"Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself. Bad design, on the other hand, screams out its inadequacies, making itself very noticeable." — Don Norman.
I woke up today under smoky skies, with ash slowly floating down and coating everything around me. Wildfires have returned to Northern California — this time, in Napa County. The fires also spread to Sonoma County, and we have lost so many iconic places: Meadowood and the Calistoga Ranch, to name two. And we aren’t even in the wildfire season here in California. It seems fires, and the life and habitat loss they bring will be our reality. We should slowly get accustomed to the idea of bad air quality.
We have to learn to adapt and live with these changes. We have to start thinking about what else we will need to cope with the changes coming at us because of climate change. What role does technology play in this future? What are the new gadgets and devices we might need? Will air-purification go the way of other gadgets that have become part of our home?
While we don’t pay as much attention to household devices as objects of technology, the fact remains that they are going to become a crucial interface for the future. Air filters are a prime example
These wildfires prompted me to get two new air-filters for my apartment. One of them (IQ Air’s Health Pro) is immensely effective, but I have seen hospital equipment with better user interfaces and industrial designs. Another one from Coway (AirMega 400) is stylish, but takes up a lot of room, and it is not as effective in bigger spaces as the IQ Air unit. Together, however, they are doing a good job of keeping the air clean in the apartment.
And that is when I started to wonder: If these devices are going to be our new reality, I would love for them to be stylish and smart. I want them to become invisible, not standing out garishly, and at the same time, be software-adaptable. Yves Behar’s fuse project recently worked on one such device, Coway’s new Icon air purifier. (From the archives: My chat with Yves Behar.)
“Rather than a square or round plastic object that stands out as a utilitarian technology, we thought of a new geometry that places the air purifier along the wall,” Behar noted in a press release. “The rectangular configuration minimizes the size impact, while blending in as a small commode or side table at first sight.”
From its looks, the device looks way more suited for apartment living and has a subtle user experience. It also comes with an app and WiFi connectivity. It would be ideal for it to gain requisite intelligence from weather alerts and interface with other in-home sensors to become more effective. I am not saying this is the end game, but we need to be thinking about continually improving these air filters to deal with newer challenges.
More importantly, we need to be thinking about air ventilation inside buildings, and perhaps residential buildings should be advertising their air-quality as part of the amenities. It is not a new idea. In a recent article, the Los Angeles Timesnoted, “In the late 1800s, the quality of the mild air brought so many consumptive Easterners to the area that out-of-state newspapers started calling the region “sanatarium and fruit country.”
If you can afford to spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars, you can get fresh air, too. I am happy to start with air filters — the less garish and industrial, the better. Of course, on Wirecutter’s advice, eschew the Molekule.
PS: My friend Steve pointed me to a simple calculator created by a Harvard and University of Colorado Boulder team. It helps you choose the right-sized air cleaner that considers existing circulation in the room.
September 28, 2020. San Francisco.