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Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2005
Yamaha's electric cycles, Toshiba's 'Wearable Star' series, Naoto Fukasawa's Aroma Pot, AU's Penck, the Boing collection
By JEAN SNOW
Special to The Japan Times
When it comes to the promotion of design in Japan, there's hardly any honor more significant than the annual Good Design Award. Developed by the Japan Industrial Design Promotion Organization (JIDPO), each year the Good Design Award heralds the best of the best. In its 49th year, and with over 30,000 rated products, the scope and authority of this annual event is beyond question -- it's coveted "G-Mark" is a true sign of quality and innovation (you'll come to recognize the slanted "G" logo -- we swear by it).
The 2005 results were made public earlier this month, except for the Grand Prize winner, which will be voted on today, and so we take a cue from this year's "Best 15" and highlight some of our favorite picks, including a couple of items that we feel should have made the top tier.
We'll also mention, just in passing, that the Toshio Iwai-designed Tenori-On digital instrument, featured in last month's column, received the special "Interaction Design Prize," as well as inclusion in the "New Frontier" category. Who says we don't know how to pick 'em?
Born to be wired
Gas prices being what they are these days, interest in electric-based transportation alternatives is certainly on the rise. Yamaha is seemingly at the forefront of a new wave of eco-friendly vehicles through its Electric Commuter series. The EC-02 model, released in May of this year, makes a strong showing, with a striking design and numbers that still shine as an attractive and "doable" solution to today's environmental concerns despite not yet being comparable to what you get from a gas-powered scooter (top speed is limited to 30 kph, and the battery promises only 40 km between charges).
A star is worn
Admittedly, flashlights aren't too sexy. But Toshiba manages to make us actually care about this ubiquitous tool with its "Wearable Star" collection of LED-based illumination devices. All four models were awarded a Good Design mention, and it's easy to see why. From the simple strap type and clip-on, to a rave-ready tube-like bracelet and longer multipurpose necklace, they all manage to offer a new level of practicality, while remaining pleasing to the eye. The field of wearable technology is still in its infancy, but items like these are quickly demonstrating how the intersection of fashion and electronics can make for truly interesting products.
Even though news that an item from the Plusminuszero collection made it into the top 15 doesn't come as much of a surprise, the Naoto Fukasawa-designed Humidifier, or Aroma Pot, is certainly worth highlighting. Its gum-drop form, available in five colors (orange, light blue, blue gray, green and white), is unlike any other appliance we've seen, and goes to show just how the transforming power of design can make almost anything desirable. Also of note, Plusminuszero has recently renovated its online store ( www.pmz-store.jp ), making it easier to navigate the site and find more info on all of the brand's products.
The AU Design Project is behind some of the most innovative and stylish mobile phones to see the light of day (including the already-classic Infobar series), and it seems like a slight by the Good Design committee not to have included the Makoto Saito-designed Penck in their Best 15 (it does get a mention in the "cellular phones and mobile products" category). The phone's simple lines and beautiful, opaque shell (available in black, white and silver) beg to be highlighted as examples of what the mobile market can offer in stylishness. As much a fashion accessory as an everyday tool, the interface -- also worked on by Saito -- distinguishes itself with a fun graphic look that complements the outer-casing perfectly.
Designer Tokujin Yoshioka could have made a showing in any of the Good Design Award categories -- his work is so diverse, covering not only product design, but interiors as well as graphics. Since this year's Best 15 did not include any pieces of furniture, let us put forward Yoshioka's Boing collection, composed of a sofa and chair for Driade in Italy. Inspired by a prototype honeycomb paper chair that was molded to the contours of the human body, both these seats are shaped to be perfectly ergonomic, with pleated leather cushioning. To see and experience the Boing collection, as well as other items from Driade, make your way to the Driade Tokyo store in Aoyama (3-16-3 Minami-Aoyama,  5770-1511).