Let’s reward usability and social relevance in design

It would have been inconceivable a few years ago that an unglamorous product would win a design award. Yet in the space of a week we have seen two take top accolades in what can only be a welcome shift for design, broadening the portfolio of what designers have to offer.

Last week the Peezy urine sampler by Funnelly Enough took Best of Show in the Design Week Awards, while Matter’s Mo Dynamic seating won the 2009 DBA Inclusive Design Challenge, organised with the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art.

Both projects address social issues, using design to improve everyday life. Both have involved collaboration – in Peezy’s case with Maddison on product engineering, and for Matter’s adaptable cushion with seating experts at Herman Miller. Neither is ‘beautiful’ in the traditional sense, though each is styled appropriately to its task. Yet both have the ability to change lives in a small, but important way.

Both Peezy and the Mo Dynamic seating involve 3D design, but the shift in emphasis towards usability and social relevance is affecting other disciplines too. Information design and wayfinding spring to mind as growing areas that incorporate communication design in its widest sense in projects that can make a huge difference.

There is still plenty of room for designs that delight, using wit and aesthetics to convey a message or build consumer demand, and the best of these will be able to make the ‘return on investment’ case to clients. Long may that last.

But at a time when the public sector is being prompted by the Design Council and others to make better use of design to improve its processes and communications and achieve value for money, projects like Peezy and Mo Dynamic provide invaluable case studies.

If more public-sector clients were to get the message, it would not only enhance people’s lives – it could potentially help boost the UK economy as the design sector becomes more fully engaged.

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