As with every year, the sprawling, disparate, all-over-the-shop nature of the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year show is both the brilliant thing about it and the thing that makes it so utterly disorienting. Having an Escher-inspired mobile game (Monument Valley) share space with the Google self-driving car and a sanitation system for remote, off-grid areas (Eawag’s Blue Diversion unit) makes even the least design-oriented visitor surely question the nature of what “design” itself means. Should it look beautiful? Should it make our day easier? Should it help the planet? Should it save lives?
"What Designs of the Year does so well is not propose a definition, but merely showcase the things that are at the very top of their class, and do what they aim to do perfectly."
And also as with every year, we see it can do all of these things, one of these things, or none of these things. Design is a gloriously big, slippery word; and what Designs of the Year does so well is not propose a definition, but merely showcase the things that are at the very top of their class, and do what they aim to do perfectly.
The 2015 show feels more spacious and easy to navigate than in previous years, with exhibition design by Benjamin Hubert and graphics by Kellenberger-White which are pared back, simple and articulate exactly what we’re seeing. We ran through the excellent nominations in the graphics section here and our picks of the rest of the show here, but in the flesh there are new things that catch our eye: the aforementioned Blue Diversion unit, the Raf Simons and Sterling Ruby AW 2014/15 collection; the “Grow it Yourself” mushroom materials that create a completely compostable product; the Mick Ebeling/Not Impossible-designed Project Daniel 3D printed limbs. The pieces that are instantly big or colourful, such as those in the transport category or the bright KENZOPEDIA aren’t always the ones that draw you in – we were fascinated by the Human Organs-on-Chips (note: not an off-menu kebab order) designed by Donald Ingber and Dan Dongeun Huh, which model human tissue structures and mirror their behaviour, with the potential to move away from testing on animals and people.
Alongside designs that “deliver change”, “enable access” and “extend design practice,” one of this year’s judging criteria was to find things that “capture the spirit of the year.” And while little unites the designs exhibited at first glance, their power to simply make life a bit better – whether that’s making a slow bus journey to work more fun, or saving a life through access to clean water – is something in every single exhibit. And if that captures the spirit of the year, these are good times indeed for design.
About the Author
Emily joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in the summer of 2014 after four years at Design Week. She is particularly interested in graphic design, branding and music. After working It's Nice That as both Online Editor and Deputy Editor, Emily left the company in 2016.