National Design Awards

The Cooper-Hewitt recently announced the winners of the 2011 National Design Awards. I was pleased to see that Ben Fry is the winner in the Interaction Design category. Ben has created some fantastic information visualizations and authored the O’Reilly book, Visualizing Data. He has a Ph.D. from the Aesthetics + Computation Group at the MIT Media Lab and was the Nierenberg Chair in CMU’s School of Design during the 2006-2007 school year. He is also one of the creators of Processing and has published books on using the language. He is an outstanding representative of our field, deserving the recognition.

Also of particular note are Steven Heller, author and editor of over 130 books and winner of this year’s Design Mind category; Rick Valicenti, winner in Communication Design; and the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement award, Matthew Carter, designer of many popular typefaces, including some of the most used, such as Verdana and Georgia.

You can check out the winners and finalists in all categories on the Cooper-Hewitt website.

Let’s see some I.D.

I.D. was America’s premier magazine about contemporary product design and material culture from 1954 through 2009.

To be honest, I didn’t realize the magazine had closed shop, but this is the introduction to the new I.D… not-a-magazine. Yes, the URL is, and the page title is “ID Magazine Served”, but there is no magazine here, or at least, not what I consider to be one. It’s a gallery displaying industrial design projects from the Behance Network. Now, I’m not too familiar with Behance—it hasn’t been on my radar—but it seems to me it is lacking curation. There at first appears to be no categorization, so it is a random jumble of projects ranging from fantastical concept explorations to actual, name-brand products. Once you view a particular project, however, you will find keywords that can be clicked to view a filtered gallery. It’s mostly images with very little description. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’d say it’s just a showcase for people’s portfolios. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think it’s misleading to give it the “I.D.” moniker and call it a magazine. I’ll stick with the likes of Core77, Design Observer, and Johnny Holland.

The one thing I am pleased about is the continuation of the I.D. Magazine Annual Design Review. It has an esteemed panel of judges and looks to be a class act.

2010 National Design Awards

This year’s National Design Awards have been announced. In its second year as a category, the Interaction Design award went to Lisa StrausfeldLocal Projects and Potion were finalists. Smart Design was the winner in the Product Design category with Continuum and Frog Design as finalists.

The National Design Awards are a little odd in that, while the awards are given annually, they don’t necessarily reflect the best of the previous year. They are approached much as the curation of an exhibit, which is understandable, given that the awards are given by the Cooper-Hewitt. Furthermore, they don’t award a specific design, but rather a body of work from an individual or firm. It seems more a “Hall of Fame” model. Lisa Strausfeld and Potion were both finalists last year, with Perceptive Pixel the winner. I suppose, given this perspective, it makes sense that they would still be in the running for the award this year.

In the NDA’s explanation of the selection process, they explain “Extraordinary originality in identifying, shaping, and solving problems is valued highly, and nominees whose work significantly broadens the conventions of their discipline, introduces formal innovation, and exhibits consistently high levels of imagination and insight are given special consideration.” I’m not particularly familiar with the work of Local Projects or Potion, but they do appear to meet the above criteria. Not so with their final statement:

“Finally, in keeping with Cooper-Hewitt’s definition of design as a force of change, the jury weighs the extent to which the general public has benefited from the explorations and achievements of each nominee.”

This is where I think the selections don’t make as much sense. I don’t believe the example work depicted has significantly benefitted the general public or had a large influence on the Interaction Design field. Don’t get me wrong, I am in full agreement that Strausfeld deserves recognition for her body of work. However, I think the Cooper-Hewitt is sending mixed messages about what the NDA’s are.

Plugging Away

Possibly inspired by Min-Kyu Choi’s brilliant multi-plug design, two students were presented with 2010 iF concept awards for stacking USB plugs. These are only concepts, so I don’t know how plausible they are, but I think they’re well-conceived and nicely executed.


Gonglue Jiang and Ke Zhao of Tongji University in Beijing, China designed a plug that is very believable in its dimensions. The clean, white cable matches the current Apple aesthetic, and the color accents provide a way to distinguish one device’s plug from another. One drawback is that the width of the plug and orientation of the cable may preclude use of other ports.

Tandem USB

Yi Fan Lin and Hong Yih Chu of Shih Chien University in Taipei, Taiwan have a very compact design. Again, multiple colors improved identification. While the small profile solves the potential to block other ports, I must wonder if there is room for whatever would be needed to make such a plug functional. The bend in the cable lends some visual interest, but it also seems like it could get in the way when plugging and unplugging the cables.

Feasible or not, I enjoy seeing these fresh takes on old problems.

Year of the Cube

The article was published in the November, 2009 issue, but I just learned of it from a Nissan customer mailing. Automobile magazine named the Nissan Cube, of which I was one of the first people in Pittsburgh to own, the 2010 Design of the Year. This is the same award that went to the Audi A5 in 2009 and the Audi R8 in 2008. So why the Cube?

According to Robert Cumberford, it has nothing to do with beauty or elegance, and he even sets aside originality, since it is the third version of the car. His one-word explanation is “charm.”

“You’ll probably start to smile as you approach the Cube. It’s funny-looking, yes, but in an especially agreeable way.” “It’s funky, fun, and just generally fine.”

Robert goes into more detail about the specifics of the design, citing everything from the rippled ceiling to the CVT gearbox. There are two comments that I especially agree with. The first has to do with the interior space:

“…the interior gives you a sense, if not the fact, of unlimited space. The amount of headroom, elbow room, and legroom makes the Cube feel more like a limo than the upmarket economy car it actually is.”

So true. Aside from the dash topper, the roominess of the interior is what everyone comments on the first time they get in. The second comment that stuck home was Robert’s declaration of the Cube’s mission:

“…to be the thoroughly practical, no-nonsense urban vehicle of the early twenty-first century.”

I can’t say whether or not that was Nissan’s goal, but I think they’ve achieved it. I second Automobile’s choice. Oh, and there’s a little bit of nonsense in there too.

IDEA 2009

The winners of the 2009 International Design Excellence Award competition have been announced. I’ve perused the gallery and picked out the ones that I find most inspirational.

I’m always a sucker for new takes on products that we take for granted. The Eva Solo Grating Bucket “…turns the traditional handheld grater upside down.” The grated matter is contained within the grater, rather than left in a pile on your counter. It only received a bronze, but I give it the “Duh! Why didn’t somebody think of this decades ago?” award. Kudos to Tools Design.

A few years back, I was trying to find a kid-friendly digital camera. I gave up. TEAMS Design has filled this obvious need with flair and won a bronze award with the Argus Bean Children’s Digital Camera. Rugged, affordable, water resistant, slip resistant, minimum controls, clips onto things, has a handle, and looks fun—what more could you want?

Hospitals are scary enough for adults, let alone children. My daughter’s recent experience going through surgery for a broken arm was testament to that fact. The Healthcare Design Team of Phillips Design deserves a medal for coming up with the idea of placing toy versions of medical equipment in waiting rooms. They received a bronze one for the Kitten Scanner. As described in the gallery, “The Kitten Scanner helps lessen children’s anxiety about a CT exam. By placing the Kitten Scanner in the waiting room, children are invited to play and interact with the device in a non-threatening environment. Interactive role play and storytelling explain the different steps of the procedure and, through the act of playing, children become familiar with the procedure and learn what to expect.” This is design at its best.

Energy Seed is a gold-winning concept design from an educational project sponsored by Samsung Design. It is a “collection bin for batteries that uses leftover power to light the attached LED streetlamps.” I love the idea, but I would like to know a little bit more about how it would work. How does it drain the energy from the discarded batteries? How many batteries would it take to keep the light on for a night? What service would be put in place to collect the batteries, and how would they be disposed of? As in years past, the all-to-brief descriptions on IDSA’s site leave me hungering for more information.

Those are my favorites, but there are 146 other winners to check out.

Data Visualization in the National Design Awards

Yesterday, I wrote about the Cooper-Hewitt’s 10th National Design Awards, pointing out that Lisa Strausfeld—known for designing rich information visualizations, among other things—was a finalist in the Interaction Design category. Data visualization was particularly noticeable in the past year, what with the olympics and the election. This was due in large part to the New York Times, and their graphics department was recognized as the winner in the Communication Design category. To see more examples of their spectacular work, check out the following links:

Megan Jaegerman’s brilliant news graphics

InfoDesignViz’s NewYorkTimes Bookmarks

Interaction Design in the National Design Awards

The Cooper-Hewitt’s 10th National Design Awards have been announced for 2009. This year sees Interaction Design as a new category, and a quite welcome one. A true sign of the times, the winner in this category is Jeff Han’s Perceptive Pixel, a firm “dedicated to the research, development and deployment of multi-touch interfaces for the knowledge worker.”

If one can be judged by the organizations she associates with, Lisa Strausfeld, one of two other finalists, can’t do much better. She has master’s degrees from both Harvard and MIT, where she worked in the Media Lab. She is a partner at Pentagram and teaches at Yale. I’ve been an admirer of her work in information visualization, and she is responsible for the OLPC’s Sugar OS.

The other finalist I didn’t know by name, but I had heard of one of their projects—huge touch screen tables designed for the National World War I Museum. “Founded by graduates of the MIT Media Laboratory, Potion is a design and technology firm that specializes in interactive installations.”

In addition to the new category, this year’s Lifetime Achievement award goes to Bill Moggridge, one of the pioneers of Interaction Design, and in fact, the man who coined the term.

I.D. 2008 Winners

I.D. has announced the winners of their 2008 Annual Design Review. I was expecting to find a number of inspiring designs, and there were several, but there were two things that stood out for me.

First was the prevalence of Apple:

  1. Packaging - Honorable Mention for iPhone packaging
  2. Interactive - Design Distinction for
  3. Consumer Products - Best of Category for the iPhone
  4. Consumer Products - Design Distinction for their Wireless Keyboard

Apple strives for excellence in design across the board, and it shows. They know that it is important to consider the total experience of their customers.

The second thing I noticed was the paucity of visual representations of the winners on I.D.’s website. Each winner had a single photo about 350 pixels wide. However, most of these were photos of multiple images. For example, the interactive works were shown on a monitor and a laptop, both artfully staged and shot as a single image. In the Environments category, the Olympic Sculpture Park, which one Best of Category, is represented by a shot of three, large scale, printed photos. These images may work fine in the printed magazine—I haven’t seen it. On the website, however, they are too small. You can’t make out details. The Honorable Mentions have no photos and no descriptions. They should have at least provided access to higher resolution images, if not multiple images for each winner (where appropriate). 

Putting the “No” in Innovation

I was just looking over the CES Award winners, and with a few exceptions, find them rather uninspiring. I am impressed with Belkin’s TuneStudio. The Looj is a good idea, but the price seems rather steep for something you’ll only use once or twice a year. The rest of the entries just fall flat.

I think Apple has me truly spoiled. I look at the winners in the categories for telephones and portable media players and find it laughable not to see the iPhone or any of the iPods. I’m appalled to see Dell’s name in the list of Computer Hardware honorees. Of course, Apple doesn’t care about CES, so they don’t bother entering their products, nor do they attend the conference.

For what it’s worth, BusinessWeek’s coverage of the awards is, as usual, quite good. You’ll find there anything worth reading about.