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Imagineering

The folding phone charger that fixes a problem plug

  • Changing tradition
    The UK-style plug, which is in use in more than 30 countries, was introduced in 1947 and has not changed since. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • Space saver
    Made In Mind says the folded plug takes up 70% less space than a normal plug – and won't scratch or tear other objects next to it. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • Swivel innovation
    The two main pins swivel into position and snap in place. When not in use the plug folds down to only 14mm high – about the same as an AA battery. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • Make a list
    Choi says he made a list of all the elements which couldn't be changed – and only the size of the pins had to stay the same. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • USB solution
    The charger has a USB port so it can charge any smart phone – and it can also recharge other objects which can be powered through a USB port. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • Folding for phones
    Choi and business partner Matthew Judkins decided on a phone charger as the first product to use the folding technology. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
  • Portable power
    In 2009, Made In Mind's Min Kyu-Choi scratched his laptop – and came up with the idea of a portable UK power plug to stop accidental damage. (Copyright: BBC/Darren Russell)
One scratch to a laptop is all it took for designer Min-Kyu Choi to redesign the power plug – with award-winning results. He and his business partner Matthew Judkins talk to BBC Future about a simple but ground-breaking rethink.

The UK power plug is a design which has remained almost unchanged since it started being plugged into electrical outlets in 1947. Back then, televisions were the size of a chest of drawers and music players could be the size of a child’s bed – hardly the kind of kit which required a travel-friendly plug.

Now, of course, our technological world is much more portable, and the plug’s prongs are capable of causing all manner of scratches and scuffs to laptops and the like when carried around.

Min-Kyu Choi was studying at London’s Royal Academy in 2009 when he scratched his laptop with the pins from the power cord. Deciding to redesign it, he set to work. “Firstly, I analysed the whole element of the product, and which I can change and which I can’t change. I found a really small list I can’t change, literally the dimensions of the pin. So I just rearranged the pin position so I could make it slim enough. The answer was quite easy.”

Choi’s design allows the live and neutral pins, on the bottom of the plug, to pivot 90 degrees so they align with the earth pin on the top. The two flaps on the side then collapse, helping form a diminutive box which measures only 14x55x60mm.

The design, which was initially a student project, soon became a viral hit. Working alongside his friend Matthew Judkins, a fellow student at Imperial College, the Korean designer’s radical rethink won the Design of the Year at London’s Design Museum in 2009.

The pair have now set up a company to market the phone charger – known as Mu – from Marlow, a town in Buckinghamshire, west of London.

Choi and Judkins’ folding design has initially been marketed as a USB charger for smartphones, tablets and music players. Initial hesitance from retailers – mainly, Judkins says, because they are a company with a single product – has been slowly overturned. Now the chargers are stocked in one of the UK’s major department store chains, and in shops run by telecoms giant O2.

Judkins says; “It’s one of those interesting ones where once you show someone what we’ve done, it’s obvious. The strange thing about this is people think, ‘Why didn’t I do that?’”

The folding designs won’t stop there either; a Mu powercord which can recharge laptops is also being planned. Choi’s laptop may not have been scratched in vain…

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