Designs of the Year 2014: The Design Museum opens its annual survey of the best of the best
This year as every year, there is something ever so slightly absurd about the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year nominations and the companion exhibition at its London space. What does a recoiling mudguard really have to do with Zaha Hadid’s cultural centre in Azerbaijan? A Chris Ware graphic novel with an ultra fuel-efficient and very nifty looking Volkswagen? Should student projects sit beside a new David Chipperfield building, years in the planning?
The breakdown into categories - architecture, digital, fashion, graphic, product and transport design - means you are not, nominally, comparing apples and pears of course but even the Design Museum would admit that a room full of designs drawn from all these disciplines can feel random and disorienting. But, all of the nominations have their own kind of merit, fascinating in their own ways, and the competition element to the display seems largely beside the point.
Where this kind of exhibition really works is spotting trends, within and across disciplines. This year there are, inevitably, a number of smart phones apps amongst the nominations, from a game designed to last for centuries, to an eye examination app that could revolutionise diagnosis and treatment of blindness in poor and remote areas. And a number of the nominations have depended on crowdfunding sites, particularly Kickstarter, to get off the ground.
The graphics category proves the counterintuitive health of independent magazine publishing. And across all categories, from the remarkable ’Silk Pavillion’ to the ’Lego Calendar’, designers are exploring new relationships between the digital and the ’real’. Amongst it all there are designs of startling ingenuity and real beauty, such as Barber Osgerby’s ’Bodleian Library Chair’.