Designer of the Year will certainly break the mould

The Design Museum couldn’t have chosen a better time to announce the shortlist for its second Designer of the Year award (see News, page 3). Coming in the wake of a lacklustre New Year Honours list for design, it gives a welcome boost to the creative end of the industry.

Though the relevance of the official honours for individual achievement is in question, we applaud stamp designer Jeffrey Matthews for the award of an MBE, plus a sprinkling of architects for their honours. But where are the branding and product designers, whose efforts do much to build UK industry and are responsible for some of the country’s prominent exports?

The argument probably goes that these awards aren’t to do with business but with culture and public service and that the Queen’s Award for Enterprise is the scheme that honours commercial prowess. But how many consultancies will figure there? How many, indeed, even realise that they are eligible to enter?

The Design Museum’s £25 000 prize is, meanwhile, much more clear-cut. It is about contribution to design during 2003 and, though age isn’t a criterion, youngish designers constitute the main contenders – Daniel Brown and Paul Cocksedge, for example, are in their 20s, while Sam Buxton is in his early 30s.

There is also scope for renegades in this scheme, showing that great design doesn’t always come through formal training.

While Buxton and Cocksedge followed the conventional academic route, completing their studies at the Royal College of Art, Craig Johnston graduated from professional football to head innovation at sports equipment pioneer Adidas, developing the Predator boot, worn by the likes of David Beckham and Jonny Wilkinson. Like last year’s winner Jonathan Ive of Apple Computer, Johnston flies the flag for in-house design – a relatively new hub of innovation on the product design front.

Brown, meanwhile, is largely self-taught, having discovered computers through video games and worked at Amaze, within the Learning Methods Unit at Liverpool’s John Moores University.

If there was a craft bent in the first Designer of the Year line-up, this year’s selection has a strong product/technology bias. All four contenders apply new technologies to their work and most also have expertise in new materials, both key to design’s development in the future, as research at the RCA and the Interaction Design Institute at Ivrea in Italy demonstrate.

The Design Museum has come up with a cracking shortlist for its prize this year – an inspiration to the design community. We look forward to reporting the outcome of its deliberations in May.

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