Beazley’s Designs of the Year 2019

Beazley’s annual collaborative showcase of the Designs of the Year is back at the Design Museum in Chelsea, West London, for its twelfth year. So, we went along to discover what have been nominated as the top designs from around the world by a panel of experts, as well as by the public for the first time. The exhibition includes the best of the best in innovation across six specific design categories: fashion, architecture, digital, transport, product and graphic design.

“It’s kind of the Oscars of the design world here. I think there’s something inspiring or interesting, intriguing, for anyone no matter where you come from. When people choose to come to this exhibition, they’ll be so inspired by the attitude of contemporary designers tackling issues that are really meaningful. It’s a very strong year, there’s a lot of diversity and there’s a lot of strong contenders. I think it will be hard for the judges to choose their winners.”

Beatrice Galilee, Curator at the Design Museum

The Products room was a real highlight. Emeco’s ‘1 Inch Reclaimed stacking chair’ designed by Jasper Morrison marries simplicity and sustainability in the creation of a product with an ecologically responsible process engineered for indoor and outdoor use. The stackable chair is made to ‘last a lifetime’ of 88% reclaimed polypropylene and 2% waste wood fibre and demonstrates the irrefutable power in positive environmental initiative, shifting the nucleus of the world of design. Of the 76 nominations across all of the categories, the top winner is the ‘Anatomy of an AI System’ from the Digital category, originally unveiled at the V&A in 2018. Amongst lots of variation in Technology, this nomination was an anatomical case study by Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler, of the Amazon Echo as an artificial intelligence system made of human labour, data and planetary resources.

“The Echo sits in your house, looks very simple and small, but has these big roots that connect to huge systems of production: logistics, mining, data capture, and the training of AI networks. It’s an entire infrastructural stack you never see. You just give a simple voice command – “Alexa, turn on the lights” – and it feels like magic. But trying to really investigate and almost do archaeology of how that magic is working is what this project is about. The Echo is powerful because of this sense of convenience, but when you open up the hood you can see the full cost of it.”

Kate Crawford, ‘Anatomy of an AI System’, professor at New York University and co-founder of the AI Now Institute which sets out to study the social implications of developing artificial intelligence.

It’s a great experience to be in a room full of the most innovative and top developments in design. With nominations such as the first biodegradable, non-plastic and flushable pregnancy tests by Lia in the products category;  AlterEgo in the digital category, a wearable virtual assistance by MIT Media Lab that detects and transmits electric impulses from under the skin to allow those who cannot speak out loud to communicate; and the flying two-seater car by Airbus and Italdesign in the transport category that doubles as a vertical take-off and landing aircraft, we are seemingly not so far from the projected ‘future’ portrayed abundantly in 1970s science-fiction. Walking through the museum it’s quite amazing to consider the scope and the impact these designs will have into the future globally.