Stories hidden in the Design of the Year awards

🕙 3 min read


One of my favourite exhibitions opened last month for its 10th year of demonstrating genius design from across the globe. The Beazley Design of the Year Awards exhibition has been a solid favourite of mine since moving to London. It is on until January 28th at The Design Museum in Kensington, but here is a sneak preview.

This exhibition is one you can mull over of hours. With 6 categories and over 50 pieces, the exhibition is a thoughtful look back over design which has shaped the past year. What took me by surprise was seeing so many political mentions like Brexit and Trump which feel like the initial blows were some time ago now, but actually, we’re just last year.

This year, there were a number of clear themes coming out in the curation of this work. Here are three of which hit home for me.


1/ Feminism

One clear movement which has been expressed in design is the mainstream adoption of Feminist equality beliefs.

“Finding her” is a piece design by IC4DESIGN with DDB Dubai as an advert for equality charity UN Women Egypt. The piece takes the classic kids book “Where’s wally” and instead you’re hunting for the woman in the workplace. This piece represents that only 23% of Egypt’s workforce are women, which is fucking mental frankly. The little cartoon people are shown working in Egypt’s biggest growing sectors; science, technology & politics however you will struggle to pick out the women amongst the men.


“Professional women emoji” was a project by a team of designers to correct the blatant gender stereotypes which have been lying dormant on our phone keyboards. Previously, the female emojis included, a princess, a bride and a women getting a haircut. Tre’s cliche. This team shook it up and created the STEM inspired pieces below AND Google has since taken these and upped their game in representative emojis. Open your keyboard now and take a look.


2/ Making good from bad

As a die-hard hippy, I loved the amount of re-useable, conscious and environmentally positive designs I see every year in the exhibition. This year, ‘making good from bad’ continued to pop up, here are a few pieces.

To make visible the invisible, Graviky Labs created pens filled with ink made from car exhaust pollution. The ink is refined from dirt sucked up with a filter placed on the car’s exhaust. This project caught my attention as it makes visible and tangible the reality of damaging air pollution.


The second piece which makes good from bad is a water tower which harvests the sky to bring clean water as a result. The structure made from bamboo, can harvest 100 litres of water a day from fog and mist into useable water. Whilst 100 litres really isn’t very much, the potential for a non-intrusive natural design to approach the water crisis is really interesting.


3/ Connecting us

Last of my fave themes is the design which brings us together, both in a physical and social way.

You may have seen this first piece floating around the internet. Below you can see the new
Language headphones from Waverly labs. These tiny but genius headphones allow real-time translations of languages, so if we both wore them, communication with over 15+ languages would be possible. Google also have their version coming out this month (with an epic 40 languages). This product could open up opportunities for connecting across far borders. Perhaps I can stop learning German now and just get these for the in-laws.


When it comes to community spaces, these have been on the decline due to short funding. Dansbana! Is an urban dance-floor developed as being a community space for girls in Sweden, where most community spaces tend to be aimed at male-dominated sports. The box is essentially a giant waterproof speaker fixed to the ground. Anyone can connect their phone to Bluetooth and get beats playing.


Sum up:


At the end of the exhibition, you are asked to cast your vote for the design of the year award. Whilst I loved a lot of entrees my vote went to a VR prison designed by Forensic Architecture and Amnesty international. A team of incredible VR designers work to reconstruct the Sandaya prison where Damascus where hundreds of people died at the hands of the Syrian government.

Taking witnesses stories they immortalised this building in a virtual world so it can forever be a reminder and stand testament to what people experienced there. Think how significant this is. Considering how much proof of Nazi extermination camps was decimated at the end of the war, creating virtual evidence could help victims keep their stories being heard for eternity, long after walls have fallen. Take a look.


Have you visited The Design of the Year exhibition? If so, what was your favourite piece? Let me know. If not, get out and get curious.


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