From UV lamps to self-cleaning water bottles, the future of design has hygiene at its heart.

Offices are getting deep cleaned, homes are getting regular scrub downs and public transport services are ramping up their sanitation protocols. Cleanliness has become a necessity as the world attempts to wash away COVID-19. Concerned consumers are seeking products that can protect them against viruses and designers are responding by envisioning how a hyper-hygienic future might look.

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Fountain of Hygiene. Images courtesy of Bompas & Parr
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London-based design studio Bompas & Parr launched a competition in early March 2020, asking designers to encourage handwashing by rethinking sanitizer pumps as well as envisioning “more creative hygiene solutions.” The Fountain of Hygiene initiative challenges designers to explore new forms and functions to improve behavioral norms when it comes to the simple act of handwashing.

“Design has an important role in helping to solve many of the challenges that we face in daily life, including some of those raised by the recent COVID-19 outbreak,” says Tim Marlow, chief executive and director of the Design Museum, which is closed at the time of writing due to the United Kingdom’s coronavirus lockdown. The submitted designs will be exhibited online, with a physical display planned for when the Design Museum reopens, and will be auctioned by Christie’s with proceeds going to the British Red Cross.

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Fountain of Hygiene. Images courtesy of Bompas & Parr

The competition comes at a time when proper handwashing protocols are being promoted by health authorities to help reduce coronavirus cases. Consumers are newly mindful of this simple act of cleanliness, and this is reflected in the uptick in sales for hand sanitizers and soaps worldwide. In the United States, hand sanitizer purchases were up 73% during the four weeks to February 22, 2020, according to Nielsen. In the United Kingdom, hand sanitizer sales saw a year-on-year increase of 255% in February 2020, while liquid hand soap sales increased by 7%, according to Kantar.

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Sterilizing Lamp by Frank Chou

In China, design thinking is also being elevated to improve hygiene habits. In February 2020, Beijing-based design studio Frank Chou initiated the Create Cures project, inviting designers to “promote the development of public health in a designer’s way.” Concepts from Create Cures include the Sterilizing Lamp by Frank Chou, which uses an ultraviolet light to disinfect objects such as the user’s keys, mobile phone and wallet in 60 seconds; the easy-to-assemble safe workspace DIY Safe Capsule by Benwu Studio; and the Time-Changing Hand Sanitizer by Pino Wang and Frank Chou—the liquid changes color as the user rubs it into their hands, as a visual representation of the length of time spent on washing.

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DIY Safe Capsule by Benwu Studio
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Time-Changing Hand Sanitizer by Pino Wang and Frank Chou

The quick escalation of COVID-19 has prompted authorities to promote hygienic habits. In the case of handwashing, the common practice is to wash and scrub hands for 20 seconds. The now widely known regulation has encouraged creative methods to make the 20 seconds memorable and even enjoyable. Apart from singing “Happy Birthday” twice to reach the recommended handwashing time, other initiatives include a music video and dance challenge from Vietnam’s Ministry of Health, which have taken the country by storm and become widely recognized internationally. Amazon’s Alexa will now sing a handwashing song if instructed to and Pinkfong, creator of the catchy “Baby Shark” song, has released a 20-second version for hand washing. Released on March 21, 2020, the song had almost two million views as of March 25.

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Larq water bottle

Design innovation is being elevated to create better hygiene habits as well as offer reassurance and security to worried consumers. In our 2019 report “The Anxiety Economy”, companies were already releasing products and tech that helped mitigate pollution and germs, including Larq’s self-cleaning water bottle, which promises to remove “99.9999% of bacteria and viruses” from drinking water, and French startup R-Pur’s mask, which protects cyclists against viruses, bacteria and air pollution. In early 2020 at CES, AO Air debuted its Atmos Faceware, a tech-infused face protection that filters air pollution. As the world strives to cleanse itself of COVID-19, smart products that offer protection and easy sanitization will be promoted to help good hygiene habits survive post pandemic.

For more on COVID-19 read “Prescribing positivity,” Virtual gatherings,”  “Pandemic paralysis,”  “Philanthropic brands,” “Distanced dining,” “Pandemic brands” and keep an eye out for additional coverage as events unfold.