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Ideo Reimagines the Lowly Thermostat

Ideo reimagines the lowly thermostat.

Photograph Courtesy of Ideo
Photograph Courtesy of Ideo

What happens when a couple of designers from one of the most influential design firms on earth take a break from working for clients like Kraft Foods and Samsung to experiment in pure future gazing? You get a concept product like Blow, a minimalist thermostat that you control with your lungs. If the room is too cold, you breathe at the device with your mouth open, as if you were warming your hands in the winter, and the heat comes on. Too hot? Blow with a pursed mouth, as if you were cooling a bowl of soup, to turn on the air-conditioning.

"We were trying to study things that get overlooked," says Ideo designer Martin Bone, noting that he's dismayed by uninspired "everyday things like thermostats, switches, and plugs." His partner on the project, Kara Johnson, says Blow is largely about making our interaction with such objects more human. The pair recently published the product, along with 11 other experiments, in I Miss My Pencil (Chronicle Books).

Although they haven't yet pitched the concept to manufacturers, Johnson says it's "really not that far from reality. It's not complicated from a technological perspective." Rather, it reflects a different way of thinking. As designers, she says, "we're always trying to push the boundaries," and projects like Blow generate ideas "that we're pulling into our client work."

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A version of this article appeared in the December/January 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.