Brown goods win this year’s Designer of the Year prize

It was great to see the second Designer of the Year award going to digital artist Daniel Brown (see News, page 3). Apart from honouring Brown’s creative skills, it recognises a new area of design, providing inspiration to a younger generation of designers who have taken the digital route.

On a field of great contenders, the smart money was on football boot supremo Craig Johnston, because his work is closer to conventional product design – the heartland of the award’s organiser, the Design Museum. But there was a strong feeling around the gallery that the decision had gone the right way when last year’s winner, Apple Computer’s Jonathan Ive, read out the result.

One of the great things about the Design Museum’s accolade is that it can be given to emerging talent, based on the achievements of a year. For most creatives it is a big leap from winning the Royal Society of Arts Student Design Awards, via a D&AD Silver, if you’re lucky, to gaining an industry gong for lifetime achievement – and very few attain that.

Designer of the Year also carries a cash prize of £25 000, while most other awards are purely honours. That amount of money should allow someone like Brown to experiment within his field, where he and his peers have already shown that digital design is about far more than creating websites. Research at London’s Royal College of Art and the postgraduate school at Ivrea in Northern Italy is starting to show what can be achieved through technology to address everyday issues. Brown’s work also puts beauty into the mix.

The dotcom boom of the late 1990s fuelled interest in digital design. The Internet was viewed as a new medium for selling and promoting goods and services and every client wanted a slice of it. But bust followed boom and there were many casualties in the commercial digital arena. Only the ‘artists’ and diehards like Tomato and Digit, for which websites had only ever been one outlet, hung on, while independents like Brown started to emerge.

The potential of their talents is starting to be realised, not just on the conference circuit, but in the commercial world. Take the work of Tomato’s Tom Roope with restaurateur Alan Yau, not least at Yau’s new Asian fusion eaterie Yauatcha in London’s Soho. Brown’s award and the media attention it attracts can only help to promote this largely untapped area of design.

So congratulations to Brown. But congratulations too to the Design Museum and its jury for identifying and honouring a new area of design. It is heartening to see an ‘establishment’ organisation breaking the mould in this way. Its decision may stir others to do the same.

Lynda Relph-Knight

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