The 10 biggest product stories of 2019

From an at-home blood testing kit to a holographic sat nav system, we look back at our most popular stories across product and digital in the past year.

NHS launches kit so people can take their own blood at home

In June, we wrote about a kit from the NHS, Monitor My Health, which allowed people to take their own blood at home and post it back to a medical laboratory. People then receive their results digitally within 48 hours. You can choose one of six tests – diabetes, cholesterol, thyroid function, vitamin D, heart health or a full screening — with prices ranging from £24-49. The kit — which collects the blood by a finger-pricking device — aims to help “time-poor” people while also hoping to reduce pressure on the NHS.

It’s a commercial project from Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust — all profits are fed back to the NHS — and London design studio Howoco was hired to create the name, branding and packaging for the kit. Howoco used graphic design in a blue and white colourway that was “universal, like the NHS”. Design Week readers were fans of this “convenient” idea but wondered whether the NHS logo should have been implemented to ensure more trust among users.


Ikea launches its first ever African design collection

This year, Ikea announced its first African collection which was the result of a collaboration between 10 African designers, architects, artists and creatives. The Swedish company’s creative leader, James Futcher, said that the collection was a “palette of socialising tools” which aimed to encourage people to share stories, spend time with one another and be creative.

Among the range, we picked out a chair from Issa Diabete, which retailed at £42 and was customisable. Other highlights included a quilt from Sindhiso Kumhalo and Renee Rossouw, as well as a range of benches, cooking utensils and ceramics which were designed to age and become more personalised over time.


A smart update to baby monitors

Another product aimed at giving people “their time back” was this three-part baby monitoring device. The Bluebell smart monitoring system was created by London-based design consultancy Tangerine and comprises three products: a wristband for parents, a baby monitor which can be attached to the baby’s clothes, and a smart hub. The aim was to create something that is “sophisticated” but also “easy to set up.”

The wristband allows parents to remotely play white noise, lullabies or even turn on a night light. There’s also a smartphone app that allows parents to view “data patterns” of their child, including sleeping patterns, temperature, breathing rate and sound. Parents can share that data with medical professionals if they wish, though all data is encrypted.


Reimagining a car’s sat nav with holograms

This holographic navigation system uses augmented reality projection to display directions on a car’s windscreen. The system, created by technology company Envisics, aims to increase road safety. The system would mean that there are fewer distractions that make the driver look away from the road — at a navigation screen or speedometer, for example.

Envisics also says that the system is more environmentally friendly, as the display uses algorithms to redistribute light more efficiently. Another factor could be one of its biggest selling points as the automobile industry evolves: it uses 50% less power than conventional systems which would mean that it would be extra appealing for electric vehicles.


A plastic alternative is made from fish waste

In November, a plastic alternative made from fishing by-products won this year’s international James Dyson Award. MarinaTex was created by UK designer Lucy Hughes and is made partly of the 172,000 tonnes of waste that end up in landfill each year. It was in these discarded fish scales and skins that Hughes found potential for a material that was naturally flexible and had “strength-enabling proteins”. They were then bound with locally sourced agar — a jelly-like substance sourced from red algae — which produces a translucent material than can be used in a similar way to single-use plastic. It’s also compostable at home in four to six weeks. “The end goal,” Hughes says, “is to bring the material to market and offer it as a viable alternative to single-use plastic films.”

This was not the only product design story trying to find more sustainable solutions this year; we also looked at how the fashion industry is finding inventive solutions to the environmental crisis and designs for eco-friendly coffee cups.


Apple’s credit card arrives

The announcement of a new range of Apple products was popular earlier this year. There were updates to AirPods, the unveiling of gaming platform Apple Arcade, and perhaps most significantly, Apple’s foray into personal finance: the Apple Card. The credit card — in both a physical and digital form — builds on services offered by the company’s existing Apple Pay service. The physical card is titanium and numberless, as a security measure.

In the summer, Apple’s chief design officer, Jonny Ive would left the tech company to form his own studio. To mark the occasion, we spoke to designers about Ive’s legacy at Apple and what the company should do next. We also took a look back at Ive’s products throughout his two decades at Apple, from the short-lived iPod Hi-Fi to the enduring iPhone.


Ikea hacks its own products to make them disability-friendly

Another popular product launch from Ikea coincided with Disabled Access Day 2019. ThisAbles, a range of modular accessories which can be 3D-printed, aim to make the furniture company’s products more accessible. The plans are available for free online.

Products included bumpers for wheelchair users, which can be attached to the front of bookshelves that have glass panels to protect the glass. There were also large handles, which can be attached to smaller products to help people with communication and grip problems. Other products in the line were aimed at those with sight impairment, such as corner markers that can be attached to Ikea shelves.


A bespoke lace bra lets breast removal surgery patients wear well-fitting underwear again

In April, we covered a lace bra which can be customised for people who have undergone breast removal surgery. The product, from industrial designer Lisa Marks, works by using an algorithm to create a bespoke lace pattern for each wearer. Marks then uses this pattern to make a bespoke bra. The construction process is a combination of old and new: 35 digital modelling is used to visualise the bra, and the lace is then hand-weaved in a process that dates back to the 16th century.

“Since women who have had mastectomies have a higher rate of asymmetry, they have few options for lingerie, and often end up using external prosthetics,” Marks says. “This bra brings back their ability to adorn their body with lace and something that fits them.”


Braun’s 1959 LE speaker is given a 21st century update

In September, Braun revealed an update to a design classic – Dieter Rams’ 1959 LE smart speaker. It marked the German company’s first audio product since 1991 and was in keeping with the brand’s “modernist Bauhaus look”. It also included an all-new website and an app, which allows users to control bass and treble tone, stream music as well as connect to a Google assistant.

The visual identity for the new sound system was created by London studio Precipice Design. The neutral, understated appearance aimed to recall the brand’s “glory days”. Nigel Beechey, head of brand at Precipice, told Design Week at the time: “The technology in this case was our canvas, and over that we layered the classic Braun styling.”


A prosthetic leg cover that aims to be “beautiful” as well as “functional”

At the start of the year, Design Reality revealed a set of leg covers for prosthetic limbs which looked to increase wearers’ confidence. The Limb-art collection was developed in collaboration with Paralympian swimmer and medalist Mark Williams, who lost his leg in a car accident in the 1980s. The covers are 3D-printed and made from a plastic powder that is fused with a laser, to make an “incredibly strong” material.

The collection aimed to give people back their “full silhouette” so that they could wear clothing that they may have considered impossible before — such as a dress or tight pair of jeans. Dyfan Evans, a senior designer at the studio said: “It’s about inclusive design and using that to make functional items for disability beautiful, attractive and a pleasure to use.”

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