Each year since 2008, the Design Museum in London has been gathering the ‘best designs’ of the year and presenting them to the public, showcasing the broad world and impact of design in their Designs of the Year exhibitions. Previous winners have included the Obama/HOPE poster by Shepard Fairey in 2009, the London 2012 Olympics torch by BarberOsgerby in 2012 and most recently the Counter Investigations exhibition at the ICA by Forensic Architecture in 2018.
I visited the Designs of the Year (DOTY) exhibition (sponsored by Beazley since 2016) for the first time —by accident—in 2015 where I thought that the concept was interesting. I was a student back then and was mainly focusing on my graphic design studies and not really straying too far from that but now as a professional designer it’s still quite difficult to keep on top of the latest news from wider design disciplines. I think that the DOTY exhibition does a great job of gathering and categorising a small selection (76) of the thousands of new, exciting and innovative projects which come out each year thanks to their selection and curation process by design experts and for the first time in 2019, members of the public.
The 76 projects on show are nominated and separated into six categories; each will win their categories award and one will win the overall award. The six categories are, Digital, Fashion, Product, Transport, Graphics and Architecture and as good design usually does, many of these projects overlap disciplines.
Below is a selection of the projects which I found most interesting and inspiring; hopefully you will find something you recognise or find interesting yourself.
An artwork reflecting on cryptocurrencies
Anna Ridler – Myriad (Tulips) 🇳🇱
Artificial intelligence may appear to belong to a magical digital world, full of incomprehensible software patterns and algorithms but Dutch artist Anna Ridler photographed 10,000 (a myriad) Dutch tulips at the height of the tulip season and used the images as a ‘training set’ so an AI software could ‘learn’ about the type, shape and colour of each type of tulip. The result being a three-screen installation film: Mosaic Virus.
Ridler laboured over these 10,000 images, labelling and arranging them according to their colour, species and markings to show the important human work in getting a machine to learn and work. It’s fascinating to see the amount of research and prior work that goes into something which we think is just a computer doing something simple and it shows that AI is not just robots and machines.
A website that generates fake portraits
Phil Wang – This Person Does Not Exist 🇺🇸
thispersondoesnotexist.com is a website database which when visiting, you are greeted by the face of a stranger. Each time you press refresh a new face appears; it’s as simple as that. However, as the name gives away, each of these people does not exist; they are created using a new development in machine learning called Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN) which forces two data sets to compete with each other, encouraging each strand to learn from the other’s mistakes.
This project by Phil Wang is a terrifying or exciting project, depending on how you feel about machine learning and our physical identities. The faces that this website produces are so realistic and impossible to tell that they are not fake; it forces us to wonder in the future, how will we know what is real and not real online.
A Korean-influenced sportswear collection
Ji Won Choi – Adidas Cozy Collection 🇰🇷
Ji Won Choi is a Korean, New York City based fashion designer who after graduating two years ago has already designed two collections for Adidas which are both influenced by her Korean roots. The first using a striking palette of Lilac, red, navy and green to reinvent the brand’s iconic three-stripe motif and the second in monochrome, a reference to Adidas’ first tracksuit colour scheme.
The design of these clothes is inspired by traditional Korean clothing known as hanbok which uses exaggerated silhouettes and architectural forms, in fashion. The result being a bold look which feels streetwear like due to the use of solid colour and recognisable logos and patterns. A lot of the other fashion examples on show here—in this full-clothing section—felt like un-wearable runway pieces but this actually looks comfortable and useable.
A pair of vegan flip flops
Rombaut – Lettuce Slides 🇧🇪
These lettuce-looking slides are designed by Belgian designer Mats Rombaut and his namesake fashion brand. He has made a name for himself in the industry with his ground-breaking shoes made purely of plants such as coconuts, figs, pineapples and potato starch. This ‘vegan lettuce slide’ is a funny interpretation of what non-meat shoes should look like as lettuce is often seen as the food of vegans and vegetarians by people looking to mock it.
The slides instantly tell people that they are plant-based and eco-friendly whilst also poking fun at the fashion industry’s current trend of ‘ugly shoes’. They have become so popular that there are now numerous fakes available to buy on the internet; of course not plant-based or eco-friendly which questions people’s morals. Do you care more about buying the cool expensive version which is good for the environment and with a message or buying the cool cheap version which isn’t good for the environment and doesn’t carry a message?
A hack to make IKEA furniture more accessible
Access Israel/IKEA & others – ThisAbles 🇮🇱
ThisAbles is a project conceived by the biggest home-furnishing company in the world to increase the access and usability of their products for people with disabilities. Working with non-profit organisations Milbat and Access Israel, they developed a series of thirteen 3D printed products which can be downloaded for free or bought. The devices bridge gaps between existing IKEA products and the varying abilities of people. Some examples include a mega-switch for lamps, feet to raise couches/beds off the ground and varying over-sized cupboard handles.
This is a great example of how the biggest and most seen company in its field should act by showing that they care about the needs of their consumers.
A speaker system with personality
Teenage Engineering/IKEA – FREKVENS 🇸🇪
As mentioned above, IKEA is very much known for its easy-to-assemble flat-packed furniture and minimalist Scandinavian design but recently its design team has begun to broaden its reach by exploring a number of exciting collaborations. Here with the Swedish electronics manufacturer Teenage Engineering to design a playful series of portable, bluetooth-enabled speakers which combine light and sound to allow anyone to throw an impromptu party: FREKVENS which means ‘frequency’ in Swedish.
The design is mostly modular allowing for almost infinite combinations and makes use of IKEA’s minimalist design with Teenager Engineering’s aesthetic of bright colours which is seen on many of their products.
This Bratislavia-based studio worked together with material scientists to create a new material whose lifespan from original source components to full decay is entirely known and understood: Nuatan. Nuatan is an oil-free bioplastic which leaves no carbon footprint and is made from plant-based biopolymers.
This Nuatan material has so far been made into several products including stylish and sustainable sunglasses as the material can be processed by standard plastic industry technologies such as injection moulding, 3D printing, CNC milling, laser-cutting and heat-pressing. If this material becomes affordable enough; it could help to reduce the amount of oil-based plastics we continue to produce.
A cycling glove with a smile
Loffi – Glove 🇬🇧
A cycling glove has three main jobs: to keep the riders hands warm, dry and secure and that’s it. However the people behind Glove, Loffi, decided that a cycling glove should have another purpose: to reduce anger and animosity between fellow cyclists and drivers through the introduction of a smiley face on the inside and outside of the glove; allowing people to raise a smile to one another.
The smile isn’t only decorative; the eyes and smile are made from reflective soft padding meaning they provide both light and comfort. This is a great example and probably my favourite of the exhibition as it shows that design doesn’t always have to be so serious, especially in today’s climate, sometimes a little bit of fun is all it takes.
An encyclopaedic study of an architecture’s parts
Irma Boom – Elements of Architecture by Rem Koolhaas 🇳🇱
The book, S, M, L, XL is about the work of Rem Koolhaas and is known to be an enormous book at 1,376 pages; this new book on Rem Koolhaas designed by Irma Boom comes in way bigger with 2,600 pages which was originally published as fifteen small pamphlets for the 2014 Venice Biennale as part of Koolhaas’ directorship. This book shows the relationship between Koolhaas and Boom who have collaborated on projects for over 21 years and it is a classic example of Boom’s book design.
For example, the introduction is placed in the centre of the book rather than the beginning and it also uses Boom’s innovative use of a split spine, forcing the book to open flat at certain places. It is a beautiful and impressive tome of the work of the architect.
A campaign highlighting political hypocrisy
Led By Donkeys – Led By Donkeys 🇬🇧
Led By Donkeys is an anti-Brexit action group who track verbal or written statements made by pro-Brexit politicians and people in power. These statements are then edited to make them look like a tweet and then blown up to billboard scale and displayed around the UK, reminding the public of the ‘often-hypocritical’ nature of political discourse. This example shows the power of very simple graphic design but in a way; the editing of verbal statements into tweets questions the role of graphic design in ‘fake news’.
The fact they are edited into tweets however is an interesting take on the comments by these kinds of people into a digital language. These examples show how politicians cannot be trusted and how the promises they so often make are farcical and laughable.
A football club identity celebrating its religion
SomeOne – Wolves 🇬🇧
The British football team Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanderers) are known for many things but lately success is not one of them. However they were promoted to the Premier League recently and to celebrate they commissioned a new brand identity, created by SomeOne. Influenced by the region’s rich heritage in steel and iron manufacturing the clubs new logo contains the iconic angular wolves head but now 3D and with a hard metal feel.
The font also has treatment with edges sheared off, as if attacked with claws. This identity has been praised by hardcore supporters and international fans for its careful re-appropriation of an already existing strong personality. This shows that football teams are able to adapt and update their identity without strong backlash from their passionate fans.
A way-finding system that uses pictograms
Sascha Lobe – Amorepacific Architectural Branding 🇩🇪
Sascha Lobe worked with David Chipperfield Architects to design the architectural branding, environmental graphics and signage for the new Seoul HQ of Amorepacific. This signage and way-finding system combines letterforms, numerals and pictograms which relate to the four geographical features outside: river, mountain, park and city with a representation of the building itself.
The typeface used, Latin, was designed specifically for this way-finding system and it solves the difficult problem of creating visual consistency across the written languages of English, Chinese and Korean. This is a stylish, simple and excellently executed example of way-finding which feels natural to the building.
This project uses one of the most important and valuable commodities of our age which we have access to: data, and it is used to help some of societies most marginalised: the homeless. Homeless people obviously have no fixed address which makes it difficult for them to get access to many important things including health care. This idea identifies empty homes within a particular council area and uses these addresses to generate a proxy address which can be used by the homeless regardless of location.
The project is being trialled at the Lewisham Council in London with the homelessness charity Crisis being established to continue the project.
WORKac, a New York based architecture firm, were asked to provide a facade for a multi-story car park in Miami’s Design District. The outcome was a prototype for a vertical city with a series of public spaces stacked between the garage and a perforated screen. Connected by stairs and slides, these spaces include a gallery for graffiti, a garden with palm trees, a DJ platform, a lending library, a listening lounge, fountain bar and space for pets and at roof level, spaces have been removed for a pool.
The rest of the car park has been designed by other designers, artists and architects to create an extreme architectural Exquisite Corpse. A playful example of a building facade which is totally unique in concept and appearance.
Exhibition design by Zak Group
Graphic design is an integral part to any exhibition as it is the medium through which the exhibition content is communicated to the viewer; something especially important when the exhibition is about design itself. For this exhibition, the Design Museum asked Zak Group to create the exhibition identity as well as being a way to celebrate typography in a unique way.
Each of the six design discipline sections in the exhibition has their own colour and typeface from unique foundries with all of the typefaces being designed/released in the last year. This creates a nice dialogue throughout the exhibition with the categories being distinguishably different but linked in some way. The six typefaces used are Monument Grotesk by Dinamo (purple), Impact Nieuw by Jungmyung Lee (yellow), Phase by Elias Hanzer (orange), Till Normal by Pauline le Pape (white), Quadrant by Matter of Sorts (green) and Saigon by Chi-Long Trieu (blue).
The DOTY exhibition at the Design Museum in London is on until 9 February 2020 and more on the nominees can be found here.
If you want to read about the 2018 DOTY you can read my blog about it here.