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The Hot Air War

Are the days of the wet hand over? A few months ago I wrote in the WSJ about the Mitsubishi Jet Towel (subscription only; I did a version of the piece for the BBC World Service which you can download as a podcast here), which has been drying hands effectively around Asia for some time, now arriving on U.S. shores:

I spotted it when I was gorging in a food court — a plastic-cased, cream-colored, wall-mounted device that looked like an attractive waste-disposal unit or, possibly, a mailbox. The only clue that it was actually a hand dryer was its proximity to the wash basins. Using it was like a glimpse of hand-drying heaven. Instead of sticking your hands below a single air jet, you put them inside a sort of trough inside the unit, between two jets that start blowing automatically onto both sides of your hands.

Instead of searing blasts of hot air that shrivel the skin and give your hands a weird burning sensation, the Jet Towel envelops them in a strong but muted cushion of air, circulating within the trough. Instead of rubbing your hands together vigorously in the vain hope of dislodging the damp, you just move the hands up and down slowly. Instead of the water dripping off your hands onto the floor, it falls to the bottom of the trough and down a pipe into the base of the unit. Instead of the usual half-minute or so of frantic hand-rubbing, followed by some pant-wiping, pull out your hands after a few seconds and they’re dry. Really.

Now it looks like it has a rival, in the form of the Dyson Airblade. Right now I’m not quite sure what the difference is between the two devices — they both look remarkably similar. I’m still waiting for word from Dyson’s PR people. But anything that gets our hands dryer quicker and more hygienically can only be good news. Coverage at engadget and The Guardian.

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Building Social Quirks Into Design

At my Mum’s house, and my childhood home, we have this quirk in the kitchen where the dish washer door comes down and pretty much blocks the kitchen entrance. To a designer, or someone carrying a heavy tray past, this might seem like a flaw. I’ve realised it’s not, and that designers, if they’re not already, should consider this kind of thing a feature they should intentionally include in kitchens, or indeed anything. Let me explain.

That bottleneck has created some interesting moments in our family history. Nothing major, but nothing brings people together like having to negotiate a hazard. Folk have to give way; folk have to pass trays over; folk have to try to keep the dish washer door shut. Dogs get stuck; people learn to sidle past each other; people meet in the bottleneck and fall in love. (Well, OK, not the last bit, but you get my drift. In short: A design flaw creates an interpersonal space that helps to bring people together in a quirky way.

So good kitchens (and good design) should not just be about function, form and beauty. They should include quirks, annoyances, absurdities — elements that somehow precipitate social interaction, or at least force users to behave a little differently. I wonder how many times an awkward relationship or bit of family distance was altered for the better by that bottleneck next to our dish washer.