The mushroom is designed to be the future of home air purification. It uses a small, multi-purpose form factor to surround people with clean air.
Before designing the product, I needed to understand the current landscape and my own blindspots.
Educate people on how indoor air quality influences their health so that they are more likely to buy a product to solve this problem
Make an aesthetic and functional design that breaks through the homogeneous air purifier market
Design not only a product but also develop a company by myself.
People care about their air quality
People are willing to buy a premium air purifier
People want an easy and aesthetically pleasing solution
As only one person, I had to be extremely intentional with what assumptions I made and which ideas I pursued. This necessitated a combination of diligent preliminary research and sustained confidence in my ideas.
A combination hardware and software product without existing infrastructure would take a large amount of capital investment. I had to gain understanding of the fundraising landscape quickly.
I soon found that creating a product requires many teams and skillsets, from material engineers, to supply chain specialists, to investors and scientific advisors. I needed to connect with all of these groups to get mushroom off the ground.
Growing up in California, air quality was top of mind, but I wanted to survey people in the greater United States to understand:
If air quality was equally important to others?
Their major air quality concerns
How they are currently solving this problem?
Using my own survey data and scouring product reviews of popular air purifiers, I audited users' major UX problems to see how mushroom could address these pain points. These six issues emerged:
01 Changing filters
It wasn't fun.
02 Adding something back to air
Why not enhance the air?
03 Lack of unique design
The design hasn't grown
04 Multi purpose function
Why not combine 2 products?
Make it more intuitive
06 Reduce consumable waste
Not like Keurig pods.
My goals for the design were to create the next generation air purifier that was modern, iconic, and adaptable. I wanted to make the air purifier aesthetically pleasing so that it would sit in the center of the room next to people rather than on the outskirts.
When I thought about the layout of a room, I realized that we often position ourselves close to light. Putting the product closer to people, though, meant that it needed to be particularly quiet. As I sketched, I kept looking at my lamp across the room. It reminded me of a jet turbine exhaust. Then the design hit me.
The focus of the design was simple: make a product that was simultaneously unique, but familiar; beautiful but useful. I gave the original mushroom a sense of prominence because I wanted it to take up a central space in the home. I was keen to design not only the product, but your experience with the product. I aimed for the filter-changing process to be amazing and easy - something users would actually look forward to.
Of course, I drew inspiration from a mushroom, but more specifically from biomimicry practices. Like a mushroom cleans the decomposing soil to improve surrounding life, the mushroom would take in poor air and return clean air to keep those around it healthy.
After prototyping the first design, I went about getting feedback from anyone I could. Enough people told me that the size of the product would require a high manufacturing and shipping cost that I listened. My conclusion:
I modeled the second version after a table lamp. The biggest hurdle was that the filter changing mechanism needed to be overhauled to fit a smaller form factor. I thought that this smaller form factor would limit my design, but instead this constraint made me approach the problem more creatively.
While the design of the smaller mushroom definitely resembles the larger mushroom, it took on its own look. With less space for the inner mechanics, I was careful to prevent this constraint from becoming a pain point for the user. I again focused on the user experience of changing the filters. I landed on the pop-and-release mechanism because it conserved space and added a bit of play to the task.
I designed the scent-containing "spores" to give users a choice for the smell of their room. The spores insert into the top and reveal by color indication which scent is in use without having to open up the inner housing or look on the app. Another way for users to customize their experience.
Overall, I was happy with the smaller form factor because it allowed the mushroom to be placed in more areas of the home and, from a production point of view, could be more feasibly manufactured and shipped.
Again, taking inspiration from a mushroom, I designed the filter to look like a mushroom's gills and the spores to look like miniature mushrooms, a nod to mycology.
I intentionally made the plastic for the filter and the spores transparent for multiple reasons. First, to signify the company's mission to be transparent with customers. Second, to let customers really see what was being filtered out of their air and put back into it. I imagined the experience of pulling out an old dirty filter to be shocking and to further demonstrate the need for this product. On the flip side, the transparent materials connote that the air coming out of the mushroom is clean and helps to keep our bodies clean too.
Better Air Quality Sensors
I wanted to enable users to better understand the air around them by giving them a digital nose in the form of the best air quality sensor technology.
The mushroom's lightshade would be designed to match the sun throughout the day to boost mood and productivity and mimic outdoor conditions.
I planned for all of the packaging to be biodegradable and home compostable to reduce environmental impact.
Action is everything
Through mushroom, I learned that its best to keep moving and adapt as I go, rather than getting stuck trying to anticipate every little thing. There's never a perfect moment or a perfect way forward. The only way over is through.
Don’t do it alone
In hindsight, taking on a hardware and software combination project myself was overly ambitious. I learned the importance of surrounding myself with different perspectives and skillsets to create a synergistic team.
Just as in nature, startups are required to constantly adapt. When I received feedback that the mushroom should be smaller, I was initially disappointed. I quickly found, though, that this necessary change pushed me to create a more desirable and feasible product. I needed to get comfortable working with ambiguity .
I would create a scent marketplace that would license out the consumables to be filled with scents from value add, name brands.
I would make another design of an even smaller form factor, one that's portable with a cheaper price point to lower a customer's barrier to entry into the ecosystem.
I would create an augmented reality component around the product. For example, you could see the air quality readout when you look at the mushroom through your AR headset.