If the words ”design awards” make you think of yet another boring awards show, the new Designs of the Year show at the Design Museum, London, may force you to rethink how cool award shows can actually. The Designs of the Year awards, ‘The Oscars of the design world’ showcase the most innovative and imaginative designs from around the world, over the past year, spanning seven categories: Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphics, Transport and Product. Category winners and the overall winner will be decided by a jury and announced to the public on 17 April 2013.
There is no shortage of A-list talent in this year’s nominations (Renzo Piano’s Shard building and Yayoi Kusama’s collections for Louis Vuitton), but at the heart of the show is a great enthusiasm for the democratized, DIY, human-centered design made possible by new technologies.
Take, for instance, the Child Vision glasses designed by London-based industrial design consultancy Goodwin Hartshorn and the Centre for Vision in the Developing World in Oxford, UK. The bright, chunky frames would look at home on a designer’s bedside table, but they are far more than eye candy: the fluid-filled lens allows for self-adjustment, giving children without access to opticians the chance to see clearly.
Then there is the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX) (above), developed at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware. Less terrifyingly nicknamed “magic arms”, the device, a lightweight version of an existing adult product, helps children suffering from musculoskeletal disease with lifting and moving.
Open-source design (including a selection of projects made with the cheap, credit card-sized Raspberry Pi computer) and 3D printing make up a large percentage of entries. This is a trend that the exhibition’s curator, Pete Collard, is keen to acknowledge. Designers are always quick to turn technologies to their advantage, he says, and this year is all about putting small-scale manufacturing tools into the hands of consumers.
The representative of such change, the MakerBot Replicator 2, sits rather uncertainly amid other entries, which were made, somewhat ironically, using it. The Replicator 2 is billed as “the first desktop 3D printer aimed at the consumer market”, and demonstrates a printed coffee mug – a symbol of its New York-based creators’ optimism that the machine will soon find everyday uses in the home.
An alternative use of the Replicator 2 is the Free Universal Construction Kit, also nominated. Designed by interdisciplinary, international design collectives Free Art and Technology Lab, and Sy-Lab, this series of printable “adaptor bricks” allows users to interconnect popular constructor toys to make completely new models.
This fits well with some words from an introductory panel about the show’s thinking:
Science alone is not enough to turn an idea into a product… it is a designer who can shape new technology by thinking about where it fits into everyday life.
And many of the entries do indeed put a thoughtful stamp on existing technology. There is the friendly Little Printer made by London-based design consultancy Berg, which churns out a tiny customized newspaper of news and social media feeds.
Then there is Chirp, developed by technology specialist Patrick Bergel and Anthony Steed, a computer scientist at University College London. This is a sharing application that converts digital information, such as photos and contact details, into sounds that mimic birdsong.
So who will take home the overall award, to be announced on 17 April? Last year’s winner was, perhaps predictably, the Olympic Torch, created by UK design duo BarberOsgerby. But in this year of celebrating the cheap and customizable, the money is on the Raspberry Pi to take the cake.
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