Review: Designs of the Year 13.02.09

words William Wiles

On Tuesday evening, we went to the Design Museum for the opening of the second Brit Insurance Designs of the Year exhibition. Here's a quick look at some of what we saw.

Overall, this year's selection was a marked improvement on last year's inaugural competition. We hope it's a sign of growing confidence on the part of the judges and a good omen for years to come. Museum director Deyan Sudjic's opening remarks put a pleasantly upbeat complexion on the fact that it has been a fairly dreadful year, as he presented design as the "good news" sector, focused on solving problems as doggedly as the previously all-powerful banking sector is now devoted to creating them. It was also encouraging to see so many projects that were familiar from the pages of icon magazine over the past year - a sign, perhaps, that the judges are doing something right, or that we are.

Anyway, on to some (but obviously not all) of the 100 entries. The furniture category is particularly strong, with a good mix of practical pieces for the mass market and limited-edition and conceptual work. So, Konstantin Grcic's refined Myto chair and the Bouroullec brothers' handsome Steelwood Family dining-room set sit happily alongside Nendo's delightful Cabbage chair concept and Tord Boontje's ultra-luxury Fig Leaf wardrobe for Meta. Also included is Raw Edges' seemingly ubiquitous (and much-copied) Stack chest of drawers, a strong contender for category winner. The product category is a distinctly rich bag, with plenty of interest but nothing obviously standing head and shoulders above the others - with the literal exception of Joe Wentworth's enormous but graceful Ipogeo light. 5.5 Designers' Clean broom and Jorre van Ast's jar tops are elegant bits of household improvement, and François Azambourg's Pixel clock is a witty riff on the digital ascendancy - an analogue clock pretending to be a computer display.

London-based interactive design studio Troika has done particularly well for a small studio, with three nominations in two categories. Its beautiful electroluminescent alphabet, designed for the All the Time in the World installation at Heathrow Terminal Five, and the Cloud kinetic sculpture, also from Terminal 5, appear in the graphics and interactive categories respectively. The studio's valuable book, Digital by Design, is also in the interactive category.

In the architecture category there are a lot of very familiar projects, including Herzog & de Meuron's Caixa Forum in Madrid (icon 058), Steven Holl's Linked Hybrid in Beijing (icon 066), Snøhetta's New Oslo Opera House (icon 060) and Shuhei Endo Architects' Bubbletecture H (icon 061). In fashion, it's good to see Louise Goldin's sculptural knitwear included, given that she's a consistently interesting and underrated designer who deserves exposure beyond the rag trade.

As always with a competition this broad in scope, it's impossible to generalise and accurately judge whether X opera house is better than Y website, so it's difficult to speculate as to which design might ultimately triumph. Last year it was Yves Behar's XO computer for the One Laptop Per Child project, an unanswerably worthy choice. Does that mean, when comparing magazines to fashion collections and chairs, the distinguishing factors are broad social worth and scale of impact? If that's the case, then Shepard Fairey's four-colour Obama poster and Sender LLC's dipped-crisp Obama campaign logo have the zeitgeist-y connection with world-changing events that might make them tempting choices for the judges.

The winners in each category will be announced at the end of February, and the overall Brit Insurance Design of the Year will be announced on 18 March. The exhibition is at the Design Museum, London, from 12 February to 14 June.

top image Cloud by Troika at Heathrow Terminal 5.

image Steelwood Family dining room set by Rowan and Erwan Bouroullec

image Clean broom by 5.5 Designers

image Shuhei Endo Architects’ Bubbletecture H

image Louise Goldin’s Spring/Summer 2009 collection

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