Hot on HuffPost Tech:

See More Stories
AOL Tech

The Week in Design: Rethinking Our Relationship to Objects

Week in Design
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.

Maybe we've had a change in heart, or maybe we didn't dig deep enough into the Interwebs, but all of our criteria for good design are present in the objects we've culled this week -- even the ones that could use a little work. Reimagining the objects already around us, this week's designs display ingenuity and forward thinking. From an audio recorder redesigned as a set of synesthetic pens to a fire-staring kit made from IKEA dreck, these designers didn't simply improve existing objects, but rethought our relationships to them.

Fox In The Box by Stephan Thiel

fox in the box
We think that Stephan Thiel's Fox in The Box could represent tomorrow's drum circle. But, instead of the djembes that collegiate hippies use to belt out tribal rhythms, Thiel's project puts the drumbeat in small cubes fitted with Arduino circuits. Each box represents a different instrument, which can be turned on or off by tilting the box on its side. Additional effects, like pitch bends and filters, can be applied by placing gestural "sensoric pads" on the boxes' tops. (Check out a techno-heavy video demo of the project here.) Thiel -- who developed Fox in conjunction with Sebastian An, Steffen Fiedler and Jonas Loh -- seems interested in the communal music-making experience, giving each box to a different participant in what may be the next generation of DJ battling.

REC & PLAY by Oscar Diaz and Yuri Suzuki

rec & play recording pens
As part of an exhibition during the upcoming London Design Festival, Oscar Diaz and Yuri Suzuki will showcase a hybrid analog/digital audio recorder set called REC & PLAY. The red REC pen sports a microphone at its top, a recording head, and a pen nib filled with ferromagnetic ink (the same compound used to create cassette tapes). As the user draws a line, the recorded sound is transferred to the ink via the head; the black PLAY pen, fitted with another head and a hexagonal speaker, then plays back the audio embedded in the line. Bridging the gap between visual art and audio engineering, REC & PLAY create a truly synesthetic experience, allowing the user to hear images and draw sound. Check out a demo of the project in a video here.

FLAMMA by Helmut Smits

flamma by helmut smits
Dutch artist Helmut Smits couldn't find any matches or lighters at IKEA -- which is odd, considering that the Swedish furniture chain carries candles (and just about every other kind of product under the sun). Using some mountaineer ingenuity, Smits crafted FLAMMA, which isn't a new product, but rather a kit of IKEA products redesigned to produce a flame. Using a coat hanger, a knife and a wine rack, Smits crafts a bow-drill apparatus to start his embers. An IKEA napkin serves as tinder and some decorative reeds as kindling, and suddenly the furniture maker is in the fire-starting business. Smits proves that Boy Scout skills can never go to waste, and that even cheap IKEA products have more than a single use in them -- if only you have a designer's mind and the sense to see the malleability of objects. In case you've forgotten your survival smarts, check out a demo video of FLAMMA here.

Gesture Remote by Lunar Europe, Ident Technology AG, and zinosign

gesture remote
Thanks to the ubiquity of the touch-screen interface, we don't really even need buttons on our gadgets anymore, as long as the device itself is able to adapt to our needs. The Gesture Remote is a naked, oblong handheld that responds to changes in the magnetic fields around your digits; but unlike a touch screen, the user simply needs to swipe over the remote to scroll through the television's Electronic Program Guide (a navigation system tailor-made for the remote), raise a thumb to zoom in, and lightly tap to select. (Click here to see the gesture interface in action.) The Gesture Remote retains just as much function as the increasingly complex universal remotes that fill the market, but with a bare and minimal design. We have to imagine that getting used to the gesture commands would take some practice, but, for serious couch potatoes, it may be the only exercise worth practicing.

Plumen 001 by Hulger

plumen 001 lightbulb
While we're wary of compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs for their typically cold and, well, fluorescent glow, the Plumen 001 apparently emits a color temperature of 2700K, the same warm light as a standard incandescent. Hawked as the first designer CFL, Plumen 001 sports two interwoven tubes that make the standard compact bulb's tight coil look arcane. Frankly, we think it has the ability to give the still insanely popular Edison bulb (frequently naked and hanging in hip bistros and boutiques) a run for its nearly outlawed money. Like other CFLs, Plumen 001 uses 80-percent less energy, and lasts eight times as long as a standard bulb. While Plumen 001 isn't a concept, it's not rated for almost anywhere outside of Europe, either. But, even if you do live across the Atlantic, a single bulb will run you a wallet-splitting €30, or $38.

Aqua GUI by Bon-Seop Ku

aqua gui
Bon-Seop Ku's Aqua GUI phone concept is one of the more bizarre designs we've seen lately. Core77 suggests that the phone's bubbles, trapped inside a water-filled body, are controlled with an electric current. Lack of existing technology not withstanding, we're initially inclined to love the hell out of this concept. What a beautiful and organic way to interact with a phone! But some problems do emerge in the logistics behind the Aqua GUI: why, for example, is there an RSS reader included on the phone? And a camera app? We imagine that the bubbles could, in our vision of the future, be manipulated so finely that they could resemble a working keypad and even caller ID. But could the bubbles ever be kept distinct enough to act as individual pixels? Either way, Aqua GUI still stands as a sublimely imaginative concept among a sea of phones that are looking more and more the same.

Tags: AquaGui, arduino, audio, Bon-seopKu, CellPhone, cfl, CompactFluorescent, concept, DesignConcepts, features, fire, flamma, FoxInTheBox, gesture, GestureRemote, HelmutSmits, hulger, IdentTechnology, ikea, interface, LunarEurope, OscarDiaz, plumen, recorders, RecPlay, StephanThiel, top, YuriSuzuki, ZinosignInterfaceStudi