The Pandemic’s Most Bizarre and Memorable Masks

Dyson recently teased noise-canceling headphones that come with a detachable visor that blows purified air around the wearer’s face. Though the company says it was under development before the pandemic, it joins a litany of personal protective concepts ranging from creative to creepy spawned in the mask era.

Dyson Zone

Engineers over at Dyson are plotting the brand’s foray into audio technology with a pair of noise-canceling headphones that double as a personal pollution filter. The Dyson Zone, which was finally unveiled yesterday after a staggering 500 prototypes, is straight out of a sci-fi film. Besides offering state-of-the-art technology across programmable ANC settings—Isolation, Conversation and Transparency—the headset is also equipped with a detachable visor that blows filtered air around the wearer’s nose and mouth. “Unlike face masks,” chief engineer Jake Dyson says, “it delivers a plume of fresh air without touching your face, using high-performance filters and two miniaturized air pumps.” 

We wouldn’t fault you for thinking the Dyson Zone was a pandemic-ready innovation. The bizarre headset has actually been in development for the past six years and—the company stresses—is not meant to be a tech-based alternative for face or surgical masks, instead leveraging Dyson’s technology to function as a personal shield to noise and air pollution. Still, the headset verges on cyborg-chic, and tech writers predictably reacted with amusement and curiosity at its appearance. 

The Dyson Zone is a product that captures the zeitgeist of the pandemic years. As the eventual twilight of the face mask nears, we revisit five of the most innovative, artistic, and outrageous ideas to emerge in the age of masks.

Researchers at Kyoto University developed face masks coated with ostrich antibodies, which glow in the dark under ultraviolet light when Covid-19 is present.


Freyja Sewell created a series of imaginative masks made from everyday objects like felt, pool table triangles, and yogurt pots, channeling sci-fi and Buddhist motifs to “say a visual thank you” to essential workers.


For Design Miami/ 2020, Lexus commissioned Tosin Oshinowo and Chrissa Amuah to craft resplendent headpieces inspired by the culture of Lagos, Nigeria, and the Japanese design principles of omotenashi (exceptional hospitality) and takumi (expert craftsmanship).


Danielle Baskin had the answer to anyone masked and frustrated by not being able to unlock their iPhone using facial recognition. The Bay Area artist’s concept, called Resting Risk Face, “plays into the dystopia” by turning a 2D image of the wearer’s face into a 3D image printed on a mask.


Central Saint Martins graduate Jann Choy created an inflatable face mask that employs a form of AI known as sentiment analysis to inflate and deflate in different parts depending on one’s online behavior. The concept, called Liǎn, draws inspiration from biàn liǎn, a type of Chinese opera that translates to “face changing.”

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