Objectify Me: Marian Bantjes and her toothbrush

For a while now I’ve been ranting about the inexplicable over-design of toothbrushes. Why the toothbrush of all things, has been lavished with unnecessary inlaid plastic, rubbery bits and detailed parts had me worked up to such a degree that I was preparing to write an article about it. In preparation, I went out and bought several toothbrushes, including the most expensive, complex one I could find. I decided, in fairness, I should try it out.

The moment I took it out of its package I was surprised by how perfectly it fit in my hand. Rubber ribs nestled just below the knuckle of my index finger; the unusual curve of the handle fell below my pinky, encouraging my hand into an elegant, natural form. It seemed to almost propel my fingers back and forth in a brushing motion. Then I got it in my mouth. The bristles seemed to snuggle over my molars with a massaging hug. The bizarre rubbery bits inside the bristles made obvious and satisfying contact with the top of the tooth. And the strange, nubbly mat on the reverse side from the bristles gently scrubbed inside my cheek: double action! As I brushed, the feeling was unlike anything I’ve ever had with another toothbrush: it was pleasurable, sensuous and assuredly effective. I was astonished, as this previously tedious task was transformed into one of life’s daily pleasures.

If everything in our lives were afforded the design attention that my toothbrush has, we would sit in chairs that floated while tickling our troubled backs, have tables that yielded at our aching elbows while remaining firm on top, walk on floors that tingled like active sand, and sleep on pillows that would never allow our ears to flatten against our heads.

For now, I will simply brush my teeth.

– Marian Bantjes

Marian Bantjes is a designer, typographer and artist-thing working internationally from her home base on an island off the west coast of Canada.

Comments

  1. August 19th, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    DH. says:

    I have this same toothbrush, and I actually bought it out of frustration with the overwhelmingly over-engineered-looking brushes on the shelves at my grocery store. I was prejudicially mad at the thing, and when I first put it in my mouth, all the added textures and nubs just made me madder.

    I was complaining about it to my wife, and she grabbed the thing and shoved it in her own mouth (gross, but we *are* married), and she loved it! Lucky for me she had just gotten her own new brush, so I got this one back.

    I took a deep breath, put some toothpaste on it, and started brushing. It turns out, I loved it too. My favorite feature is the satisfying squeak it releases once my teeth are really clean. And now I’m kicking myself for not buying a few spares for later…

  2. August 19th, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Davin Greenwell says:

    I also have this same toothbrush. Have never articulated these thoughts but I have come to the same conclusion after starting off with skepticism.

  3. August 19th, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    Maré Odomo says:

    What is this magical toothbrush?

  4. August 20th, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    marinaccio says:

    with all the lavish praise you could give us a hint.

  5. August 20th, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Amanda says:

    What toothbrush is this?!

  6. August 20th, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    gary says:

    I’d rather not have this become some sort of blatant product-pushing blog. But we’re talking dental care here, and I do want you all to have healthy teeth and gums. Brush up.

  7. August 20th, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    Martin says:

    That’s hilarious. I’m reading through this, and the comments, thinking “the damn thing sounds so good I maybe should try it” and wondering which brush it is. Turns out it’s the same thing I’ve been using for 2 months and I never looked closely enough at it or thought about whether it was different to any other toothbrush. Yeah, it’s ok. It’s a toothbrush. Seems to work.

  8. August 20th, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    DF says:

    Best part? The back of the head is flat so the toothbrush doesn’t roll over when you put it down, getting toothpaste all over the counter. (Why do so many toothbrushes get this wrong?)

  9. August 20th, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Charles says:

    I live in a town with the largest toothbrush manufacturing plant in the US. They made a lot of noise a couple of years ago about how they’d imported the latest and greatest toothbrush manufacturing machines, custom tooled by German craftsmen. I bought one of their new “textured bristle” toothbrushes made with these new machines, the toothbrushes are claimed to scrub effectively with the entire length of the bristle, rather than just scrubbing with the tip.
    At my next checkup with my periodontist, he asked what happened, my gums and teeth were in better shape than he’d ever seen. I just said I tried the new toothbrush, it did seem to work better. He was impressed, and recommended those toothbrushes to other patients.
    A mere year later, they stopped making these textured bristles brushes. They switched to more elaborate designs like the one you’re showing on this blog. It couldn’t possibly be as effective as the old design.
    My conclusion is that the manufacturers are doing these designs strictly for market appeal, rather than actual improved function.

  10. August 20th, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    owen-b says:

    It’s called The Marketing Wall – they have to innovate in order to keep flogging you the same thing over and over again for higher prices.

    There’s a sketch show in the UK that covered this very topic recently – enjoy!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJSlRyQfho4

  11. August 20th, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    barry.b says:

    get a grip people … it’s just a toothbrush.

  12. August 20th, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    Chaussettex Rouges says:

    And so, this brings us to why the iPhone should never have Adobe Flash…

    http://www.colgate.com/app/Colgate360/US/EN/Products/Original.cvsp

    …uses over 90% of my iMac’s processor (3.06 Core 2 Duo with 4GB of RAM)…

    …all to run that red sunray hypnotic background to be extra sure I buy one.

  13. August 20th, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    Jonukas says:

    I hate this brush. You can’t put it on the bathroom counter without it falling over to the side. Put some toothpaste on it and then have the baby cry or the phone or the doorbell ring. It’ll fall right over and smear the toothpaste on the counter. Fail. I also hate the rounded handle. If my hands are wet, I have to hold on extra tight so it doesn’t slide around while I’m brushing. I hate it with a passion!

  14. August 20th, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    bolbo says:

    This is going to sound stupid, but to me, ergonomics come first in a toothbrush… and these (and all skinny toothbrushes) don’t really cut it… Radius toothbrushes feel great in the hand and they have big old heads which make the whole tooth-cleaning thing a breeze. Also, I bet they’re more expensive than this most-expensive toothbrush you found :)

  15. August 20th, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    John says:

    I have that toothbrush, it’s great.

    The “nubbly mat on the reverse side from the bristles” part is for brushing your tongue, you should try it sometime it’s great!

  16. August 20th, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    Tim Maddux says:

    Sounds like a blobject. Bruce Sterling in particular talked about toothbrushes as blobjects in “Tomorrow Now.”

    http://alumnus.caltech.edu/~tbmaddux/

  17. August 21st, 2008 at 1:52 am

    candlejack says:

    Why?

    Because dentistry is far from perfect. We overengineer all of our preventative dental treatment, because even to this day we really have no way of restoring a tooth to the way it used to be (even the best of fillings just not being remotely the same). We can’t actually build back tooth material once it’s gone. We do it out of the willing and desperate pocketbooks of people who’ve already done the damage to their teeth, and who are scared into over-vigilance.

    It’s much like the hair-loss scene.

  18. August 21st, 2008 at 1:54 am

    candlejack says:

    ^ The above is obviously just a hypothesis.

  19. August 21st, 2008 at 2:32 am

    LKM says:

    For my whole life, there has not been a single relevant improvement to tooth brushes. Tooth brushes were pretty much perfect when I was born. Since tooth brush manufacturers can’t actually improve their tooth brushes, they let their marketing department invent new crap that sounds good in an ad, and then sell this as an ostensible improvement when really, you’re just buying the same old tooth brush with a (possibly even harmful!) marketing gimmick attached to it.

    You’re being taken for a ride by the tooth brush manufacturer’s marketing department.

  20. August 21st, 2008 at 8:13 am

    gary says:

    But LKM, even if there’s not a significant technical improvement, if the design of a toothbrush makes brushing more enjoyable and makes people look forward to brushing their teeth more, isn’t that a beneficial thing?

  21. August 21st, 2008 at 8:47 am

    LKM says:

    You are right, of course.

    What irks me is not that there is no improvement. It’s also not that they try to create beautifully designed tooth brushes. I like a tooth brush that feels good in my hand.

    What irks me is that they pretend these changes somehow help clean your teeth, that these changes are scientifically tested significant technical improvements coming out of their R&D department, that you need to buy *their* tooth brush because it cleans your teeth 14% better due to the way they have bristles with round tops instead of flat tops.

    These ostensible technical improvements clearly came out of the marketing department, and such claims strike me as being dishonest, and actually contrary to good design; it’s marketing bs pretending to be functional design.

  22. August 21st, 2008 at 10:28 am

    teslin says:

    LKM, you as well are right, of course, marketing camouflaged as functional design.

    follow the scandinavian form /function, and perhaps we can define what -objectified- is as what it is intended as by direction of comments / discourse to this very blog. for me i am astonished how i am swept up in this toothbrush dialogue …

    what remains is – objectified- brought forward a toothbrush that we all wield daily as a tool. for me when i purchased a bundle of these, having never seen an ad nor heard of them, i bought for the vibrancy of colours. ( and dedication to myself that on certain things in life i am not going to spend precious moments selecting, or going deep into a store for a toothbrush, so yes i also chose off of location convenience but that is a marketing story and i do not feel this is what gary is trying to discuss with this film. my other big dedication to myself is in place now for two years and holding, a new year’s resolution i can keep, only buy tomatoes when they are gorgeously ripe, like they are meant to be ! )

    and came to discover that this design in all its “objectified” moments in our household is that this particular design speaks to tactile, to visceral and to auditory, because it can and does have a cool squeak.

    minor to be certain, yet when our house guests depart they comment more on their new toothbrush than their thoughtfully selected goodie tucked under their pillows the last night.

    to be certain this is a rather universal tool used with great frequency
    throughout the decades of our lives. and this is where this conversation gains value, as to does the chair, as does a keyboard a la valentine type writer, a long known form of a type of communication.

    besides lkm, we are homo ludens, playful creatures and these are FUN toothbrushes ! “these things are fun, and fun is good” dr suess

    ps do you know how much time guests spend looking in the guest drawer for a different colour or ask if i have more colours. we must want them to be a bit more than just function …

  23. August 21st, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    Homohabilis says:

    Well, it sounds pretty nice, but I have just one question: What do you do with it when it wears out? I expect like every other toothbrush I’ve seen it’s not recyclable. Nobody seems to think about this, but I have to wonder: What are our descendants going to do when the whole world’s surface is covered by piles of old toothbrushes, CDs, drinkboxes (they are recyclable in some places, I ship mine to a guy in Phoenix who can put them on the curb), plastic packaging, etc. etc. etc.? A guy named Biff Rose did a song about it some 30 years ago, called “Garbage”; summed it up, as far as I can recall.

    Anyway, that’s why, although this is probably an excellent toothbrush, I won’t be getting one. I can’t do anything about the world, but I can avoid being responsible for the catastrophe myself. Instead, I use the biodegradable Brooks Pearwood Boarbristle Toothbrush (like it says, made of wood and boar bristle, nothing else). It’s rather more expensive (ca. $7 at Whole Foods, cheaper online) than the cheap plastic ones, very old-fashioned design, and it wears pretty fast (I go through about two a year); but it does work, and I know it won’t add to the problems I’m leaving for future generations. (Only one problem: the damned thing comes in a plastic box! *Sigh*)

  24. August 21st, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    g says:

    Is it the colgate 360? It seems this one has some rubber things instead of bristles.

  25. August 21st, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    marian bantjes says:

    As I mentioned in my post, the overproduction values of the contemporary toothbrush rubbed me the wrong way, and actually still does. I agree with the criticism that the toothbrush has entered the arena of marketing-disguised-as-design, and in my bewilderment of why the toothbrush had been graced with such superfluous attention, I imagined perhaps it had become a stock assignment for students of product design: certainly the results looked that way.

    However, my criticism was stalled by actually using one. Does it clean my teeth better than the GUM brand I used for years? Probably not, except—as Gary noted—in the fact that it has made toothbrushing more pleasurable. I probably brush my teeth a little longer, a little happier, and thanks to DH for mentioning the squeek. Very satisfying. Very satisfying indeed.

    It may not have a scientifically-tested technical improvement, but in my humble opinion it *is* a better toothbrush.

  26. August 21st, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    teslin says:

    gary, yes it is the colgate 360 i speak of. that is well provisioned at my house, with those rubber things, that when i opened a pack of two, i wasn’t certain to the mouth tongue take on it. i was relieved to no scent. i partly like an aspect of the brush, the rubbery flex circles for travel when i simply cannot find floss, this works well for the spinach.

    but, before you take off on to excess homohabilis and others, we live remote, makes for a revolving door of house guests. i wasn’t so certain about bringing forward other brushes for the teeth. but i actually am right there with you on the pearwood tb, i have one in gentle blush pink. i love these brushes, they are nearly impossible to wear down, they are of comfort and have no scent. whew for me ! and there is one made in greece that is of similar, composition.

    recycling, OF COURSE we consider this, we actually took apart the 360o to recycle as in curiosity. well….. you need to be a plastics ace ! ! and speaking to the package the exterior had /has the ‘nubby plastic matt’ for your fingertip to try out …well we kept them for the art box.

    and i am just as bewildered as you marian, as to the superfluous attention of the toothbrush, partly how i am NOT willing to hike the store to see them all lined up. and there are moments i become disgusted how we, those of us living or have lived in countries of economic strength have so much choice. and still moan and groan. not enough choice. i chose many years ago to decide how much much time i am willing to spend of my heart beats in pursuit of such. not much, frankly. yet the brilliance here is this toothbrush caught my imagination and those around us, we talk of it with an odd frequency, and when i saw the photo of this particular brush this week presented by marian bantjes, we now all talk even more !

    and candidly, not having participated in a blog experience until this toothbrush, not knowing respectfully how much or to what point it may bore others, i wanted to bring forward an aspect that yvon chounard co-founder of patagonia speaks to.. paradoxes in product design and environment; that being the dyes used.

    for recycling, well we, since 1976 gather used toothbrushes within our household, boil, and they go to the sailboat for all that necessary cleaning.

    i can over think products to depth of detail, and am not confident as to how far to blog. i am a consumer, nothing more, nothing less.

    the 360 is for me simply FUN and PLAY.ful and such a fun tactile experience.

    since marian pointed it out this being a possible “stock assignment for students’, it becomes a place of excellence for us all to springboard in to -objectified- and the weekly post of ‘objectify – me!’ and cut our teeth on. look at the dialogue this brush has generated !

    and if you have EVER taken on recycling as we did for two years at this level as taught us by our awesome neighbors hailing from germany, we recycled like they, have you ever seen such chaos ? once for car holiday they took the packaging off of nearly all food stuffs that i purchased, and the lunch box appealed to next to no one. even though we all knew the contents.

    well and so, i do believe, yet this is garys’ place, this is what -objectified- is about. yet there are the focus areas, and what are those to be. what a director and originator of the film is all about.
    look i only came across helvetica this month of august, had not a clue, i have told so many people how enjoyable it is, they roll their eyes, then later tell me they did watch it and they loved it, they had no idea there was so much that intrigues them about font, not to mention the soundtrack, and -helvetica- is fun.

    my hope as -objectified- readies itself for the screens of the world that we all stay connected to the peoples who design, for they are the creative force.

  27. August 21st, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    jordan says:

    Have you ever tried a Sonicare toothbrush? No manual toothbrush will ever clean your teeth as well as a Sonicare. I’ll never go back to manual, no matter how many fancy little rubber parts they have.

  28. August 22nd, 2008 at 4:11 am

    LKM says:

    @jordan: I can’t hold my girlfriend’s Sonicare for more than about ten seconds until my hands start to hurt :-)

    It does result in pretty clean teeth, though :-)

  29. August 22nd, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Jakob says:

    If you’re serious about toothbrushes, you should look at these:

    http://www.manufactum.co.uk/Produkt/0/1394706/CelluloseAcetateToothbrush.html

    It’s the prototype of a toothbrush, simple design with a huge head with many bristles, and you can even choose which bristles you want: My favorite is the “Hog Bristle Extra Strong”-version….

  30. August 22nd, 2008 at 8:19 am

    Peter says:

    I have a Sonicare. For once, the hype is justified.

    I’d waved away my OCD friend who kept telling me how great his Sonicare was, thinking that it was simply another manifestation of his cleanfreak obsessive behaviour.

    Nothing on this sweet earth short of sitting in the dentist’s chair and having a highly paid expert do it for you will clean your teeth like the Sonicare will.

    Damn, this now sounds like an advert. It isn’t, honest.

  31. August 22nd, 2008 at 9:08 am

    Claire says:

    I’ve never had a dentist recommend anything but a soft or extra-soft brush — anything harder gouges up your gums something fierce. (Apparently the harder-bristle brushes are sold for cleaning dentures or other dental appliances.)

    Also, a plastic toothbrush should be recyclable, even if companies haven’t been bothered to do so thus far. With a wooden-handled brush, that wood is coming from somewhere (and will decay, not recycle). Similarly, natural bristles, whether from boars or badgers, come from animals, almost certainly after killing them. So while those fancy natural-fiber brushes may seem ecologically responsible, don’t bet on them being cruelty-free.

  32. August 29th, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    g says:

    @Claire: I’m sure natural hair grows again and they don’t have to kill them. Take the sheep for example.

  33. December 17th, 2009 at 12:01 am

    Irene says:

    Looks like I’m late on the list for reading this post but wanted to say this is the most eloquent description of a toothbrush I’ve ever read. When I was taking copy writing 101 in college my professor used to threaten, “If you don’t do your homework I will assign you to writing ads for toothbrushes!” Having no idea how to handle such a seemingly banal task I made certain to have all my assignments in on time.

    Having read this short entry I almost wish I had taken her challenge. This first person ode to Marian’s toothbrush is far more interesting than all the print ads I’ve encountered.

    :)

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