This toy-like modular highlighter is inspired by the flexibility of subway trains.

We’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of pen designs so far, but these aren’t the only writing instruments you’ll have on your desk or in your drawers. While some may resist the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčleaving lasting marks in a book, it is not uncommon to highlight text in documents or notes to help focus on important points. Compared to pens, highlighters don’t get as much attention and love, which means there’s hardly any room for refinement or creativity in their designs. Of course, that’s not the case, but it may take some more unorthodox thinking to come up with something interesting and useful at the same time. Fortunately, there are designers out there who have taken this challenge, and this fun-looking highlighter definitely ticks those boxes and may even have the potential to be a sustainable design.

Designer: Wonjun Jo

Different countries have different train systems, and some are probably better than others. Countries in East Asia like South Korea and Japan are known for their color-coded lines that easily tell you where a particular train is going, at least once you’ve memorized what color is assigned to which line. There is an analogy in how we attach different meanings to different colors when we highlight books or notes, similar colors create a different line of thought or topic. It’s no coincidence, then, that this highlighter design was inspired by Korea’s subway trains, but the way it applies that inspiration goes far beyond just color.

First, the highlighter is in the shape of a train, and the first or leading car acts as a cover. A rectangular block like this might be the most ergonomic shape for a pen, but a highlighter can get away with it if you haven’t used it for a long time. Unlike a real-world train that only moves along a single colored line, the highlighter has removable segments of different colors, designed as separate train cars or wagons. And just like a real train, these parts can be taken apart and rearranged as needed.

This means that you don’t need to have a different highlighter for a different color and you just need to move the appropriate card to the front. The design doesn’t explicitly mention this, but there seems to be room for refilling the “carts” or even replacing the bits. In other words, you will only need one highlighter and only one highlighter, which makes the design more sustainable than regular highlighters, especially disposable highlighters.

Train inspiration can even be seen in the packaging, which mimics design cues from train maps and transit cards. LINE offers this often overlooked tool a refreshing and playful design, highlighting how there are so many opportunities to improve its experience.

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