Designs of the Year reviewed

Our favourite finalists from Designs of the Year

04.04.13 | -1

By Pete Thomas

Hero Blank

When people ask me what I do, I always tell them I’m a designer. Invariably their next question is what do I design, which makes sense because the concept of design and designers is undeniably vague, sometimes contradictory and often confusing.

But when I describe the things I design, people understand what I mean when I say I’m a designer. The things we design provide the context for what design is and can be.

Last week saw the announcement of the winner of the Design Museum’s annual Designs of the Year award. We had the enormous honour and good fortune to be nominated this year with the Postcard Player and whilst we didn’t win, it was amazing to be a part of it all because, by assembling a set of things that people can look at, touch, discuss and argue over, Designs of the Year becomes a way for people to think about what design means and why it’s important.

Like many, I was initially slightly skeptical of the idea of a design award spawning the breadth of design disciplines with an ultimate ‘winner’. But when we walked into the museum and wandered around the exhibits I started to see patterns and themes emerging: a desire to make a more open culture, a recognition that design can address great needs but that it can also be playful, in both approach and outcome, and a real blurring of the boundaries of digital across categories.

Taken together, the works provide a coherent, surprising, intriguing and maybe occasionally enraging reflection of what design means in 2013. We wanted to share our thoughts on some of the things that got us excited so me (PT), Scott (SM) and Martin (MS) each picked our favourite three pieces. So, in no particular order:

Book Mountain 4 Blog

Photographer Jeroen Musch

Book Mountain – the lack of foresight by local authorities on libraries is pretty much a national (international?) outrage. The library as a centre of the local community has been denigrated to such a point where, as soon as the economic crisis took hold, libraries were first in the firing line, cut back and closed. Book Mountain, located in Spijkenisse, 25km from Rotterdam defies the perception of the dark and dusty relic inhabited by pensioners. Pitched as “a powerful advert for reading to the community” the building, designed by MVRDV in the Netherlands, includes 480m of shelving. The books become the architecture, the art and the décor, while natural light floods through the transparent roof. Hail Book Mountain! (SM)

Raspberry Pi – computing at school for me was a whirlwind of “this is how you consume expensive, closed source (generally Microsoft) software. The Pi goes someway to make coding accessible to school kids and I can’t wait to see what useful tools come from having computers available for £25 . It’s also been a fantastic story to follow over the last 12 months to see the boards come to life. They have also been really useful for a couple of innovation projects we’ve had in the studio. (MS)

Child ViSion Glasses – If there was anything in the show that demonstrated the principles of what I think makes design great it was these. They translated a technical innovation into a viable solution. What made it brilliant though was that it did this with the needs and desires of the kids driving the design. The result is glasses that are functional, fun and desirable. I want a pair. (PT)

Childvision 

The Shard – in the middle of the economic crisis, Irvine Sellar made this outstanding global landmark happen. At more than 1,000 ft high, with 72 floors, Renzo Piano’s bold glass statement is Europe’s tallest building. The Shard is one of the true architecture icons of this generation – stunning, and one that we were proud to work on, when we created the CG’s and film. (SM)

Free Universal Construction Kit – A collection of 3D files to allow you to connect together all of the toys and construction kits that you already have. Fantastic. We predict a new generation of 3 year old designers, architects, quantity surveyors and draftsmen if this kit has anything to do with it. (MS)

Candle in the Wind – LED’s like you’ve seen a thousand times before but with a beautiful physical form and a natural, incandescent flicker to them. A beautifully simple idea well executed. (MS)

Windows 8 – As it happened our postcard player was on display at the museum next to the Windows 8 phone, which was a little embarrassing as I spent a fair whack of the press preview bemoaning screen based interactions. But if we put all that to one side, given that touch screens are an inevitable part of life for the foreseeable future I’d much prefer them to eschew the pastiche of skeumorphism in favour of something, dare I say it, a little more Modern. Apple should take note -  for the first time in a while Microsoft looks like it’s leading rather than following.  (PT)

Windows 8


Photographer Luke Hayes

ColaLife’s AidPod – a wedge shaped container that sits between Coca Cola bottles, this incredibly ingenious solution uses the existing Coca Cola crate (which reaches most communities in the world) to distribute anti diarrhea kits. It could be used to distribute all sorts of essential medical and health medicines. Hard to beat. (SM)

Gov.uk – and so to the winner. This is a piece of design that makes me happy and proud to tell people I’m a designer, because this recognizes that great design should be at the core of everyday experiences and can enrich everybody’s lives. We should expect great design from our public services. But also it shows that to get it you need to appoint and trust great designers. Appointing Ben Terret was a remarkable and courageous move and the government’s faith and ambition in creating and supporting the Government Digital Services team has to be recognised. More importantly though, the single minded vision of the GDS, it’s brilliant and simple expression of what great design means and it’s desire to make public sector design not just as-good-as but better-than commercial design is a deserving winner of an award that asks questions of what design is and the value if creates. Have a look at the GDS Design Principles here and be inspired. (PT)

gov uk


Photographer Luke Hayes

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