Function to the forefront

on the trend towards fuction rather than fashion amongst the nominees of this year’s Brit Insurance Design Awards

Just by looking at the seven categories to be found in The Brit Insurance Design Awards – architecture, fashion, furniture, graphics, interactive, product, and transport – one realises just how widely design infiltrates contemporary life. Innovation, functionality, beauty and, increasingly importantly, sustainability: just some of the many factors that contribute to truly great design, be it a car or a lampshade.

Ninety designs spanning all categories have already been shortlisted, and the overall winner of these so-called “Oscars of the design world” will be announced on Tuesday, 15th March. In the meantime, the nominated designs are on display at London’s Design Museum until the 7th of August. A panel of judges amongst which there are graphic designers, novelists, curators have a challenging, even somewhat unrealistic task ahead of them: how to select a single successful design when each of these categories have very diverse requirements, uses, and futures? Last year’s winner was a folding plug; will practicality and function be favoured again, when there are beautiful extravagances like The Seed Cathedral, made of 60,000 transparent optical strands, or Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower, a superstructure of 828 metres, in the running?

Most of what seems to be among the highly-favoured designs are in the transport category this year: particularly, Barclay’s Cycle Hire system, which will enable the commuter to grab a bike from designated spots around London for short-term use, and an aluminum bicycle by Dutch brand Vanmoof, which is astonishing in its lightweight and all-in-one nature. Other designs in the spotlight include energy-harvesting paving stones, perfect for low-power signage in public spaces, and even Jacob Jensen’s sleek and modern Diamant Coffin series.

Interestingly, among the nominees in the product category is the iPad. Although it is already a successful and popular item, the likelihood of it winning seems rather low – not because it lacks innovative design, but because greater support, in terms of critical interest and media publicity, have been given to smaller designers and modest items in the past four years the Awards have taken place.

In this way, it is indeed helpful for designers with unique ideas, technical knowledge, but no backing from a major company or sponsor. However, whether major architectural projects, functional quotidian devices, and purely aesthetic pieces can all be judged on the same grounds remain to be seen. There are truly subtle and ingenious entries that hardly serve any purpose at all, such as the hypnotic Mimosa Light Installation that responds to visitors by mimicing responsive plant systems. Unfortunately, but perhaps rightly so, it appears such pieces are going to be overlooked in the wake of so many designs geared toward providing solutions rather than aestheticism.

Despite the fact that it seems inevitable a beautiful piece of design such as For Use/Numen’s otherworldly, organic Tape Installation will be overshadowed, this year’s Brit Insurance Design Awards will set down a few stepping stones in terms of efficiency and sustainability. The current design world has the problems of the here-and-now on its agenda, shunning extravagance and pointing out the creative potential in heading towards practicality, simplicity and quality.

One comment

  1. “Last year’s winner was a folding plug; will practicality and function be favoured again…..?”

    Sadly this is an erroneous question as Min-Kyu Choi’s folding plug was, in reality, neither practical nor functional. The design is fundamentally unsafe, does not meet the requirements of BS 1363, and it would be illegal to attempt to sell it in the UK. It is an attempt by an art student to address an issue which requires engineering expertise, and with a complete lack of engineering experience on the panel of judges they failed to seek advice as to whether it was practical! Only a radical redesign, which would turn it into a different sort of folding plug, would result in a safe product.

    Fortunately all of the category winners in this year’s competition seem to avoid such fundamental errors.

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