Designs of the Year 2015: The Key Messages

 
With the eighth edition of Designs of the Year opening at London’s Design Museum this week, we sum up the three key messages to take away from this years 76 selected projects.
 
The diverse selection of innovative work on show, spanning digital technology, architecture, transport, fashion, product and graphic design highlight key shifts in thinking across the board, from much needed improvements for an aging population to the latest in sustainable thinking and increased collaboration.
 

Designing for Change

 
By far the greatest message and innovative solutions gravitated around the need to design for a population with both developing needs and changing attitudes in order to promote new and improved ways of living.
 
With the average life expectancy in OECD countries at 80 and the population of 64+ projected to reach 34% by 2050 (UN), there’s a growing urgency to design with accessibility at the forefront of our minds, in other words the needs of an ageing public. One such project applying these principles is Responsive Street Furniture, which takes the principle of responsive web design and applies it to the urban environment by utilising low-power connective technology through mobile phones. The initial results are street lamps increasing in brightness, prolonged pedestrian crossing times at traffic lights and audible information points, all of which respond to the proximity of an individuals phone signal. We can already see this simple technology greatly improving accessibility and independency in certain areas of retail.
 
Another project claiming to ‘improve day-to-day life through design’ is Sabi’s Space bathroom products, which as well as offering easy-to-install storage and organisation accessories, also hide functional grab bars within contemporary designs that are “multi-generational in appeal” (Mat Hunter, Nominator).
 
With an understandable focus on technology within this arena, it’s hardly surprising to see multiple products driving the teaching of computer skills through interactive, creative resources such as the DIY Gamer Kit from Technology Will Save Us and the Kano Computer Kit. Both of these consider the user at the heart of their products, again with a multi-generational appeal; a message that is continually building in significance in product design and consumer environments.
 
While digital projects stole the show, several print magazines were highlighted throughout for various reasons. We were pleased to see Riposte Magazine commended for its honest attitude in challenging conventional women’s magazines by avoiding a dominant focus on fashion and celebrity in order to celebrate ‘bold and fascinating women whose achievements speak for themselves’. This was just one of several projects chosen for its dedication to supporting social and cultural change.
 
 

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Sustainability

 
Thoughtful and innovative new approaches to promoting sustainability include the ‘Grow It Yourself’ Mushroom Materials from Ecovative Design. These compostable and highly renewable materials can be used to mould endless products, whether as a creative kit at home or on a commercial scale for items such as packaging and insulation. Brooklyn based designer Danielle Trofe’s lighting range caught our eye at the Design Museum.
 
Endgrain from Raw Edges Design Studio, known for the colourful parquet flooring found throughout Stella McCartney’s boutiques, is praised for promoting longevity and evolving design processes for the evolution of their colouring method. They found that as the wooden flooring aged with ware, the colour would fade. As a result, the team spent years developing a new method of dyeing and applying the wood in order to prolong the life of the flooring.
 
Several architectural projects featured in the show adopted sustainability at their core, whether tackling environmental concerns or repurposing existing structures for the future. One highlight for us includes One Central Park, a residential and recreational build in Sydney featuring vertical landscaped gardens that cover 50% of the building’s facade. Another that caught our attention is the Desert Courtyard House, an impressive private development built in Arizona using traditional methods that utilise the soil excavated from the site.
 
 

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Collaboration

 
With a clear rise in the number of projects funded through Kickstarter campaigns, the importance of collaboration and shared resources are more evident than ever. But it’s not just online that these are coming together; the rise of co-hab workspaces and cafes welcoming workers globally, including Timberyard (which we recently featured on our Covent Garden Retail Guide) have increased significantly over the past year or so.
 
One such project highlighted at Designs of the Year is Chile’s UC Innovation Centre, which houses a University Campus along with businesses and researchers, encouraging interaction and shared knowledge in an attempt to improve the country’s development and competitiveness. Here East in London’s Olympic Park, set to open sometime in the not too distant future, has similar ambitions that we are enthused to see develop right on our doorstep.
 
While collaboration is no new concept in fashion, Raf Simons x Sterling Ruby’s AW14 collection, which saw high-end fashion merge head on with art was also highlighted at the show.
 
 

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Designs of the Year runs at the Design Museum until 23 August. Don’t forget to cast your vote for the public’s Design of the Year!
 

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