Brit Insurance Designs of the Year Show

Shepard Fairey’s Obama poster and The Guardian’s infographics both appear in the Brit Insurance Designs of the Year show which opens today at London’s Design Museum
When the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year Show debuted last year it had a mixed reaction. ‘Good first attempt, but plenty to think about for next time’ seemed to be the consensus. This year’s exhibition opens today – CR went along to the private view…


Shepard Fairey’s Obama poster and The Guardian’s infographics both appear in the Brit Insurance Designs of the Year show which opens today at London’s Design Museum

When the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year Show debuted last year it had a mixed reaction. ‘Good first attempt, but plenty to think about for next time’ seemed to be the consensus. This year’s exhibition opens today – CR went along to the private view…

I have to declare an interest here – I was a nominator both this year and last. The process is fairly informal. A letter from the Design Museum invites you to suggest worthy projects from the current year (although, judging from some of the work included, time scales are flexible). You can nominate as many projects as you like in whatever categories. And then a few months later they tell you which of your suggestions will feature and ask for some text on your choices.


A segment demonstrating the technology used in Troika‘s All The Time In The World installation at Terminal 5 which displays the time in London and at interesting sites around the world – such as the world’s highest mountains or most popular museums

Inevitably, this approach results in what appears to be a fairly random array of projects in the final show, and certainly a selection that differs markedly from the results of the industry award schemes, but it is this idiosyncrasy that I enjoy about it.

The weakness of all award schemes (and, yes, I include our own Annual in this) is that the only way to make them work economically is to have paid entries. Inevitably, then, choice is limited. The Design Museum show, on the other hand, is a totally blank canvas.


The Pixel Clock, designed by Francois Azambourg for Ligne Rosset – the clock’s face is made from honeycomb-effect fibreglass


Tony Mullin’s Green Felt Protest Suit – the idea is that demonstrators can wear the suit in areas in which political protests are banned. When filmed for TV, the protester’s suit will act like a green screen meaning that messages can be projected onto it visible to TV viewers but not the authorities

Juries on award schemes can flatten things out – the majority view holds sway. During judging there are often conversations about how the industry will receive the choices being made – is the selection a fair reflection of the year? Do we have enough of this type of work or that? Should we include a certain project because it did well at a rival scheme?

The Design Museum show method, on the other hand, encourages the quirky and the controversial – pieces of work that one person feels strongly about. That inevitably means that some will divide opinion and, as a result, encourage debate – both about the work and about what constitutes ‘good design’. Which is surely what a good exhibition should be all about.

Personally, I also think that this show is not necessarily about the ‘best’ design projects of the year but more about selecting projects that in some way have had an impact – either by changing thinking or influencing the culture or offering a new viewpoint.


The July 08 Black issue of Italian Vogue featuring only black models


From Onkar Kular and Noam Toran’s The MacGuffin Library – in Hitchcock movies the MacGuffin was always an object at the heart of the story, usually being sought by the protagonists eg The Maltese Falcon. The designers her imagined a new set of such objects, created using rapid prototyping.

There are obvious weaknesses in the show. Relying on the personal experience of the nominators can mean that geographical spread is uneven – I chose the Design Indaba 10×10 housing project, for example, because I had seen it in action in Cape Town.

And from a communications point of view it in no way represents the work that the average designer will have been engaged upon for the majority of his or her year. There are no big branding projects. Very little mainstream work at all. So it doesn’t provide a snapshot of the design industry as most practitioners will experience it. It’s not an accurate portrait of where the majority of activity is, but then neither are most awards.


The work of Job Wouters, aka Letman, including CR’s February cover

What the Design Museum show does provide is an interesting snapshot of where the design profession would like to be. It reveals design’s aspirations and its ideals. For that reason I think it is a valuable addition to calendar.


Rotational Moulded Shoe by Marloes Ten Bhomer


Magno wooden radios by Singgih S Kartono. The radios are produced by hand by villagers in central Java


Oase, the quarterly Dutch journal on architecture and urban design. By Karel Martens, Enrico Bravi, Werkplaats Typografie


Pet Shop Boys Integral video by The Rumpus Room, featuring QR Codes which link to websites containing additional information

And Trent Jansen‘s 3D stencil, using expandable foam and an LED to create an ad hoc wall light


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