How The World Of Design Is Embracing The New Normal

Around the world, creative minds are coming up with bright (or at least, new) ideas to help people stay germ-free while returning to work, school or travel.

The personal inflatable bubble
The personal inflatable bubble

Countries around the world may gradually be easing their lockdowns, but it's increasingly apparent that "normal" is still a long way off. To limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, there needs to be continued social distancing in all aspects of our lives, from school and work to dining and leisure activities. And keeping up with these changes, people are realizing, requires some major new ideas and innovations in design.

  • After allowing shops to begin reopening, Germany is hoping to soon give bars and restaurants the green light as well. But that raises a tricky question: How to make eating out compatible with the new social distancing measures? One restaurant owner thinks he has the answer. The man, originally from Greece, created a new type of face mask that includes a zipper, which diners can simply open and close every time they want to take a bite or a sip. The creator told the Greek Reporter that a large company already expressed interest in producing and marketing his innovation.

  • Social distancing is also, of course, a concern in schools, which are gradually resuming activities in various countries around the globe. Face masks are one option. But in China, pupils at Yangzheng School in Hangzhou returned to classes with an even more eye-catching accessory: "social distancing hats," with a one-meter-long pole jutting out the sides. Have a look here.

  • For people in search of an even greater level of protection, a design studio in Italy has created a prototype for the ultimate social-distancing gear: a personal inflatable bubble. The item, developed by the studio DesignLibero, is made of a fluorine-based plastic and runs on solar energy, the website Daily Geek Show explains. Like something of science fiction, the bubble also contains a compressor and ventilator that purify and filter the air inside. Take that coronavirus!

  • ABC Displays in Bogota, Colombia created a bed that can be converted into a coffin to deal with the influx of corpses. While it's made almost entirely out of cardboard, it is strong enough to hold the weight of a body. The company used cardboard because it is cheap and widely available material: Each bed costs less than $100. The first 10 will be donated to Colombia's Amazon region, one of the parts of the country worst hit by the pandemic.

  • Air travel is another area where social distancing makes sense, but is easier said than done. With that in mind, the Italian firm Aviointeriors​ has a simple but potentially effective idea: reverse the middle seat to ensure maximum isolation between passengers. Another concept being floated these days, according to the industry publication Flight Global reports, is to install a bubble of transparent material above each seat that encases the passenger's head and shoulders.

The Aviointeriors plane seat design that respects social distancing. — Photo: Aviointeriors

  • Planes, schools and restaurants aren't the only places germs spread. People can also get sick in their own homes — just by touching a dirty doorknob, for example. One way to stay heathy, in other words, is to keep hands off handles, which is why a number of designers are working on simple and attachable door-opening prototypes. A Welsh designer invented a hands-free door pull that works like an "arm extension." And in Belgium, a firm figured out that by fastening a pair of specially designed, 3D-printed pieces over an existing handle, people can easily open the door with an elbow.

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus pandemic from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus global brief in your inbox, sign up here.

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A Dove From Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida Tough Enough To Lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 29

Daisuke Kondo


TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

Born into politics

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

He is an excellent actor.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

An invitation for Obama

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

Photo of Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida with their backs to the camera, in Hiroshima in 2016

Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016

Japanese cynics

In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Leftist traditions from Hiroshima

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

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