Designs of the Year Awards 2013 / by Katie Edmonds

I finally made my way through the list of nominees for the 2013 Designs of the Year. It took a bunch of work, but here are some selects with links throughout. I included more links than the awards page, so happy clicking.

For the overall winner the judges went with a design for civic use when they selected the Gov.UK website. In 2009 it was Shepard Fairey's Obama poster. Other less publicly recognizable designs are this lightbulb from 2012, and this electrical plug from 2010. And despite some other questionable design choices by the Olympic committee, the 2012 Olympic Torch won last year.

Here's some background on the awards, in their words:

"Designs of the Year" is the Design Museum’s annual exploration of the most innovative, interesting and forward-looking designs of all kinds, from around the world.

The nominated designs fall into seven categories: architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphics, product and transport. They can be designed by a practice, team or individual. Projects are nominated by an independent group of trusted industry experts from four main groupings – practicing designers and architects, curators from other institutions, academics and tutors from design schools and a selection of journalists and writers.

A winner from each category is selected by an international jury and the overall winner from the best-of-category winners is awarded the Design of the Year. All the nominations can be seen at the museum in the Designs of the Year exhibition."

And now, my favorites.

This 16th century manor house was abandoned and crumbling. The architects tasked with the renovation preserved the details of decay and the result is a minimalistic hybrid of fresh and aged.

This architectural PR campaign promoting literacy and reading is adjacent to a new public housing community in Spijkenisse, The Netherlands (north of Antwerp, south of Rotterdam and The Hague).


Designed by architect Louis Kahn in the early 1970s, this memorial park was scrapped due to economic collapse in NYC. It opened to the public in the Fall of 2012. It's named for the speech FDR delivered in his 1941 State of the Union address:

"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world."


As a means of turning away from the allure of tidy, young, apolitical life presented in the Ikea catalogue, this team experimented with a variety of domestic constructs and installed a piece of each in Brooklyn's MOMA PS1. The result is a living and interactive work that presents ways to define and inhabit a home.

Orhan Pamuk built a museum as a companion piece to his novel of the same title. It houses artifacts of everyday life from the 30 year period covered in the novel, begun in 1970s Turkey. The book links with the museum as the novel's storyline links two families from difference socioeconomic classes. Read the author's explanation here.

Danish art group Superflex designed Superkilen to be a "tool" of transformation for the culturally diverse Norrebero district using design elements, chosen by members of the community, from places around the world the residents call home. Visitors can arrange to meet friends by the Spanish bull or the American neon star. Sections are divided into black, red and green for easy navigation and high impact experience.

These hanging LED clusters and exposed circuit boards imitate the color and movement of a candle flame. Designer Moritz Waldemeyer identifies as an electrical engineer and a designer, but his practice is such a proper hybrid that it defies definition.

This instant styling for maps comes from the go-to data visualization firm Stamen. The iteration nominated for the award was later released as Map Stack, an event during which anyone was invited to make beautiful maps with their software. A leaner version is still happening here. Their maps GitHub is public.


The Chirp app is a result of the academic entrepreneurship work at University College London. The software's core functionality allows media to be shared by sound recognition. It's like a sonic QR code. The spin-off company is called Animal Systems, and their business relationship with UCL is a prominent example of the European academic entrepreneurship model.

A collaborative project between F.A.T. Lab and Synaptic Lab turns the proprietary hardware of different construction kits into one giant interoperable set. This is a great first glimpse into the original hacker ethos, for kids. Their distribution model follows that same ethos: kits are delivered as specs that can then be built by any 3-D printer.

This is the first consumer grade light field camera. It allows users to focus and manipulate an image after it's shot. More features are rolling out, and they can be applied to anything shot with the Lytro camera in the past. This review from Digital Photography shows how it works.

The combination of this collection, the designer's background, and his past collections make this collection stand out. His designs follow the direction of clothing as clothing, but deconstruct fabric and styling conventions just enough to make his pieces look fresh and unique. Among all the fashion collections nominated, this one does the best job of calling attention to the design aspect of fashion.

 Luxury brand Marni executed this beautiful departure from their core product line, and embraces sustainability. Their labor was hired from a pool of recently released prisoners in Colombia. Each chair is created in traditional Colombian color scheme and woven style.



This collection was built out of a pile of discarded chairs. Together these chairs challenge the habit forming concept of "throwing away" and align decay with opportunity.

The Sea Chair is made of plastic harvested from the ocean. Consider this use of the word harvested. Each one is unique and completely beautiful.

More on the theme of turning trash into functional objects that we use with our bodies, how about this chair made of manufacturing byproducts. The irregularity of the raw surface fits so well with the crisp line of the molded seat. The choice to put something this raw into daily life feels fresh and frank.

This merging of nonlinear storytelling and pure text is fits with all the best ideas coming out of the sequential art and digital humanities spaces, but keeps its roots firmly planted in words and the page. Does the book as an object get in the way of the story? I'm inclined to enjoy forgetting about the object entirely, but I'm willing to trade that experience for the opportunity to meander along with a story.

Thankfully the protest paper is not dead. Pictured above is a multipurpose edition, but many layouts and lengths were put together for different issues.

Every page is edge to edge.  I sincerely hope these colors and patterns never feel dated. I could look at this all day.

It's lavish to turn a financial report into a piece of visually compelling work, so if your company  had a good year and wants to celebrate with a gift to their investors, this is how to do it.

The prescription on these glasses is adjustable through the injection of silicone into the lenses. While a Toms model for glasses might be more practical for developing countries, as complex prototypes tend to fail in the field, I'd love to have a pair of specs that I can adjust without going to the eye doctor. Considering how long I'll be paying off design school, I could use a longer lasting set than I have today.


Compared to other uninvited social interventions this is light, effective and sustainable. It might even design itself out of existence after a healthy population begins to produce its own creative solutions for its own needs.

E-Source Waste Recycler

This effective alternative to burning as a means of harvesting precious material from electronic waste is exactly the kind of intervention every home needs. Breaking down waste at the site of use would lift so much weight off of centralized infrastructure and turn individuals into actants in the made world rather than just passive consumers.


The compact kiosk and the unique object it's designed to make is such a fulfilling combination. It's maker culture at its best.

Speaking of kiosks, how about this approach to "made to order"? I like anything on a bike, but this framing of  3d printing helps position ingredients and making in a space where we like to pick and choose based on our needs and whims: the street vendor's cart.

In a world full of toxic industrial chemicals an edible lubricant seems like a fantastic alternative . Why can't we figure out another substance to put in our car's gas tank?

Other solar lights projects are more local, but this leap away from the grid and toward mobile energy means the design community is looking in the right direction.

3D Printed Exoskeleton ‘Magic Arms’

I've spent a significant amount of time aiding people with disabilities, and know how real solid, light, affordable tools can make daily life less painful and actually livable for disabled folks and their families. When design can help a person feel in the world, it's a very big deal.

Surface Tension Lamp

While this lamp doesn't change the world, at least it uses LED lights, which are far more efficient than other bulbs. And while an inconsistent light source isn't functional, it's certainly decorative and interactive.

I love everything modular, and everything cycling, therefore, I love this cargo bike. And it's affordable.

This took some time to put together. After a while all the rhetoric and claims started to blur together. What stood out as I investigated each nominee was the pair of discoveries I made with every search. First came the design and its creators. Then came the websites presenting or treating the design. I came to see the latter as the packaging design for the former, and am developing an understanding of virtual packaging as a result. It doesn't feel right to call this advertising, though it certainly function as such.