Last year’s Designs of the Year award went to Human Organs on Chips – chips that mimic the function of human organs and can be used to test drugs or develop treatments for diseases.
This year’s shortlist includes over 70 projects across six categories: architecture, digital, graphics, product, fashion and transport. It’s a diverse collection of designs – from those that address global issues such as plastic waste and water shortages to designs that aim to save lives and others which capture the cultural zeitgeist.
Here’s a look at some of the shortlisted projects in each category.
This year’s architecture nominees include a vintage theme park, the Tate Modern’s Switch House extension and Assemble’s Granby Workshop in Liverpool – winner of this year’s Turner Prize.
The Better Shelter, a flatpack refugee shelter produced in partnership with IKEA and the UNHCR, offers a more durable and dignified alternative to tents in refugee camps. Over 10,000 shelters have been manufactured so far and given out to displaced families in Iraq, Ethiopia and Greece.
HemingwayDesign’s Dreamland theme park in Margate features retro-fitted rides, a vintage arcade and a roller disco. (You can read our feature on the making of it here). The park sadly went into administration earlier this year but remains open to visitors.
OMA’s Fondazione Prada, the Harbin Opera House by MAD Architects, a coastal house in Chile and a university campus in Peru are also nominated, along with a community centre in Nunhead, south London and VIA 57 West, a striking New York apartment building designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group.
Not all of the shortlisted architecture projects are buildings, however: Arup’s Designs That Save Lives is a methodology for assessing the safety of factories in Bangladesh. It was created following the collapse of the Rana Plaza Clothing Factory and has been adopted in over 4,000 factories.
This year’s digital shortlist includes a clever interactive twitterbot, an interactive documentary about a Syrian refugee camp and a remote STI testing service.
Marshmallow Laser Feast’s In the Eyes of the Animal allows viewers to experience England’s forests through the eyes of its animal inhabitants, via an immersive 360º film:
Loren Schmidt and Katie Rose Pipkin’s twitterbot The Moth Generator produces images of imaginary moths by randomly generating colours, shapes and names. People can also generate a moth by tweeting a phrase to the account:
SH:24 offers remote STI testing, offering free home testing kits for people who can’t or don’t want to visit a GP surgery or sexual health clinic. It also offers information about contraception and a live web chat service that allows users to communicate with a sexual health nurse:
Phonevert reflects on alternative uses for unwanted smartphones, with the aim of reducing materials waste, while Dave Hakkens’ Precious Plastic website shows people how to create new objects out of waste plastic.
Unmade, formerly Knyttan, allows customers to create custom clothing which is knitted on demand. (Read our interview with co-founder Ben Alun-Jones here):
This War of Mine offers an alternative to traditional video games about conflict – players assume the role not of a soldier but of civilians searching for food and medicine in a besieged city. (It was designed by Przemysław Marszał and Michał Drozdowski).
Interactive documentary Refugee Republic, meanwhile, takes visitors on a journey through a Syrian refugee camp in northern Iraq. The website combines drawings, film, photography, sound and text to offer an immersive picture of everyday life at the camp:
MTV received a nomination for its programming on Martin Luther King Day. The broadcaster aired 12 hours of footage in black-and-white and interviews with notable figures – from Kendrick Lamar to Selma star David Oyelowo – reflecting on racial inequality in the US.
Fourteen projects were shortlisted in the graphics category this year. These include Irma Boom’s Cuyperspussagi tile mural in Amsterdam’s Central Station – an impressive seascape made out of 77,000 tiles – and Studio Joost Grootens’ redesign of the Dikke Van Dale dictionary of the Dutch language, which uses colour coded text and illustrations.
Also shortlisted is GRUPA – a series of protest posters created by illustrators in Malaysia calling for political reform:
Neue Design Studio’s Norwegian passports and ID cards, which feature illustrations of the country’s scenery:
Jonathan Barnbrook’s design for David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar (read our interview with Barnbrook about the artwork here):
A first aid kit for refugees and NGOs, which uses pictograms to create instuctions that can be deciphered by people of various nationalities:
HelloRuby, a book by Linda Liukas and Jemina Lehmuskoski that aims to teach young children about computer programming:
Apple’s Shot on iPhone campaigns, which use photography submitted by users:
MullenLowe’s We Listen campaign for The Samaritans, which positions volunteers as ‘expert listeners’:
Bottom Ash Observatory, a 160-page book designed by Christien Meindertsma, Mathjis Labadie and Thomas Ecyk which explores the origins of bottom ash (waste created from household and industrial waste). Meindertsma analysed thousands of pieces of bottom ash by hand and commissioned Labadie to photograph each stage of the process:
A series of book covers for Almadia by Alejandro Magallenes, inspired by the history of the publishing house:
Channel 4’s rebrand, created by 4Creative, Brody Associates and DBLG:
And Suysaana Dulkinys, Erik Spiekermann and Ferdinand Ulrich’s P98a magazine, which explores fonts and letterforms through a different theme each issue:
Fashion nominees include Agi and Sam, Craig Green and Richard Malone, as well as artist Yolanda Dominguez for Children vs. Fashion (Niños vs. Moda).
Dominguez asked a group of eight-year-olds to comment on commercial campaigns from leading fashion houses, with some worrying and thought-provoking results:
Nineteen projects made the product shortlist – alongside furniture, ceramics and objects designed for urban living environments, nominees include the BBC micro:bit, a pocket-sized computer that children can use to create games or virtual pets:
Adidas x Parley, a running shoe created using illegal deep-sea fishing nets and recycled ocean plastics:
Design Museum Dharavi, a nomadic design museum in Mumbai showcasing local talent:
The Drinkable Book, which aims to raise awareness of a global water shortage with pages that can be used to purify 100 litres of water:
The Kodak Super8 camera, designed by Yves Behar’s fuseproject:
Lego’s City Fun in the park – City People Pack, a series of Lego figurines featuring a wheelchair user and a guide dog:
The Space Cup – a cup developed for astronauts on the International Space Station, which uses surface tension and a unique shape to drive liquid to the drinker’s mouth:
The Smog Free Project – a seven-metre tall tower which collects smog residues and releases bubbles of smog free air:
And Post/Biotics, a home testing kit that enables people to help scientists and researchers develop new antibiotics by testing natural substances. The kit is accompanied by an app that allows users to document their findings.
Three of this year’s four transport projects are cycling related. BeeLine is a GPS navigation tool for cyclists that points readers towards their destination, rather than offering turn by turn instructions:
Lumos claims to be the world’s first smart bicycle helmet, with integrated lights, brake lights and turn signals. The project smashed its funding target on kickstarter, raising over $800,000:
And OKO e-bike is a bicycle made from a super-light carbon frame.
Gogoro SmartScooter and GoStation, meanwhile, is an electric vehicle that runs on batteries, offering an alternative to fossil fuel-powered scooters in cities. Batteries can be swapped at energy stations.
The shortlist is both a snapshot of the year in design and a celebration of clever and beautifully crafted inventions. Blackstar is a great piece of graphic design that marks the passing of a cultural icon while projects aimed at helping refugees highlight the role designers have to play in addressing global crises.
As always, the diversity of the shortlist makes it difficult to predict an overall winner. Some projects are in prototype stage, while others have been produced on a mass scale – and how do you compare a website to an assessment tool that can potentially save thousands of lives? This is always the challenge with Designs of the Year – but it’s also what makes the scheme exciting. This year’s winner could be a beautiful building, a passport or even a sustainable shoe.
The Beazley Designs of the Year exhibition will open on November 24 at the Design Museum’s new home in Kensington and the overall winner will be announced on 26 January 2017.
You can see the full shortlist at designmuseum.org