How do you choose the best design of the year?

The Design Museum’s Designs of the Year competition has seen some great winners over the years, but as a scheme it does seem to reinforce how difficult it can be to objectively judge design.


This is, of course, a common issue in design competitions – witness for example the recent controversy of Gordon Young and Why Not Associates Comedy Carpet missing out on the D&AD Yellow Pencils. But when you have a scheme as wide-ranging as Designs of the Year – covering everything from architecture to fashion with only one overall winner – then this subjectivity becomes even more apparent.

Visit the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year exhibition and what you get is an almost overwhelming jumble of great designs across all disciplines. As an exhibition it’s superb – but as a competition?

The London 2012 Olympic Torch, by Barber Osgerby
The London 2012 Olympic Torch, by Barber Osgerby

Barber Osgerby’s London 2012 Olympic Torch is stunning, and one of the most beautiful designs to come out of this year’s Games, matched only by Hopkins Architects’ Velodrome, which won in the architecture category.

It looks great, although having never used it (and as I’m not an official Olympic torchbearer I’ll never be able to) I can’t comment on how fit-for-purpose it is.

But is being beautiful enough to make this the design of the year? Better, for example, than the RCA and Helen Hamlyn Centre’s redesign of the emergency ambulance, which won in the transport category?

Obama Hope poster, by Shepard Fairey
Obama Hope poster, by Shepard Fairey, Design of the Year in 2009

As you might expect from a scheme of this nature, the winners are frequently controversial – most notably when Shepard Fairey’s Obama posters won in 2009 (a rare victory for Graphics).

And in this Olympics year you can’t help but feel that the Torch, like Fairey’s posters were in 2009, is the most impactful, rather than necessarily the best design of the year.

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