The following post is brought to you by Quip. Our partners are hand-picked by the Design Milk team because they represent the best in design.
Charles Eames once remarked, “Who ever said that pleasure wasn’t functional?” Sadly, little of this sentiment is connected with brushing our teeth. In its many iterations – whether manual or electric – the toothbrush has primarily existed as an instrument of utility, a tool of hygienic necessity rather than an object anyone looks forward to purchasing or using. Toothbrush manufacturers do regularly update disposable offerings with new bristle layouts, occasionally switching out colors from one garish hue out for another, but these seasonal updates seem more of a style decision rather than one dictated by the tenets of design which imbue the user of any sense of lasting or meaningful pleasure.
Because when was the last time you thought to yourself, “Now that’s one good looking toothbrush I’d love to use!” Instead, we buy toothbrushes because we have to, not because there’s any strong motivation or want.
Knowing this, designer Simon Enever approached the idea of the toothbrush from a different angle, one which balanced the tenets of good design on equal footing with the science of dentistry. Enever believed toothbrushes could evolve into lifestyle products if their functionality was paired with thoughtful considerations related to aesthetics and materials. The result of his research and work is Quip, a toothbrush free of technological gimmickry, but one designed to reinforce the best of toothbrushing habits wrapped in a minimalist modern customizable design. We asked Simon to share about the process of designing a toothbrush that seems as much as subtracting extraneous details as it does adding truly beneficial features:
Could you tell us what sparked the idea to design Quip? Why a toothbrush?
It all began with a trip to my neighborhood dentist in Queens, New York, my first trip to an American dentist since moving from the U.K. I was told I brushed too hard, a common and damaging habit amongst most adults. The dentist recommended I buy the most affordable vibrating toothbrush I could find that had a 2 minute timer, because he told me in reality there’s only the smallest difference between the cleaning efficacy of an expensive electric toothbrush and a cheap disposable model. What matters most is that we all brush for those 2 minutes every time and the vibrations just simply make us brush softer by habit (not science)…
The honest (and affordable) nature of his advice alongside insights into the truth behind bristle design and toothpaste ingredients made it clear there were too many gimmicks distracting users from the real problems: 50% of us are not brushing twice a day, the average brushing time is only 80 seconds instead of 120, and 75% of us are not replacing our brush every 3 months. After verifying these insights with the ADA, the idea for Quip was born. I wanted to use design to deliver a solution for the simple and healthy brushing routine recommended by dentists, but with a modern approach and platform that stands out from old brands to make people take notice and think differently about how they brush their teeth.
So what then makes Quip different from and better than the multitude of other electric/non-electric toothbrushes out on the market?
We wanted to approach oral care from a more holistic, habit-forming viewpoint. I would say Quip is the combination of numerous small but clever design touches that make the whole experience of brushing both more enjoyable and healthier. Small touches like the built in travel cover that doubles as a wall suction mount encourages you to brush more often and is more hygienic. We streamlined vibrating and timer technology into a smaller more affordable package and got rid of the needless modes and connectivity. The subscription head replacement service – delivering a new brush head every three months for just $5 – is a first for an electric brush.
Could you tell us about the trajectory of materials and forms explored while designing the Quip? Was it always going to be aluminum?
We have a plastic handle to help cater to smaller budgets, and will also be launching other materials in the future. But, yes, aluminum was always our focus for reasons both tangible and intangible. The tangible reason is the subtle weight aluminum adds to an otherwise slim and lightweight brush. The natural grip of the bead blasted finish also helps the user hold the brush gently, but also in control.
The intangible benefit is one related to how a good design can alleviate bad habits. In other words, a beautiful design is more apt to be used willingly and regularly, and we believe aluminum elevates the toothbrush into something beautiful.
Compared to most electric and conventional toothbrush designs, Quip is very pared down, minimalist even (including the packaging and branding). Were there any design inspirations outside of the dental hygiene category which helped shape this identity of simplicity?
Simplicity and minimalism are core to our company and we set out to make that evident through every touch point. But this was not purely a branding decision, it was motivated most by our belief oral care should be simple. Great oral care is about consistent, simple preventative habits presented as effortless and fuss-free as possible. We wanted Quip to represent these ideals both aesthetically and functionally with elegant simplicity.
At any time was there possibility Quip was going to be a full-on electric toothbrush (vs. the 2-minute notification system)?
What makes a brush “full electric”?”. Quip’s bristles vibrate while brushing and notify users at timed intervals just like an expensive “full electric” brush, the only difference is that we allow the user to change the battery to avoid clunky chargers and dead, sealed-in batteries. If “full electric” refers to a moving head, then the answer would be “no”. But note, it’s been shown that certain moving head electric designs can actually compound harmful hard brushing when used incorrectly, so we want to avoid that scenario.
How did engineering and design teams work on Quip? Was it fully collaborative, or was the technology solution later wrapped in design (or vice versa)?
The design and engineering process was fully collaborative from the start. This was for practical reasons, best practice ideals, and also because my co-founder and I are an industrial designer and product engineer! We were a small team during development and so couldn’t risk imagining the perfect “blue sky” design just for it to fall apart at the final stage if tech couldn’t realize our dreams. We partnered with our manufacturer about 1 month into a 2-year process; we had tool engineering support before we even had a final sketch. The same can be said of our electronic engineering partners, so this project was a genuine case of the 2 sides of product development happening hand in hand.
Let’s move over to style in relation to design. Americans tend to be a very color averse, yet for many years now the toothbrush market has been characterized as wildly colorful…maybe even garish. What’s your take on this? Will there be more color options in time?
Yes, there will certainly be more colors, finishes, and even materials in the near future. But we deliberately chose the understated silver and slate for launch to focus on our foundation message and belief in simplified oral care.
But to answer the first part of your question: we tested a lot of colorways during development, but likely due to familiarity, the colors most commonly seen on current toothbrushes always were chosen over new, interesting ones (by a lot!). This observation told us that newer, personalized colors couldn’t be the sole differentiator of any toothbrush product and would likely distract from the core message as the other gimmicks we wanted to avoid . We will bring additional options for more personalization as we mature, but it will always be secondary to the drive for a simpler, healthier clean.
What’s your definition of good design? And with that in mind, what are examples of designs you love and use in your personal life that you think Quip belongs amongst?
I find my own aspirations for design tend to align with Dieter Ram’s 10 principles for good design. According to these rules, “simplicity”, “productivity” and “timelessness” are all integral to achieving good design, and when done right, inherently bring delight to the user. It may not be surprising, therefore, that I admire Naoto Fukasawa’s (Muji) and Jonathan Ive’s (Apple) products, believing their work fits in accordance to Ram’s principles but with their own personal take. I also think more and more there are opportunities for adding extra personality to products, so long as they do not come ahead of the other principles. My old employers Yves Behar and Fuseproject do this better than most. Their Issey Miyake VUE watch is a great blend of simplicity, productivity, timelessness (excuse the pun), and personality.
However, I would also add “accessibility” to that list of rules. Simple and pure design takes a lot of effort, but making it affordable is what elevates good industrial design to great. At Quip, achieving all of these principles on day one as a startup is a tough challenge, but we are constantly striving towards every one of them with each and every improvement we make to our products and service, and accessibility was a core addition from the beginning.
Thanks Simon! Visit Quip online and get your own Quip toothbrush at getquip.com.