With the exception of the odd self-illuminating suspender belt, there was a distinct lack of glamorous and hedonistic products emerging from the product design colleges and universities at this year’s New Designers exhibition. Given the current climate this is hardly surprising. There were also few, if any, aesthetic or design language trends emerging. But what I did find inspiring was just how big a conscience the vast majority of product design graduates portrayed in their choice of creative briefs.
The two main trends were a mixture of socially aware designs and environmentally sensitive designs. A third emerging theme was for designs that transformed everyday objects into products that accommodated the challenges of today’s modern lifestyle. A good example of this was a plug socket that folded up to create a platform to hold charging mobile phones.
The winner of the Virgin Atlantic Red Hot Design Award, Jamie Douglas, captured all three of these trends with an ingenious bicycle design that enabled more bikes to be stored in a smaller space, and cleverly uses the saddle to form part of an anti-theft device.
A desire to protect or make good our environment was evident in a number of products. The loss of natural habitats for wildlife occurs when fences replace hedgerows, and an elegant solution to this problem was to integrate nesting capabilities for wildlife into the fence posts. Other variations on this theme included concrete safety barriers that transformed into gardens.
An awareness of the depletion of natural resources was evident in many designs. One well-executed product interacted with children, helping them to grasp the importance of saving energy around the home from a very early age. A second captured the energy of people walking on specially designed paving slabs to power lighting and signage at bus shelters – a great way of catching a source of energy that is seldom used.
A range of social awareness products gave solutions for people across the globe. Water purification for Third World countries using nothing but the power of the sun, radios designed specifically for the blind and wind-up hearing aids all reflected the new graduates’ attitude to making life better.
The trends and challenges that these new designers tackled will inevitably be the focus for the product design industry in the coming years.