The Designs of the Year, now in its seventh year at London’s Design Museum, capture the desires, concerns and needs of the moment. This year’s exhibition of the most innovative international design projects of the last 12 months across seven categories: architecture, product, fashion, furniture, graphics, digital and transport is stimulating, as ever. Whether through materials, technology, or design, the projects and products simply help make life better.
The themes: Connect; Thought; Delight; Care; and Situation provide rough clusters of projects, with Care for the environment influencing many of the designers. Two projects tackle the huge amount of discarded plastic blighting landscapes and harming eco-systems. The PET Lamps (which caught my eye at Decorex 2013) are made from plastic bottles washed up along the Amazon river to make joyful pendant lights.
Equally colourful, and playful, Clever Caps are bottle tops that can be used as building blocks. Bottle tops can be thrown into the toy box rather than the rubbish bin. A redesign that adds fun to function, and can be played with forever.
The red Ripple Table, designed by Benjamin Hubert, is made out of corrugated birch plywood. Ply is corrugated through pressure lamination, a new process developed by Benjamin in collaboration with Corelam. The corrugated ply is topped with a flat sheet and sits on A-frame legs. The 2.5m table weighs only 9kg, and uses roughly 70% less material than a normal timber table. Lightweight and easy to transport in flat-pack form, providing further economies of energy and materials.
Mauricio Affonso’s final year project from the RCA Design Products programme, Luffa Lab, provides a Cinderella transformation of our humble bathroom friend, the luffa. Luffa is antimicrobial, biodegradable, lightweight, breathable, strong and highly absorbent. These natural virtues lend the material to surprising applications such as a low-cost splint made by compression-moulding and a water-based thermoset binder. Mauricio’s Luffa Acoustic Tiles caught my eye at the Show RCA last summer, and then at the SustainRCA Awards 2013, where Mauricio won the Visionary Processes category. The tiles get their distinctive tonal colour from soaking up toxic indigo dyes out of the wastewater from denim production, preventing the harmful dyes being discharged. Once finished the tiles act as sound insulation, with a soothing aesthetic.
The Alchemist’s Dressing Table is a set of elegant utensils and vessels to explore the cosmetic properties of flowers, herbs and minerals. Lauren Davies, a fellow graduate of the RCA’s Design Products programme, and finalist at the SustainRCA Awards 2013, used traditional materials such as copper and cork to craft a most understated, but luxurious, kit for DIY organic skin care. The work is intended as a dialogue about nature and materials. It lays bare what we use on our skin with beautiful transparency.
Transparency is the theme of two technology exhibits. Phonebloks has just been announced the winner of the social vote. As the name suggests Phonebloks have a vision of consumer electronics that are modular so that products are easy to repair, easy to upgrade and long lasting. Starting with mobile phones, Phonebloks want to change product development and production to end planned obsolescence and reduce electronic waste-streams. Demand for these increasingly scarce resources is driving the ethical and environmental tensions that are the focus of Friends of the Earth‘s Make it Better campaign. Phonebloks have reached 380million people on social media, so they have sparked a lot of interest, and caught the industry’s attention. Phonebloks have just announced a partnership with another Design of the Year exhibitor, Fairphone.
The Fairphone, from a social enterprise funded on Kickstarter, is a a smartphone where every aspect of its lifecycle is open and ethical. From conflict-free materials to safe manufacturing conditions, fair wages and worker representation to repair guides with iFixit, Fairphone wants to change the way products are made, so we tread lightly, and with awareness. You can order yours now.
After ‘T” for transparency, it is “U” for the urban commute made easier with two bicycles. The Obree electric bicycle runs on a removable lithium ion battery that is 80% charged in two hours. The bike can reach around 15m.p.h, run for 62 miles and propel from a standing start or just give you a boost uphill. It looks like a grown-up BMX, so you can arrive looking sporty, but cool, in more ways than one. The ‘IF’ in IFmove Bicycle stands for integrated folding. At 10kg, it is lightweight and can be wheeled rather than carried. The covered chain keeps grease and grime off those business casual cloths. The addition of a retractable Plume Mudguard will keep the spray off your suit on a rainy day too. For the full fit out you could get a pair of the appropriately named reflector “Geek” bike shoes from Tracey Neuls. The shoes contain a small piece of reflective material, for safe cycling (or walking) at night. The whole shoe has been designed with cycling in mind, and now the ‘Fern‘ is a heel that you can cycle in. Smart, simple, and calling to my inner geek, and I don’t know if I can wait until Christmas for these shoes.
For the (sub)urban commuter there are two cars on show. Super sleek curves, and light-weight carbon fibre frame and seats boost the aerodynamics of Volkswagen’s XL1 Concept car, winner of the Transport category Coupled with a highly engineered dual diesel-electric engine, the XL1 can travel 100km on just 1 litre of diesel, or 313 mpg on the combined cycle while emitting 24 g/km of CO2. It accelerates from 0 to 70kmph in just under 12 seconds and has a top speed of 99mph. Speedy as well as stylish, it sets the bar in conventional car design very high, and who can resist a gull wing door?
The ME.WE Concept car, designed by Jean-Marie Massaud and Toyota ED2, is intended as a new concept in personal travel, “a car that reflects the values of forward-thinking individuals, rather than simply reflecting their social status”. Made of expanded polypropylene panels (100% recyclable) on a tubular aluminium chassis, it is 20% lighter (hence more energy efficient) than many similar size cars. The interior is bamboo (a fast-growing, natural material) and while not ‘roomy’ the car can be reconfigured to create more space. The back seat can fold under the front, and the tailgate can drop down like a pick-up truck. It is a playful (switching from 2 to 4-wheel drive) dialogue with many of the conventions of the automotive industry. Massaud aims to maximise pleasure, rather than status, balancing ME (individual freedom) with WE (responsibility for society).
The CC’s edit is only a tiny sample of the fascinating and fantastic exhibits that demonstrate how our everyday lives are shaped by and experienced through design. The show asks the viewer “what is good design?”, the public voted for Phonebloks, not just a product, but a vision of a circular economy for that most ubiquitous of modern aids, the mobile.
Image Credit: Fairphone; Luffa Lab, Toyota ME.WE, Volkswagen XL1