, click here.

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