The main poster for this year’s Designs of the Year show at London’s Design Museum features a stark white slogan on a sheer black background which reads: “Someday the other museums will be showing this stuff.” It sums up perfectly what this programme aims to do: champion and showcase the best contemporary design and put a marker down for that which will come to define the coming decades. And this year’s extravaganza succeeds in doing that in spectacular fashion.
This is down in no small part to the show’s design, overseen by the Norwegian London-based duo Hunting and Narud and the always impressive OK-RM, whose approach contextualises the work brilliantly while giving it room to breathe. With 76 projects to show across the seven categories – architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphics, product and transport – the onslaught on the visitor can be overwhelming.
But this has been avoided by three key innovations. Firstly each nominee is given its own stand, stage or wall panel, fashioned out of plywood which calms the whole room down. Secondly, each project is summed up in a conversational one liner, a simple phrase which spells out both what it is and why it is considered important; a brilliant way of making even some of the more complicated entries really accessible. Neat metal plaques hold more in-depth information, crucially retaining a line from the person who nominated that project explaining why.
Thirdly the curators have carefully considered how best to tell the story of each particular object. That doesn’t sound like rocket science but it is has a tremendous impact. Audio and video is used intelligently but there’s more direct links too; visitors can play the reimagined piano by Roland Lamb and Hong-Yeul Eom, use the nominated apps and leaf through some of the magazines. John Pawson’s St Moritz Church is brought to life not just through a photo, but also by being able to see slabs of the materials used.
Wandering round the show it’s great to discover those things that you miss amid the maelstrom of such a massive shortlist. I love Dr David Swann’s syringe that changes colour when exposed to air to discourage multiple use – surely a worthy winner? But there’s other gems too, such as Sidekick which helps designers realise their Kickstarter projects through a mix of professional nous and passion and Rick Owens’ barnstorming fashion week show.
If you’re in London it’s well worth the effort to get down there in order to appreciate both the work itself and the way it’s being displayed.
Designs of the Year 2014 runs until 26 August.