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The Week in Design: Rethinking Classic Forms

a selection of designs from this week
The Web is teeming with the unrealized ideas of both students and established designers who set out to produce astonishing renderings and prototypes for unusual products. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time, money, or technology, many of those products never progress from the planning stages to the mass market. But that doesn't mean we can't salivate over them, nevertheless.

This week saw the rethinking of classic staples, and the clutch of new design concepts were hard to rank, as they were all much better than what we've seen in the past few weeks. Kia discovers the future with an ultra-compact electric car, while the spokeless bike gets yet another fanboy. We were less impressed by an iron designed with safety in mind, or the photo cube that pulls down random snaps from Flickr's tag cloud. But, for all our bellyaching, we think that even the worst gadget concepts this week had a leg up over our past picks. Good work, designers!

Pop Concept by Kia

Pop Concept by Kia
As much as the marketers have tried, Kia has never been a cool car brand. But, keeping with the green trend, Kia seems to be moving away from its family-sized gas-guzzlers and into the realm of ultra-compact, electric transport -- and it may bring some design cachet back to the company in the process. At a little less than ten feet long, the Pop car is positively Lilliputian compared to Kia's current lineup. The glass-roofed little Pop holds three in its very unconventional seat design, which looks like it would be at home at the Salone Internazionale del Mobile furniture fair. The zero-emissions vehicle, which features LED taillights and headlights, will be unveiled at the Paris Motor Show this September.

ArcTouch Mouse by Microsoft

ArcTouch Mouse by Microsoft
Allegedly going into production sometime soon, Microsoft's ArcTouch Mouse is perhaps the coolest concept to come out of the computing mega-corporation that, let's face it, is not exactly known for aesthetic sensibility. The ArcMouse gently bends to fit the shape of your palm when in use, and then folds flat for storage. We can't really gauge the gadget's scale (so, let's hope it's not as overlarge as it seems), nor can we shake our immediate association with a 'Star Trek' phaser. But, hey, if you're going to redesign a form factor as classic as the standard mouse, you have to think of the future.

Lunarctic Cycle by Luke Douglas

Lunarctic Cycle by Luke Douglas
Why are designers so obsessed with spokeless bikes? We have no quick answer for that, except for the fact that most bicycle designs have remained more or less identical over the past century. (Except for tall bikes. Don't get us started on tall bikes.) Luke Douglas's Lunarctic Cycle features a large, tooth-and-belt-driven back wheel that gives more push and stability than a standard bike. The small front wheel is spoked, allegedly boosting maneuverability. Our only gripe with the bike is that it looks slightly awkward to ride, and just a tad clown-like. But that's just our snooty opinion; take a look at a video of the prototype in action here.

iPhone QWERTY Keyboard Extension by Altamash Jiwani

iPhone QWERTY Keyboard Extension by Altamash Jiwani
Some iPhone users have still never mastered typing on the touch-screen's tiny keyboard. (We'll admit that it takes some practice, and that long e-mails are better left for the laptop.) Altamash Jiwani designed this snap-on QWERTY keyboard to help big-thumbed Apple fans type with ease. But Jiwani's renderings here are a bit deceiving (unless he's designing for the upcoming 7-inch-wide iPhone), because we can't imagine that the tiny keyboard would be any easier to use in vertical orientation. Why not design for horizontal, which is how we type our longer missives anyway? The fact that it clips to a bumper-like case means that it could further affect the iPhone 4's dropped calls, and that the keyboard itself could break off, too.

Roly Poly Iron by Sangyong Park, Jungmin Park and Sunwoo Hwang

Roy Poly Iron by Sangyong Park, Jungmin Park and Sunwoo Hwang
At first glance, we loved the Roly Poly Iron. According to the designers, the iron takes its form from "the principle of the tumbling doll," which we Americans may know as the punching clown. When you take your hand off the iron, it tilts back to avoid scorching your threads. Brilliant! Just one problem: with that inviting, 45-degree angle, we fear we'd accidentally stick our clumsy hands under the iron, and burn a tidy patch of skin right off. And, if you think about it, do you really want a searing-hot gadget rolling around on your ironing board?

CubeBrowser by Ludwig Zeller

CubeBroswer by Ludwig Zeller
CubeBrowser gets the ignominious bottom spot on our design picks this week, but not because it doesn't have heart. (It just faced some stiff competition.) Ludwig Zeller's CubeBrowser is a digital photo frame of sorts, but with six sides that pull photos from Flickr. Now, admittedly, we've never really been fans of digital frames -- even of 'luxe editions like the $450 Andrée Putman-designed frame by Parrot. But, regardless, CubeBrowser begs the question: why would anyone give this thing more than a passing glance? Sure, it's interactive; as you turn the cube, new photos (related by tags on Flickr) appear on each side. But without direct control over the images, who's to say you're not going to get a whole lot of snaps of someone's stomach scars after surgery instead of those idyllic shots of the sky?

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