Design Museum’s Designs of the Year 2013

The Design Museum’s Designs of the Year show is its usual eclectic self, marrying the gigantic (The Shard) with projects of more modest ambition. We pick out some highlights

Exhibition photographs: Luke Hayes

The Design Museum’s Designs of the Year show is its usual eclectic self, marrying the gigantic (The Shard) with projects of more modest ambition. We pick out some highlights from the exhibition

The curatorial methodology of Designs of the Year, where various ‘experts’ in the field are asked to nominate projects for final selection by committee, is guaranteed to produce diverse, if not quirky results. The criteria for selection are very loose, trusting in those submitting nominations (including me) to come up with content that genuinely reflects the industry. The overtly commercial tends to get overlooked (not withstanding the likes of Apple’s iPad having featured in previous years). So you won’t find many corporate identities for big companies or much mainstream packaging design. This is, by and large, design as the profession would like us to think of it rather than the bits that really bring in the revenue.

But the role of an exhibition such as this is to inspire and to showcase – to reflect the ambitions of the profession perhaps rather than the day-to-day. As such, in most categories, it does that very well.

There are a lot of projects, for example, which illustrate design’s ablity to tackle ‘needs’ rather than ‘desires’.

ESource by Hal Watts for example is a bicycle-powered waste recycling system that separates the materials within electrical wiring so that they can be more effectively processed with fewer harmful fumes.


And the 3D Printed Exoskeleton ‘Magic Arms’, designed by Nemours/Alfred I du Pont Hospital for Children in Delaware US, allows parts to be individually 3D printed and tailored to children suffering form musculoskeletal disabilities who need upper body support.


In the Child ViSion glasses designed by The Centre for Vision in the Developing World and Goodwin Hartshorn, the prescription can be adjusted by injecting a fluid into the lenses, thus extending the life of the glasses significantly as a child can keep the same pair as he or she grows and their eyes change.

Other projects reflected efforts to ‘democratise’ design, such as the Free Universal Construction Kit by Free Art and Technology Lab and Sy-Lab


Or the Raspberry Pi computer


While the website was a welcome nod to design’s role in public service provision (see our article here)

Its inclusion also helps address a perennial problem with the show, that visual communications can be overshadowed. Talking to some graphic designers after the show opening, many felt that their particular sphere suffered in comparison to some of the ideas above or to a project on the scale of, say The Shard



This has consistently been a concern with the Designs of the Year show, not always helped by the curatorial process which, as mentioned above, tends to veer in the case of graphics toward what we might call the ‘arty’.

But there are some strong graphic and digital projects included this year. will probably have more of a direct impact on British people’s lives than anything else in the show and who can deny that the Olympics Wayfaring by TfL /JEDCO / LOCOG was an important, major work?


I was also pleased to see that the Occupied Times Of London by Tzortzis Rallis and Lazaros Kakoulidis made it in to the show (see our interview with them here)


As did the Australian Government Department for Health and Ageing’s cigarette packaging

And as for ‘commercial’ projects, you can’t get much more so than the Wiindows Phone 8 interface


And there’s still room for great projects which, while they may not change the world, are brilliantly done examples of their genre. In such category I would place The Gentlewoman by Veronica Ditting and Jop van Bennekom


APFEL’s Bauhaus book and exhibition design

Photographs: Luke Hayes


Identities for the Strelka Institute by OK-RM


And for the Venice Architecture Biennale Identity by John Morgan


Plus Serviceplan’s light-sensitive Austria Solar Annual Report


It was also good to see Uniform’s Digital Postcard and Player in there which uses printed circuitry to combine print and digital (slot the cards into a player to hear music ‘printed’ on them)


And Indian design publication Dekho: Conversations on Design in India by CoDesign


A full list of nominations can be found here


As mentioned, I was a nominator this year, so in the interests of disclosure, here’s what I put forward and the texts I wrote for the catalogue putting forward my reasoning. I also nominated Occupied Times but wasn’t needed to contribute text for that as others had also nominated it

Windows Phone 8
Skeuomorphism in interface design is the digital equivalent of a Mock Tudor house. Why is the database of contacts on a smart phone rendered in faux leather with a tiny ringbinder down its spine? Because it makes us feel comfortable and, in the early days of GUIs, linking digital functions to their real-world counterparts was a very useful means of introducing users to their screen-based future. But it’s time to move on. Windows Phone 8 leaves the world of fake chrome behind. Its ‘live tiles’ and flat graphics are a digitally-native environment which represents a genuinely innovative step in GUI design. Will it be commercially successful? Who knows. Today, Android and Apple dominate the smartphone market: there may not be room for a third player. But this is a design exhibition and Windows Phone 8 proposes an elegant and thoughtful aesthetic and functional alternative to an increasingly frustrating and clumsy status quo.
Grand public projects feature large in the graphic design canon. Kinneir and Calvert’s road signage programme, Harry Beck’s London Underground map, Massimo Vignelli’s work on its New York counterpart: such projects reassure practicing designers that, yes, what they do does matter and can genuinely improve our lives. The website is perhaps the digital equivalent of those great public projects of the past. It may not look particularly exciting or pretty, but that is not the point. This is design in the raw, providing vital services and information in the simplest, most logical way possible for everything from renewing a passport to understanding your rights as a disabled person.

2012 Olympics Wayfaring
The London 2012 logo will forever divide opinion, but even its most implacable detractors were forced to admire the consistency and rigour with which the look of the games was applied across London and the other 2012 venues. LOCOG claimed to have taken the development of a comprehensive graphic language for the 2012 Games further than any previous Olympiad, liaising with local authorities, the GLA, TFL, sponsors and all other interested parties to ensure ‘One Look’ applied from the airport all the way to the venues. We were promised a brand and not just a logo, a comprehensive visual experience to an extent not seen in previous Games. LOCOG and its design partners delivered just that.


The April print issue of CR presents the work of three young animators and animation teams to watch. Plus, we go in search of illustrator John Hanna, test out the claims of a new app to have uncovered the secrets of viral ad success and see how visual communications can both help keep us safe and help us recover in hospital

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