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TEDGlobal 2009

Mathieu Lehanneur: Science-inspired design

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Views 433,230

Naming science as his chief inspiration, Mathieu Lehanneur shows a selection of his ingenious designs -- an interactive noise-neutralizing ball, an antibiotic course in one layered pill, asthma treatment that reminds kids to take it, a living air filter, a living-room fish farm and more.

- Designer
Kitchen-sized fish farms, living air purifiers and devices that turn old water bottles into martini shakers all spring from the form-and-function-fusing mind of designer Mathieu Lehanneur. Full bio

One morning, in the year 1957,
00:15
the neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield
00:19
saw himself like this,
00:22
a weird freak with huge hands,
00:25
huge mouth,
00:28
and a tiny bottom.
00:30
Actually this creature
00:33
is the result of the Penfield research.
00:36
He named it homunculus.
00:38
Basically the homunculus is
00:40
the visualization of a human being
00:43
where each part of the body is proportional
00:45
to the surface it takes in the brain.
00:48
So, of course, homunculus is definitely not a freak.
00:51
It's you. It's me.
00:56
It's our invisible reality.
00:58
This visualization could explain, for example,
01:01
why newborns, or smokers,
01:04
put, instinctively, their fingers in the mouth.
01:07
Unfortunately it doesn't explain why
01:10
so many designers remain mainly interested
01:14
in designing chairs.
01:17
So anyway, even if I do not understand science entirely,
01:19
for my design I essentially refer to it.
01:22
I'm fascinated by its ability to
01:25
deeply investigate the human being,
01:28
its way of working, its way of feeling.
01:30
And it really helps me to understand
01:33
how we see, how we hear,
01:36
how we breathe, how our brain can inform or mislead us.
01:38
It's a great tool for me
01:43
to understand what could be our real needs.
01:45
Marketing people have never been able to do that.
01:49
Marketing reduces things. Marketing simplifies.
01:53
Marketing creates user groups.
01:56
And scientists, amidst complexity,
01:59
amidst fluctuation and uniqueness.
02:02
What could be our real needs?
02:05
Maybe the silence.
02:07
In our daily life we are continuously disturbed by
02:09
aggressive sounds.
02:11
And you know all those kind of sound puts us
02:13
in a kind of stressful state,
02:15
and prevent us from being quiet and focused.
02:17
So I wanted to create a kind of
02:20
sound filter,
02:22
able to preserve ourselves from noise pollution.
02:25
But I didn't want it to make it by
02:27
isolating people, without any earmuffs
02:30
or those kind of things.
02:33
Or neither with including complex technology.
02:35
I just wanted to, using the complexity
02:38
and the technology of the brain, of the human brain.
02:42
So I worked with white noise.
02:45
dB is basically --
02:48
dB is the name of the product,
02:50
basically a white noise diffuser.
02:52
This is white noise.
02:54
The white noise is the sum of all frequencies
02:55
that are audible by the human being,
02:58
brought to the same intensity.
03:00
And this noise is like a "shhhhhhhhhhhhh," like that.
03:02
And this noise is the most neutral.
03:07
It is the perfect sound for our ears and our brain.
03:09
So when you hear this sound
03:12
you feel like a kind of shelter,
03:14
preserved from noise pollution.
03:17
And when you hear the white noise, your brain is immediately focused on it.
03:20
And do not be disturbed any more by the other aggressive sound.
03:23
It seems to be magic.
03:27
But it is just physiology. It's just in your brain.
03:29
And in mine, I hope.
03:32
So in order to make this white noise
03:35
a little bit active and reactive,
03:38
I create a ball, a rolling ball
03:40
able to analyze and find
03:43
where does aggressive sound come from,
03:47
and roll, at home or at work,
03:49
towards aggressive noise,
03:52
and emits white noise in order to neutralize it.
03:55
(Laughter)
03:58
It works.
04:01
You feel the effect of the white noise?
04:15
It's too in silence.
04:19
If you make some noise you can feel the effect.
04:21
So even if this object,
04:24
even if this product includes some technology,
04:27
it includes some speakers, it includes some microphones
04:29
and some electronic devices,
04:31
this object is not a very smart object.
04:34
And I don't want to make a very smart object.
04:37
I don't want to create a perfect object like a perfect robot.
04:39
I want to create an object like you and me.
04:43
So, definitely not perfect.
04:46
So imagine, for instance, you are at home.
04:48
A loving dispute with your girl or boyfriend.
04:51
You shout. You say, "Blah blah blah, Blah blah blah. Who is this guy?"
04:54
And dB will probably roll toward you.
04:57
And turning around you is "shhhhhhh," like that.
05:01
(Laughter)
05:06
Definitely not perfect. So you would probably
05:07
shut it, at this point.
05:09
(Laughter)
05:11
Anyway, in this same kind of approach,
05:13
I designed K.
05:16
K is a daylight receiver transmitter.
05:18
So this object is supposed to be displayed on your desk,
05:21
or on your piano, where you are supposed
05:24
to spend most of your time in the day.
05:26
And this object will be
05:28
able to know exactly the quantity of light you receive during the day,
05:30
and able to give you the quantity of light you need.
05:33
This object is completely covered by
05:37
fiber opticals.
05:40
And the idea of those fiber opticals is to inform the object, for sure,
05:42
but creates the idea of an
05:45
eye sensibility of the object.
05:48
I want, by this design
05:51
feel, when you see it,
05:53
you see, instinctively,
05:55
this object seems to be very sensitive,
05:57
very reactive.
05:59
And this object knows, better than you
06:01
and probably before you, what you really need.
06:04
You have to know that the lack of daylight
06:06
can provoke some
06:08
problem of energy, or problem of libido.
06:11
So, a huge problem.
06:13
(Laughter)
06:16
Most of the projects I work on --
06:17
I live in collaboration with scientists.
06:19
I'm just a designer. So I need them.
06:21
So there can be some biologists,
06:23
psychiatrists, mathematicians, and so on.
06:25
And I submit them, my intuitions,
06:28
my hypothesis, my first ideas.
06:31
And they react. They told me what is possible, what is impossible.
06:33
And together we improve the original concept.
06:36
And we build the project to the end.
06:40
And this kind of relationship between designer and scientist
06:42
started when I was at school.
06:45
Indeed in my studies I was a guinea pig
06:47
for a pharmaceutical industry.
06:50
And the irony for me was
06:52
of course, I didn't do that for the sake of science progress.
06:55
I just do that to make money.
06:58
Anyway, this project, or this experience,
07:00
make me start a new project on the design of medicine.
07:04
You have to know that today, roughly one or two every drug pills
07:08
is not taken correctly.
07:12
So even if the active constituents
07:14
in pharmaceuticals made constant progress
07:18
in terms of chemistry, target of stability,
07:20
the behavior of the patients
07:23
goes more and more unstable.
07:25
So we took too many of them.
07:28
We took irregular dosage.
07:31
We do not follow instructions. And so on.
07:34
So I wanted to create a
07:37
new kind of medicine,
07:39
in order to create a new kind of relationship
07:41
between the patient and the treatment.
07:43
So I turned traditional pills into this.
07:46
I'm going to give you some example.
07:49
This one is an antibiotic.
07:51
And its purpose is to help patient
07:54
to go to the end of the treatment.
07:56
And the concept is to
07:59
create a kind of onion,
08:02
a kind of structure in layers.
08:04
So, you start with the darkest one.
08:07
And you are helped to visualize the duration of the treatment.
08:09
And you are helped to visualize the decrease of the infection.
08:14
So the first day, this is the big one.
08:17
And you have to peel and eat one layer a day.
08:21
And your antibiotic goes smaller and clearer.
08:25
And you're waiting for recovery as you were waiting for the Christmas day.
08:28
And you follow the treatment like that,
08:32
to the end of the treatment.
08:36
And here you can get the white core.
08:38
And it means, right, you are in the recovery.
08:40
(Applause) Thank you.
08:45
This one is a "third lung,"
08:48
a pharmaceutical device for long-term asthma treatment.
08:50
I designed it to help kids to follow the treatment.
08:54
So the idea of this one is to create
08:58
a relationship between the patient of the treatment
09:00
but a relationship of dependency.
09:03
But in this case it is not the medication that is dependent on the patient.
09:05
This is, the kids will feel
09:09
the therapeutic object needs him.
09:13
So the idea is, all night long
09:16
the elastic skin of the third lung
09:19
will slowly inflate itself,
09:21
including air and molecules, for sure.
09:23
And when the kids wake up,
09:26
he can see the object needs him. And he take him to his mouth,
09:28
and breathe the air it contains.
09:31
So by this way,
09:33
the kid, to take care of himself,
09:35
is to take care of this living object.
09:39
And he does not feel anymore it's relies on asthma treatment,
09:42
as the asthma treatment needs him.
09:45
(Applause)
09:48
In this guise of living object approach,
09:52
I like the idea of a kind of invisible design,
09:56
as if the function of the object
09:58
exists in a kind of invisible field
10:02
just around the objects themselves.
10:05
We could talk about a kind of soul,
10:07
of a ghost accompanying them.
10:10
And almost a kind of poltergeist effect.
10:13
So when a passive object like this one seems to be alive,
10:17
because it is -- woosh -- starting to move.
10:20
And I remember an exhibition design
10:23
I made for John Maeda,
10:25
and for the Fondation Cartier in Paris.
10:28
And John Maeda was supposed to show
10:30
several graphic animations in this exhibition.
10:33
And my idea for this exhibition design was to create
10:35
a real pong game, like this one.
10:38
And the idea was to create some self-moving benches
10:41
in the main exhibition room.
10:44
So the living benches would be exactly like the ball.
10:46
And John was so excited by this idea. He said to me, "Okay let's go."
10:49
I remember the day of the opening.
10:54
I was a little bit late.
10:56
When I bring the 10 living and self-moving benches
10:58
in the exhibition room, John was just beside me,
11:03
and was like, "Hmm. Hmm."
11:07
And he told me, after a long silence,
11:12
"I wonder, Mathieu, if
11:15
people won't be more fascinated by your benches
11:18
than by my videos."
11:20
(Laughter)
11:22
It would be a great honor, a great compliment for me,
11:25
if he hadn't decided to take all them off
11:28
two hours before the opening.
11:31
So, huge tragedy.
11:33
I guess you won't be surprised if I tell you
11:36
that Pinocchio is one of my great influences.
11:38
Pinocchio is probably one of my best design products, my favorite one.
11:41
Because it is a kind of object with a conscience,
11:45
able to be modified by its surroundings,
11:48
and able to modify it as well.
11:50
The other great influence is the mine's canary.
11:53
In coal mines, this canary
11:55
was supposed to be close to the miners.
11:59
And it was singing all day long. And when it stops it means that it just died.
12:02
So this canary was a living alarm,
12:05
and a very efficient one.
12:09
A very natural technology,
12:11
in order to say to the miners,
12:13
"The air is too bad. You have to go. It's an emergency."
12:16
So it's, for me, a great product.
12:21
And I tried to design a kind of canary.
12:24
Andrea is one.
12:26
Andrea is a living air filter that absorbs toxic gasses
12:28
from air, contaminated indoor air.
12:31
So it uses some plants to do this job,
12:35
selected for their gas-filtering ability.
12:38
You have to know, or you probably already know,
12:43
that indoor air pollution is more toxic than outdoor one.
12:46
So while I'm talking to you,
12:49
the seats you are sitting on are currently emitting some
12:52
invisible and odorless toxic gas. Sorry for that. (Laughter)
12:55
So you are currently breathing formaldehyde.
12:59
It's the same for me with the carpet.
13:03
And this is exactly the same at home.
13:06
Because all the product we get constantly give away
13:10
the volatile component of which they're made of.
13:14
So let's have a look at your home.
13:17
So your sofa, your plastic chair,
13:36
your kid's toys
13:38
give their own invisible reality. And this one is very toxic.
13:40
This is the reason why
13:44
I created, with David Edward,
13:46
a scientist of Harvard University,
13:48
an object able to absorb the toxic elements using those kind of plants.
13:50
But the idea is to force
13:56
the air to go in the effective part of the plants.
13:58
Because the roots of the plant are not very effective.
14:01
Bill Wolverton from NASA
14:04
analyzed it cleverly in the '70s.
14:06
So the idea is to create an object
14:10
able to force the air, and to be in contact at the right speed
14:12
at the right place, in all the effective parts of the plant.
14:16
So this is the final object.
14:20
It will be launched next September.
14:22
(Applause)
14:26
This one is kind of the same approach
14:29
because I include, in a product
14:31
like Andrea, some plants.
14:33
And in this one, plants are used for the water filtration ability.
14:36
And it includes some fishes as well.
14:40
But here, unlike Andrea,
14:42
here are supposed to be eaten.
14:44
Indeed, this object is a domestic farm,
14:46
for fishes and green.
14:49
So the idea of this object
14:51
is to be able to get at home
14:54
very local food.
14:57
The locavores
14:59
used to get food
15:01
taken in a radius of 100 miles.
15:03
Local River is able to provide you
15:05
food directly in your living room.
15:07
So the principle of this object
15:10
is to create an ecosystem
15:13
called aquaponics.
15:15
And the aquaponics is the dirty water of the fish,
15:17
by a water pump, feeds the plants above.
15:21
And the plants will filter, by the roots,
15:24
the dirty water of the fish.
15:27
After, it goes back into the fish tank.
15:29
After that you have two options.
15:33
Or you sit down in front of it like you would do in front your TV set.
15:35
Amazing channel.
15:38
Or you start fishing.
15:41
And you make some sushis with a fish
15:43
and the aromatic plants above.
15:46
Because you can grow some potatoes.
15:48
No, not potatoes, but tomatoes,
15:50
aromatic plants and so on.
15:52
So now we can breathe safely.
15:54
Now we can eat local food.
15:57
Now we can be treated by smart medicine.
16:00
Now we can be well-balanced in our biorhythm
16:03
with daylight.
16:06
But it was important to create a perfect place,
16:08
so I tried to,
16:11
in order to work and create.
16:13
So I designed, for an American scientist based in Paris,
16:16
a very stimulative, brain-stimulative office.
16:20
I wanted to create a perfect place
16:23
where you can work and play,
16:26
and where your body and your brain can work together.
16:28
So, in this office,
16:31
you do not work anymore at your desk, like a politician.
16:33
Your seat, your sleep and your play
16:37
on a big geodesic island made of leather.
16:41
See, like this one?
16:45
In this office you do not work and write and draw on a sheet of paper,
16:47
but you draw directly on a kind of huge whiteboard cave,
16:52
like a prehistoric scientist.
16:57
So you, like that, can make some sport during your work.
16:59
In this office
17:03
you do not need to go out
17:07
in order to be in contact with nature.
17:09
You include, directly, the nature in the floor of the office.
17:12
You can see it there.
17:17
This is an inspiration image
17:20
to lead this project of the office.
17:22
It really helped me to design it.
17:24
I never show it to my client. He would be so afraid.
17:26
(Laughter)
17:29
Just for my workshop.
17:30
I guess it may be the revenge of the guinea pig I was.
17:33
But it's maybe the conviction
17:37
as monkey and homunculus we are.
17:41
All of us need to be considered according to our real nature.
17:45
Thank you very much.
17:51
(Applause)
17:53

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About the speaker:

Mathieu Lehanneur - Designer
Kitchen-sized fish farms, living air purifiers and devices that turn old water bottles into martini shakers all spring from the form-and-function-fusing mind of designer Mathieu Lehanneur.

Why you should listen

Mathieu Lehanneur first began turning the heads of design junkies at MOMA's 2008 show "Design and the Elastic Mind"-- a watershed survey celebrating fusions of technology and wild imagination. With its Lucite lines, lush green interior and rounded corners, the Andrea purifier featured in the exhibit resembles a mash-up of a terrarium and an iMac, but its function is less visible. Inspired by NASA research and designed by Lehanneur and partner David Edwards so that the plants in it metabolize the micro-toxins in the air, it's nothing less than a domestic breathing machine.

Though he's inspired by nature, Lehanneur isn't interested in biomimicry, but rather in the symbiosis between living and synthetic materials, often to solve environmental problems. Lehanneur's Local River, at first glance a large aquarium-cum-herb garden, is in fact designed to be an indoor food farm, with the locavore in mind. He also integrates technology into his designs for commercial products such as Binauric's Boom Boom speakers and Lexon's Take Time watch.

More profile about the speaker
Mathieu Lehanneur | Speaker | TED.com