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

We’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of designs for pens so far, but these are not the only writing instruments you will have on your desk or inside your drawers. Although some might balk at the idea of leaving permanent marks on a book, highlighting text in documents or notes isn’t an uncommon practice to help zero in on important points. Compared to pens, highlighters don’t get as much attention or love, which almost suggests that there’s no room for improvement or creativity with their design. That’s not the case, of course, but it might require a little more outside-the-box thinking to get something that’s interesting and useful at the same time. Fortunately, there are designers that have taken up that challenge, and this fun-looking highlighter definitely checks those boxes and might even have the potential to be a sustainable design as well.

Designer: Wonjun Jo

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

For one, the highlighter is shaped like a train, with the first or front car serving as the cap. A rectangular block like this might be the most ergonomic shape for a pen, but a highlighter can get away with it because you don’t use it for long periods of time. Unlike a real-world train that travels along a single colored line only, the highlighter has removable segments of different colors designed as individual train carts or carriages. And just like a real train, these pieces can be separated and rearranged as needed.

What this means is that you don’t need to have a different highlighter for a different color and only need to move the appropriate card to the front. The design doesn’t explicitly mention it, but there seems to be room to refill the “carts” or even replace the tips. In other words, you’ll only need one highlighter and one highlighter only, making the design more sustainable than regular highlighters, especially single-use highlighters.

The train inspiration can be seen even in the packaging, which mimics design cues from train maps and transit cards. LINE definitely gives this oft-ignored tool a refreshing and enjoyable design, highlighting how there can be plenty of opportunities to improve its experience.