Folding bike helmets, smoke alarms that send you text messages and a pyramid-shaped school that floats on a lagoon in Nigeria are among the innovative solutions that make up the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year shortlist, announced on Monday.
From architecture and fashion to transport and digital design, the 76 nominations include the usual global stars – Zaha Hadid and John Pawson, David Chipperfield and Miuccia Prada – alongside smaller startups and student initiatives. Together, they provide a barometer of emerging trends and common themes, from the ubiquity of the smartphone to the growing number of independent designers and inventors turning to crowd-funding to see their ideas realised.
One such initiative is the Aerosee, a crowd-soured search-and-rescue drone designed to save lives in the Lake District mountains; it mobilises the public as “virtual search agents”, allowing them to help with live rescue operations from their tablets and mobiles. It is joined in the digital category by two smartphone apps – Dumb Ways to Die, a safety awareness game in which cute characters meet increasingly grisly ends, and the revolutionary Peek, which acts as a kind of pocket optician. Developed by a team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the ingenious app transforms the phone into a comprehensive eye examination kit, aimed at improving the prevention of blindness in remote areas.
Other clever innovations from the healthcare sector include the ABC syringe, which remains colourless when stored in its sterile pack, but changes colour when opened. Once exposed to the air, the syringe has a 60-second treatment window before turning bright red, to alert patients if it has already been used, while a faceted barrel design means that the piston will break if someone tries to replace it.
Developed in partnership with the NHS, the Chair 4 Life brings a similarly intelligent approach to the children’s wheelchair, with a basic frame designed to grow with the child, featuring a lightweight chassis that can be adapted and augmented with a catalogue of attachments and bespoke parts.
It is a logic of flexibility and incremental change shared by the Phonebloks project, a scheme for a modular mobile phone that can be upgraded with separate components – wifi, battery, display – which can be clicked together like Lego bricks, designed to combat the fact that millions of phones are thrown away every year just because one part is broken.
In architecture, French practice Lacaton & Vassal grace the list for the second year running, this time with a contemporary art centre in Dunkerque which takes the form of a ghostly doppelganger of a vast boat warehouse, an apparition in steel and glass next to the majestic old concrete shed. It is matched in elegance, if not in scale, by 6a Architects’ smart cast-iron facade for Paul Smith in Mayfair, a rugged patterned skin punctured by delicate curved windows that glow like luminous vitrines on the street.
Hadid and Chipperfield are both represented by their vast arts centres in far-flung capitals – the wobbly Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan, and the austere concrete Jumex Museum in Mexico City, for the country’s richest man.
The nominated designs will be on display at the Design Museum from 26 March to 25 August, and a winner from each category and one overall winnerwill be announced later in the year. For the first time, a social vote will see two designs battle it out each day on Twitter and Facebook.