From Social Distancing Suits to Sterilizing Lamps: 6 Quirky Designs for Battling Covid-19

Frank Chou's design initiative has produced some outlandish results, but the hope is they'll provide practical solutions for dealing with the novel coronavirus

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8:36 PM HKT, Tue April 7, 2020 4 mins read

Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Don’t bite your fingernails. Avoid close contact with people. Sanitize your phone. Rewash your hands. As Covid-19 exposes new hazards in public health, many of us have turned into obsessive germaphobes. With that in mind, Beijing-born designer Frank Chou, the founder and creative director of Frank Chou Design Studio, initiated Create Cures, a platform to promote international collaboration on innovative public hygiene solutions.

The idea came when he noticed that some people in design circles were raising funds to make donations to fight against the novel coronavirus that has wreaked havoc across the world. While he appreciated such efforts, he felt the need to create something long-lasting and tied to the very essence of what it means to be a designer.

“In such a large-scale social event, money is only a limited solution,” Chou says. “As designers, we also need to be aware of the problems in public health and contribute to society through the characteristics of our profession.”

With twelve concepts, from color-changing hand sanitizers to bionic pods, some designs may seem far-fetched and futuristic, but many of them are likely to be practically helpful in the long haul. Here are six notable projects from the initiative:

Sterilizing Lamp, by Frank Chou Studio

sterilizing lamp frank chou

Frank Chou Studio’s sterilizing lamp

Chou’s studio came up with a retro-futuristic mushroom-shaped device that combines a sterilizing lamp with a reflective tray for the sanitation of items that carry a large number of external pollutants. “We wanted something that could fit into people’s daily habits consistently,” Chou explains. “When you get home, you naturally place things like your mobile phone, wallet, and keys in the tray and then press down the cover to activate the internal ultraviolet light. After 60 seconds, the cover will automatically bounce off, with every item sterilized.”

The lamp also has an internal 360-degree irradiation system, ensuring there are no blind spots in the disinfection process.

Exprask, by Zhang Junjie

exprask clear face mask

Zhang Junjie’s Exprask

Recently, face masks have sparked some degree of controversy, especially in Europe and North America, where people are not used to the accessory as a part of daily life. Chinese designer Zhang Junjie, from Sozen Studio, wants to break the stigma; he invented a transparent mask, made with a thermoplastic cap, that reveals facial expressions, like smiles. He hopes that the product will, conversely, help to lighten the grim atmosphere caused by the global infection.

Handy Capsule, by Kiran Zhu

handy capsule ziinlife

ziinlife’s Handy Capsule

Anticipating new necessities in daily carry-ons, Kiran Zhu from Hong Kong’s ziinlife studio designed a capsule-shaped sanitation kit with four kinds of health supplies: a disposable mask, a hand sanitizer, a thermometer, and alcohol wipes for external use. The sleek-looking kit made of aluminum has an embedded magnetic suction to open and close, and it comes in different colors. It’s small enough to put inside a bag or hang on the handle of a backpack.

“Time-Changing” Hand Sanitizer, by Pino Wang and Frank Chou

Time-changing sanitizer

Pino Wang and Frank Chou’s Time-Changing Hand Sanitizer

Out of all the WHO’s Covid-19 recommendations, washing your hands is perhaps the most emphasized. But even though people are doing it repetitively, not everyone spends the required amount of time to lather their hands and wash thoroughly. Frank Chou collaborated with Pino Wang studio to create a color-changing hand sanitizer with a visual stimulus to ensure its proper application.

Pino Wang and Frank Chou's hand sanitizer changes color over the course of 30 seconds

Pino Wang and Frank Chou’s hand sanitizer changes color over the course of 30 seconds

The substance reacts to oxygen and changes color, from pink to blue, over the course of 30 seconds to help people gauge how long they’ve been washing for and ensure a thorough clean.

Safety Capsule, by Benwu Studio

benwu safety capsule

Benwu Studio’s safety capsule

When it became clear that crucial workers and frontline staff would not be able to quarantine, Benwu, a design studio that focuses on experimentation with materials and crafts, invented a DIY safety capsule for working and eating purposes. Assembled with materials easily found in any local shop, the capsule creates a circulation of filtered air, so that eating and working inside is as safe as wearing a mask.

benwu safety capsule

Usage diagrams for Benwu Studio’s safety capsule

Users are supposed to place the capsule on a desktop and insert their faces and wrists through holes tightened with elastic cuffs. There’s also a UV light to sterilize the interior when they’re away.

Be a Batman, by Sun Dayong

Be a Batman Sun Dayong

Sun Dayong’s social distancing “Batsuit”

For people in densely-populated areas, social distancing is one of the hardest recommendations to abide by. That’s why Sun Dayong, so far the only architect of the group, designed a wearable space device to create a form of isolation for people when they still need to go outdoors. It’s a foldable pod made of PVC that, somewhat ironically, takes inspiration from a bat’s biotype.

While we’ve become accustomed to seeing people wearing hazmat suits in the streets, Sun’s bionic pod still seems an unlikely outfit for popping round the corner for groceries. Yet, design sometimes takes on layered meanings, and this one has the potential to become a symbolic work for this era.

Frank Chou

Frank Chou

Other ideas to emerge from Chou’s Create Cures project include a laptop stand that, combined with more UV lighting, also sterilizes the keyboard (which is supposedly more hazardous when it comes to germs than a toilet seat), a DIY elbow-handkerchief made with single socks, and a badge that politely tells others that you are not into handshakes. While some of these designs may feel like abstract concepts, Chou believes most of the items will come to play an important role in people’s lives, and his studio is currently working on getting the sterilizing lamp on the market.

anti-bacterial laptop light

Shikai Tseng’s anti-bacterial laptop light

Chou and co launched the first phase of Create Cures in early March, mostly with works from Chinese designers; the second phase followed the global spread of the outbreak, and thus incorporated greater international participation. But the ultimate aim is for the project to outlast Covid-19.

“Create Cures is not only about responding to this crisis,” says Chou. “It’s a long-term project relating to social issues at large. From now on, designers will have to solve more problems, and not just in public health, but also in environmental care, conflicts of nations, and migration. [These problems] are far from being solved by a single country; only with global cooperation, can we come up with effective solutions.”

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