Design Week’s most popular product stories of 2020

This year saw designers make up the difference in medical supply shortages, colour match with real life, and help people party in their own homes.

Pentagram’s Yuri Suzuki has designed a machine that lets you cut your own vinyl

With more time than ever to spend indoors, this year has had many a music fan reacquainting themselves with their record collections. Pentagram partner Yuri Suzuki, managed to push the vinyl experience beyond relistening. In collaboration with Japanese publishing and toy company Gakken, the designer developed the Easy Record Maker, a machine that allows users to cut their own vinyl.

The product works by using a stylus to directly cut a record. Users connect their phone to the device to instruct the Easy Record Player in how to cut each one, and can then instantly listen back to what’s been created.

When Suzuki spoke to Design Week about the new invention, he said he wanted to create an experience that was “cheap and easy” for users. It was, he told us, the realisation of a long-held desire – he called it his “teenage dream machine”.

Pantone unveils app to colour match with “real life”

To the delight of designers everywhere, in June Pantone unveiled a new app that would allow users to colour match in the world beyond the studio. The Colour Match Card is a credit card-sized target that can be calibrated with a phone camera to “capture colour from real life”.

With a hole in the centre, users place it on the desired colour, take a picture of it and then upload to a mobile app. Here, Pantone algorithms match it to the nearest Pantone shade.

Aiming to “streamline” the colour decision-making process, the Colour Match Card was part of a wider tech platform roll out called Pantone Connect. The mobile and web app, which is also available in the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of applications, provides users with the complete range of Pantone colours and allows users to save and curate shades.

Ikea launches build-your-own party electronics

Even before the clubs were closed and festivals were cancelled, the brains at Ikea were thinking about how the home could become the centre of the party in 2020. Back in January, the Swedish furniture giant unveiled Frekvens, a 27-piece homeware collection designed with impromptu festivities in mind.

It was a collaboration with Stockholm-based studio Teenage Engineering and consisted of different modular speakers and lighting systems, with which users could build their own tailored party set up. Three different speakers made up the collection, including a portable one and a duo speaker-subwoofer.

With a sleek and retro-looking design, the collection was markedly different to Ikea’s previous ventures into home audio, such as the Sonos Symfonisk range, which was designed to “blend in”. Instead, the Frekvens range was designed to stand out – and why wouldn’t you want that, asked Teenage Engineering head of design Jesper Kouthoofd, who said: “Why do you have to hide speakers? They are furniture in their own right.”

Letterbox deliveries are booming. How are designers meeting these new demands?

In 2020, you can get wine, laundry capsules and deodorant posted through your letterbox and this convenient turn of events brings with it a host of new product and packaging challenges. In April, Design Week spoke to designers working with these services.

We heard from Santiago Navarro, co-founder of Garçon, about designing a flat but still recognisable wine bottle; Pentagram partner Jon Marshall, who designed the Heights product, “a brain health and wellness” start-up; and Jo Barnard, the designer behind the “world’s first” plastic-free deodorant refill.

So when the goal is a 45mm-wide letterbox, how can you ensure a good balance between product and packaging? Navarro told us his work concentrated on keeping the recognisable aesthetics of a wine bottle, while Marshall said his project revolved around the constraints of the tiny gap.

How do you design an “immersive” virtual product launch?

It was a rough year for the product launch this time around – with the pandemic resulting in almost worldwide lockdowns, gathering a crowd of people to witness the unveiling of a new project was pretty impossible. But could virtual launches pack the same punch? Back in May, Amsterdam-based design studio Resn showed the world how to do it with their launch event for electric bike company VanMoof.

The Dutch bike company was supposed to reveal its new X3 and S3 models at a live launch – and so tasked Resn with creating the next best thing when that was cancelled. The live event combined virtual renderings of the bikes, video presentations and interactive features. It took four weeks to create, had 6,000 live viewers and resulted in 4,400 orders.

Resn creative director Simon Jullien told us that the key to its success was not in trying to “replicate” an in-person launch event, but instead focus on what digital could do best to replicate the feeling – not the event itself.

Dyson designs a ventilator for the coronavirus pandemic

In the early stages of the pandemic, much of the anxiety at the time arose because of shortages in medical equipment. Studios and practitioners from across the industry stepped in and stepped up to help out. Some 3D-printed visors for hospital staff, others sewed reusable masks. Perhaps one of the most high-profile projects came from Dyson, which designed a ventilator for use in hospitals.

In its most severe cases, a coronavirus infection can leave patients needing to use a ventilator. Back in March, the NHS had 8,000 ventilators, but was projecting the UK might need as many as 30,000 in the coming months. In collaboration with UK-based tech company Technology Partnership, Dyson designed an alternative that could meet demand.

Initially, the UK government ordered 10,000 of the Dyson ventilators. However, just weeks later, it cancelled this order citing a decreased need for ventilators. It was understood that Dyson’s pending approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) could have had something to do with the decision too.

Coronavirus: the designers finding solutions to medical supply shortages

Before Dyson unveiled its ventilator, other designers were already springing to action.

In Italy, which back in March was the European country worst-hit by the pandemic, designers and manufacturers were pivoting their operations to help out. A printing company called Issinovia, for example, used its equipment to create a cheaper alternative to the Venturi valve, a costly tube that connects patients to ventilators.

Meanwhile in the UK, the government put out a call to the country’s manufacturers to help plug the gap – companies like Rolls-Royce, Vauxhall and JCB were all engaged to help. Elsewhere brewer BrewDog was repurposing its manufacturing processes too. The beer brand revealed it was using its distillery to make alcohol hand sanitiser, which would be given away for free to local groups and charities.

Pentagram has designed a screen-free audio platform which puts kids in control

Another product that seemed to foresee a year spent predominantly indoors came from Pentagram back in January. The studio’s London office collaborated with toy company Yoto to create the Yoto Player, an interactive, screen-free audio player for children.

The player uses physical cards, in a similar way to a cassette player, but is also connected to a speaker. The cards are divided into six categories: sorties, music, podcast, activities, sound effects and radio. The whole project was informed by children throughout, Pentagram told us, so that they could be put in control of their own experience.

The Yoto Player was a refreshing addition to a market which is increasingly reliant on screens. Indeed, it impressed the judges at this year’s Design Week Awards, and scooped top spot in the product design category.

Nike debuts new aerodynamic tech in “game-changing” football for new season

Matches might have been cancelled and crowds banned, but when 2020 hit Nike had already been working on reinventing the football. The result of an eight-year investigation and 68 iterations, the sports company unveiled the Nike Flight ball in June.

The ball was designed with the promise of delivering a 30 per cent “truer flight” than previous designs. “Unpredictable movement”, as Nike calls it, is a problem in football and the solution its Innovation Lab has come up with uses grooves on the ball’s surface to fix this. Known as Aerotrack grooves, they “promote air movement around the ball”, according to the company.

The final result provided the Flight ball with a distinctive look, covered in grooved chevrons.

Urinals for women: is it time to rethink public toilets?

Among the many secondary effects of the nationwide pandemic lockdown was a decrease in the number of open public toilets. Already decimated from a decade of Tory-led austerity, the lockdown meant the toilets in pubs, cafes and shops which would once making up the difference were similarly behind locked doors.

Back in June, Design Week spotlighted the women who were designing solutions to the problem. LaPee and MadamePee were both female urinal products which their respective designers hoped would be adopted by local councils in the midst of shutdowns.

Though a departure from the norm, MadamePee’s Danielle Dong a Yakan told us that the move was a necessary step in the democratisation of toilet facilities.

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