Designs of the Year 2013 exhibition at the Design Museum, London
Design Museum London
28 Shad Thames
London SE1 2YD
There’s a giant cauldron, a wooden chair, a library and a video game in the mix: it’s time for the Designs of the Year awards, and you know it’s nearly Spring when this particular circus comes to town. Showcasing the best designs of 2012 in every category from architecture to fashion, graphics to product and often dubbed ’the Oscars of the design world’, the Design Museum’s DOTY exhibition opens today. And it’s a formidable bunch.
Last year, I was privileged enough to sit on the jury for the awards, alongside Evgeny Lebedev, Hella Jongerius and Sir George Iacobescu CBE. So I can say, first hand, that the important thing here is not who wins, but the whole picture of what’s in the show. As the museum’s director Deyan Sudjic says, ’Designs of the Year offers a unique chance for visitors to see where the world of design is going, all in one room.’
Finding a single winner might have its uses, but that’s not really the point. This is a comprehensive cross section of the world’s best designs in a given timeframe. It gives a snapshot of what is going on across the globe. And for the visitor it is mind-blowing how much fantastic innovation there is at a time when most industries are reporting doom and gloom at every opportunity.
There are certain trends evident, too. For example open-source design - do-it-yourself designing and making - is a strong theme this year. ’One of the most significant advances in the last 12 months or so has been the transition of 3D printing technology from R&D labs to the home,’ explains curator Pete Collard. ’With the arrival of Makerbot’s Replicator 2, it’s now possible for people to manufacture their own designs, bypassing the traditional chain of mass-manufacturer to shop to consumer. One of the other designs, a mobility apparatus, coined "Magic Arms", being piloted at a children’s hospital in Delaware, demonstrates the benefits of this bespoke, small-scale style of manufacture.’
This year’s jury - which includes Griff Rhys Jones, Amanda Levete and Nicolas Roope among others - will be asked to judge Thomas Heatherwick’s Olympic Cauldron against a wheelchair that folds flat (by Vitamins Design). Random International’s Rain Room sits alongside the design for the gov.uk website and a lightshade made from a constantly growing and bursting bubble (Surface Tension lamp by Front). They’re all completely different. They are all completely amazing. The jury has an impossible mission.
But they do have the luxury of spending hours reviewing and dissecting these fantastic nominations one by one. This year’s showcase - displayed in an exhibition designed by Faudet-Harrison, featuring suitably optimistic yellow walls and carefully considered vistas allowing the nominees to be admired up close and from afar - includes projects that are jaw droppingly beautiful, such as Lacaton and Vassal’s Tour Bois-le-Prêtre in Paris’ notorious banlieues; alongside far reaching fashion initiatives such as Yayoi Kusama’s collection for Louis Vuitton. Then there are projects that are far from pretty, but have social implications, such as Australia’s new cigarette packaging, designed to discourage smokers, and the saviour of many a household: the non-stick ketchup bottle.
I would encourage everyone who visits to play the part of juror - not to choose between the objects, but in the attempt fully absorb the brilliance of what is on show: the importance and impact that design has on us all. In a recent report from The Future Laboratory, in which it polled which professions people felt would be most likely to save the world, scientists were rated top, with politicians, poets and philosophers also all doing their bit. Designers were nowhere to be seen. I was shocked, but then I am biased. It would be interesting to retake this poll on visitors leaving the Design Museum’s latest show: it would surely provide a very different picture.
The winners will be announced in April.