Bonsai forms a bridge between humans and the vastness of nature using the power of smallness – the power to make an overwhelmingly large thing accessible, manageable and editable. The power of condensation can also be applied to our living environment to make our lives accessible, manageable, editable and apprehend-able. But despite its potential, the effectiveness of condensation is often forgotten because we are preoccupied by the assumption that “bigger is better.” The market is filled with large sized products, even for household items that directly deal with our body.
Take a toothbrush stand. It is a trivial daily item and we don’t spend a whole lot of time figuring out what the ideal design would be, other than simply applying a “bigger is better” theory. As a result, this is what happens.
A “bigger-the-better” toothbrush stand often looks awkwardly oversized on a modest sized sink in a modest sized bathroom. And this was how a designer at the Japanese brand MUJI was feeling about his own stand which, by the way, was MUJI product (not the one pictured above), that had five holes to hold five brushes. He felt that it was out of place and taking up too much space with no functional benefits, because he lived only with his partner in a rather compact place with a compact bathroom sink.
So he decided to design a new MUJI toothbrush stand for a single brush. Because he was weary of everyday items that took no account of the surrounding environment, he designed it by being very cognitive about how a bathroom and a sink would look like for a potential user. It needed to fit on small sinks nicely because many MUJI customers were young, often single adults living in a compact condo-style room in urban areas. He also thought it had to have fewer angles so it wouldn’t accumulate water. But it had to be sturdy enough to stand on its own. He chose porcelain as a material and made it a donut shape. And this is what he came up with.
It was an instantaneous hit. At the store, the small porcelain donuts shined and caught the customers eyes who had to stop and pick it up to feel the fluid surface, asking: “What is this cute thing for?” When they understood that it was a toothbrush stand, they got the idea. And something interesting happened.
Since it was small, it was sold for 300 yen (about $3 – it’s sold at $5.50 at MUJI USA Online)– a perfect alignment of apprehend-able size and affordable price. Customers bought them in bulk (often in an assortment of different colors) and started using them for various purposes, not just as a toothbrush stand. And they bragged about their own ideas on social media. Even MUJI didn’t expect that to happen. Not only was the product well received but it unleashed user creativity.
As soon as the users felt this item in their palms, it resonated with them. They could clearly picture how this little cutie would fit in their own living environment. They placed it in the kitchen, the living room, on the table or on the piano and used it to stand a variety of handheld items such as pens, pairs of scissors, keys, chopsticks and so on.
By the way, we are surrounded by items lying flat because of Earth’s gravity. It’s fun to find items that could be placed in a stand, since vertical lines can activate and invigorate a space. Standing items deliver aesthetic order, movement and accent in their living space, even if they are small.
Because it was extraordinarily small, the stand could fit virtually anywhere without disturbing the balance of other items in the room. The entire experience was inspiring and engaging for so many MUJI users that the item has become one of MUJI’s longest selling products.
This is the power of condensation.