Design Museum – Design of the Year 2014

Posted on 29th June 2014 by Alice

Someday, the other museums will be showing this stuff.

As the Design Museum’s ‘Design of the Year’ award moves into it’s seventh year, I ventured down to the capital to catch a glimpse at some of this years nominations. There was a bit of everything on display, spanning across seven different categories: architecture, product, fashion, furniture, graphics, digital and transport.

It celebrates the cream of the crop, outcomes from the design industry that make life easier or safer, visually stunning to quietly humble, and simply just, wow, I really wish I’d thought of that.

With so much to choose from – across an eclectic and diverse range of practises, it was difficult to narrow down a single winner. But here are my top 5:

City mapper app

An incredibly sophisticated and powerful commuting app. It’s been labelled a ‘route planner on steroids’ by, and it’s a pretty accurate description. It covers all modes of transport, (walking, taxi, tube, bus, bike…) provides you with a fare, how many calories you’re likely to burn, the best connections/combinations to go by, clear and succinct descriptions timings and distances, and when you’ve been out and about with no idea how to get back, there’s a rather neat ‘get me home’ button. (Recently adopted by other commuting apps too I’ve noticed)

What’s more is that the founder has commented saying that the algorithms used can be applied to any major city and it’s been expanded past London to Paris, New York, Berlin, Boston, Madrid and a couple more. This is no doubt old news to many people, but for those without the worry of finding their way through a complicated transport network to get to their desks in the morning. It’s a significant victory for digital design.


In our consumer based world, we tend to ditch our highly prized phones when a better replacement becomes available, or when our contracts have reached an end. This creates a lot of waste which even the likes of envirofone can’t keep down. There was a couple of solutions to this problem on show, but this one kept my attention the best.

It works on the principal that if there’s a better camera on the market, you can buy that single piece of hardware (in the shape of a block) and replace the now doomed item on your phone. Instead of having to buy a whole new phone, you can upgrade the individual parts as time goes by. It wasn’t the most attractive looking phone, with little attention going into the UI (which wasn’t really important I suppose) but as an idea, I thought it was a good outcome that could help stem the tide of technological waste being created.

Clever caps

As a teenager, I used to be a professional brew maker in one of the nations favourite department stores. There was a man that would come in and collect all our old milk bottle caps. This idea would certainly put him out of business, and keep yet more waste off our landfills.

Drinks caps that can be used with Lego. (or MegaBlocks if that’s what you grew up with) Like many of the other designs on show, it’s simply fantastic as a way to create a new use out of something which would traditionally be slung in the bin. Combinations of simple ideas like this could help to build a better future for generations to come.

Formlabs Form 1 3D Printer

3D Printing. Nothing new here really. We all know what it is now, we’ve seen the guy who’s printed his own sports car, but we still think it’s pretty cool. This design took another step closer to the world of desktop 3D printing and how feasible it will be to own one of these in the future.

I myself haven’t had the joys of watching something I’ve made digitally being lazered through liquid plastic before me, but maybe in a couple of years I could have one of these sat next to my computer as I extrude and bevel some typography on illustrator. Who knows? But what I do know from the accompanying video, is that this looked easy to use, and pretty satisfying to put together all your final components. Will have to keep an eye on this.


I’ve never felt the need to learn Chinese. But if I did, this is what I’d get first. ShaoLan Hsueh teamed up with well known illustrator Noma Bar to bring together an educational book on how to learn the Chinese language. Not only is it brilliantly useful, it is also beautifully produced and a visually stunning publication.

Generally, I tend to find child-like illustrations a little patronising, however with a language like Chinese, (which I imagine would be a tad fiendish to learn) these clear and clever little illustrations as ‘figurative visual language’ make remembering simple forms and strokes quite enjoyable. Also to be made available as an app and flash cards, I can’t see any reason why I shouldn’t ditch bedtime ‘Facebooking’ to learn Chinese with Noma’s bold and vibrant illustrations.

Out of these five I had a tough time picking my design of the year, looking retrospectively, I might have chosen a different answer now than I did at the time. The city mapper is truly something to appreciate as I’m somebody who experiences London once every few months – often disapprovingly due to getting around places.  But personally, I think the Chineasy publication brought staggering visual clarity to the process of taking on a new language. Something which I think pipped some of the other outcomes to the post in this exhibition of the very best design of the past year.

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