Project Review: Why thermochromic cork toilet seat might not be the best idea?

IMG_0339I remember this project as the most hands on project so far. I am exited to review it although it didn’t resonate in hearts neither co-students nor teachers.

It was in the middle of my second year when the brief was introduced. Live client who is a big cork distributor was looking for new applications for cork and different ways to combine new technology with cork properties to come up with exiting products.

First time ever I was introduced to a new range of exotic materials and technologies from mindsets. Among all other cool new materials and tech I spotted paint that is designed to change its color when heat is applied. There is already a whole rang of simple products like coffee mugs where a design appears/disappears when hot/cold drink is purred. Despite that I still sew a possibilities.  The fascination with the performance of this substance occupied my thoughts but unfortunatelly there was no obvious reason to combine it with cork.

It didn’t take long to come up with an instant solution. I thought about making a home item that we come across everyday, something that could be made from cork because of its pleasant to touch properties… Toilet seat! Brilliant idea I thought!

Next idea was even more creative: “Lets paint it with thermochromic paint I thought.” So I did! I designed toilet seat in solidworks that was more or less normal toilet seat. There was nothing innovative about it for sure. I stacked sheets of cork, glued them together and left overnight under press to dry evenly. Amazing I thought! Everything is going according to plan…



Next morning I CNCd an actual, real size toilet seat with all fittings and a final looking product. I was extremely happy with that, and was running around with it, showing everyone. Didn’t get much excitement back, but it didn’t stop me or upset me in any way. Hade a time of my life running around campus with a toilet seat around my neck.

I was caring and attentive to dateless. I send down by hand all roughness from CNCing. It was so nice and smooth and I thought that everyone would be happy to help me test it… I was wrong!


There was another step ahead. According to brief I had to make my cork toilet seat innovative, to combine it with the technology of some sort. Since I already felt in love with thermochromic paints. I thought it would be a marriage made in haven! And I was about to paint stripes of purple thermochromic paint on top of cork toilet seat. My concern was that due to the fact that paint was water based it would have been wash of or smudged by someones bottom, so I found some transparent wood lacquer varnish and mixed it with paint. And something unexpected happened! Paint changed its properties!

The normal effect of thermochromic paint is that when temperature is applied it changes from color to white. So I thought that strips on toilet seat would go white when someone used it. In my head it looked like a fun prank kind of project. Like a prank masterpiece to be exact! So I mixed thermochromic paint with transparent wood lacquer varnish and instead of turning white it started turning transparent. “That is awesome!” – I thought. I painted toilet seat and tested it. I set on it and indeed- from purple it was slowly turning pink and disappearing and then when cooling was turning purple again.

From looking back on this project I can say that there was not too much thought involved, no real value imbedded. So it was pretty much impossible to impress with this idea course mates or teachers.

I was working around one user case without looking at the bigger picture. I was unintentionally ignoring issues that might have appeared. The only problem that came to my mind was that paint could wash off and solution was found threw varnishing and resulted bit unexpectedly but it still served the purpose.

If I were working on this project today I would have used this opportunity differently. I believe I would have used other existing user cases for cork and focused on properties like easy cork decomposing, sustainability, rawness and renewability. And physical properties like thermal conductivity, electrical conductivity, acoustic resistivity, heat resistance, water resistance and thermal diffusivity. Using properties of cork to come up with product ideas consistent with newly emerging behaviors like social sustainability demand and anti-consumerism movements. Social paradigm is changing towards a responsible consuming and responsible living. Conspectus consumption has left huge carbon footprints and had an enormous impact on public health, wealth, self-worth and overall confidence in living in a good place now and in the nearest future.

Public sharing is a type of a new behavior that accrued from global crisis and paradigm change. That is something that would catch my attention now. And my project would involve more socio-political aspects of living and contemporary social problems that have potential to be resolved using new technologies, innovation and design thinking.

Saying all that I still looking back at toilet seat and see a fun, easy project that gave me confidence in experimenting and testing. I got familiar with mechanical processes like gluing and pressing cork sheets, 3D modeling, preparing file for CNC machining. Crafting part was fun and interesting and testing it as it meant to be used, was fun and exiting.

Growing up as a designer for me means adding layers of meaning to your design. If first my design thinking was straightforward: reshaping and restyling exercise, than now I would say that design for me is about observing a bigger picture and applying more layers of meaning to meat emerging behaviors and needs.

P.S. There is no wonder now that cork toilet seat was not impressive. But if someone would ask me “Why this is interesting” I would still defend it by saying: “Because it is fun!” No harm to environment done. In the end of the day there is a place in life for fun and stupidity, why wouldn’t it be tastefully imbedded in you’re personal time on the loo.


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