First look at Design Museum’s Designs of the Year 2015 show

The Design Museum’s annual Designs of the Year exhibition opens to the public tomorrow – as always, it’s a fascinating show, but a challenging one to put together.

From left: DIY Gamer Kit by Technology Will Save Us, The Extrapolation Factory & Grow It Yourself Mushroom Materials

The Design Museum’s annual Designs of the Year exhibition opens to the public tomorrow – as always, it’s a fascinating show, but a challenging one to put together.

This year’s exhibition showcases 76 projects (more than 60 percent of which are from overseas) spanning architecture, digital, fashion, graphics, product and transport. Chosen by a panel of industry experts, it’s a vast and disparate collection, with banknotes, cars and a toilet that could save millions displayed alongside couture fashion and crowdfunded games.

The show’s graphics were devised by London studio Kellenberger-White (whose handpainted typographic identity for Glasgow International is one of this year’s showcased projects), with 3D design by Benjamin Hubert Ltd. The modular construction aims to make use of the venue’s vertical space while concealing the ‘nuts and bolts’ of individual stands, and the typographic identity helps unify displays.

The graphics build on last year’s concept of using a simple headline above each display to draw visitors in, a system that works particularly well for smaller objects or those which are difficult to comprehend at first glance. The same typeface is used throughout, ensuring every stand receives the same treatment. Headlines and captions are printed in black, but an entrance display uses neon pink and orange lettering, while a wall of credits and another featuring a running total of people’s choice votes combine lilac and aqua text.

Instead of being arranged by category, projects are loosely grouped into seven themes: ‘sharing what we have’ (projects financed by public donations or crowdfunding); ‘sharing what we know’ (projects born out of collaborations); sustainable designs; projects which ‘encourage exploration’ (such as medical technology and games); design with everyday impact (from everyday clothes to buildings); designs for change and designs which aim to stimulate our emotions.

Each theme is explained in more detail at the exhibition entrance, but with no map or graphics to signpost sections, it can be difficult to tell which is which – particularly as several projects fulfill the criteria for more than one category. This system can be difficult to make sense of, but offers a much more engaging walk through than grouping projects by type (though Asif Khan’s 3D Megafaces feel oddly isolated alongside Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s Designing for the Sixth Extinction in a central corridor, particularly as the small screen and model in Khan’s display do little to convey the impressive scale of the project).

Sawdust’s 3D type for the UK edition of Wired & Pentagram’s identity for MIT Media Lab

In previous years, graphics has perhaps received less attention than other categories. This year, however, it features some of the most eye-catching displays – from Kellenberger-White’s section which showcases printed communications for Glasgow International alongside a sample of the original, hand painted lettering, to Sawdust’s, which uses large-scale images and close-ups to show the detail and depth of its 3D type for Wired magazine. (Irma Boom’s beautiful all-white embossed book for Chanel No 5, however, doesn’t fare so well against the minimal white display).

Of the architectural displays, the most engaging are those which feature plans, scaled models, materials or films explaining the process behind finished buildings and complexes. It’s difficult to showcase architectural projects in such a small space, but these added extras help give some sense of the scale and complexity of the work featured – a difficult thing to get your head around in displays which rely solely on photographs.

On the product side, it was also great to see displays with swatches or prototypes giving some insight into the product’s development. This isn’t always possible given the space, of course, and the museum has no control over what visuals and items nominees submit, but for visitors, this can help provide some much-needed context when viewing what can seem an overwhelming array of inventions.

It’s a great snapshot of the year, however, offering a glimpse of 2014’s most exciting innovations, from the socially conscious to the beautiful, as well as projects which could have a significant impact on learning, medicine and science. It’s also a rare chance to view some luxury concept cars and catwalk designs up close.

Putting a show like Designs of the Year together is a hugely challenging task – there is no one overarching theme, narrative or aesthetic, and with nominations announced in January, there’s just a couple of months to work on the layout – but Kellenberger-White and Benjamin Hubert have made a great job of the design, providing a simple, unifying system with some lovely added touches (such as curved displays and the peg board for visitors’ votes).

As always, it’s impossible to predict what will be named this year’s overall winner on June 4 – especially after last year’s winner, Zaha Hadid’s Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, departed from the trend towards honouring projects for social good – and with so many great designs on show, the judges have an unenviable task.

Designs of the Year 2015 is open until August 23 at Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD. See for details or to view the full list of nominees. Category winners and an overall winner will be announced on June 4.

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