Design Week’s biggest product stories of 2021

From an award-winning one-step ladder to Coca-Cola’s venture into paper bottles, these were our biggest product stories of the year.

UK government unveils EV chargepoint in electrification push

In November, the government revealed a prototype for an electric vehicle (EV) chargepoint,  designed by PA Consulting in collaboration with the Royal College of Art. The original brief had sought a design that could become an instantly recognisable piece of British street furniture, like the red post box or black cab. PA Consulting’s Dan Toon explained that the circular design had been inspired by tension between utilitarianism and joy, “the essence of British design”. The handle lights up to indicate charging status, and Toon expected that the finished product would be made out of a metallic material, with a textured finish inside the handle. The prototype appealed to both men and women in testing groups, according to Toon, a shift from the “traditionally quite masculine” automotive world.

Ladder design wins inaugural £40,000 Conran legacy award

Recent graduate Cameron Rowley won the Conran Shop’s inaugural Designer of the Future award, set up in honour of Terence Conran who died last year. The one-step ladder was designed to help people reach higher objects, but remain out of the way for the rest of the time. “Much of my design inspiration is drawn from processes and objects which don’t necessarily relate to domestic product and furniture design,” Rowley said; the ladder took cues from canoe paddles and window cleaners’ ladders, for example.

Salt water lamp WaterLight set to power communities without electricity

Colombian start-up E-Dina and Wunderman Thompson’s WaterLight sought to help indigenous communities in the La Guajira peninsula, located on the Colombia-Venezuela border. The lamp is powered by ionisation, produced when salt water electrolytes react with magnesium in the device. As well as providing a portable light source – which could be used by late-night fisherman – it’s also able to charge mobile devices through a USB port. In emergency situations, it can be powered by urine.

This portable solar distiller aims to provide safe drinking water around the world

The winner of 2021’s Lexus Design Award was a portable solar distiller, designed by Henry Glogau, which aims to provide clean drinking water around the world. It can either be prefabricated or made from locally-sourced materials, and comprises a plastic canopy to hold the water, an internal funnel to collect the liquid and a support structure (made from a material like bamboo). As it’s adjustable, the structure can also be suspended between buildings, while a hybrid version could act as a shelter for shade with space underneath to stand or sit, Glogau explained.

This start-up challenger is designing glasses for Black people

“At some point, I realised the problem wasn’t with me or my face, but with the product itself,” said Ackeem Ngwenya, the founder of Reframd, a company which designs glasses for Black people. Most glasses, the Berlin-based designer explained, are designed to fit high and narrow nose bridges which are most typically found in Caucasian people. Reframd customers can use the front-facing camera on their smart phones to capture their “face landmarks” which aim to provide a more accurately-fitting pair of glasses.

Coca-Cola tests paper bottle but is it the answer?

In February, Coca-Cola announced that it would be trialling a paper bottle for its drink, in the company push to “zero waste”. The new bottle was produced in collaboration with Danish start-up Paboco, made from a hard paper shell with a 100% recycled plastic enclosure and liner on the inside. The ultimate goal, according to Paboco, is to produce a bottle without any plastic at all – which would go some way in helping Coca-Cola achieve its goal of not producing any waste by 2030. Around 2,000 bottles were distributed by an online retailer in Hungary.

Ending planned obsolescence is a “brilliant opportunity” for designers

A Fairphone mobile. Courtesy of Fairphone

This year, the UK government announced legislation that aimed at tackling premature obsolescence – one example is white goods manufacturers providing spare parts so that products could be easily repaired. In this opinion piece, Landor & Fitch industrial lead Jack Holloway wrote that it was a “brilliant opportunity” for designers, arguing that it was a perfect time for product designers to get ahead of the curve and build brand loyalty at the same time. Holloway highlighted Dutch company Fairphone, which produces mobiles that can be easily and updated, a potential solution to the UK’s 1.45 million tonnes of annual electrical waste.

Device to combat knife crime wins UK Dyson Award

Loughborough University graduate Joseph Bentley was named the UK winner of the James Dyson Award this year, with a device designed to help first responders and police stem blood flow by knife wounds. According to the government, there were 46,000 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in England and Wales last year, the device used a medical-grade silicone balloon tamponade which is inserted into the wound. Squeezing the device’s trigger starts the inflation process – a process that could stop haemorrhaging in less than a minute, according to Bentley.

Virgil Abloh partners with Braun to reinvent classic product as “functional art”

To mark Braun’s 100-year anniversary, the late designer Virgil Abloh redesigned the German company’s Wandanlage stereo system. The wall-mounted system was first sold in 1965, and the rethought version plays on its status as a piece of “functional art”, according to Abloh. Though the technology remained the same, there was an upgrade to materials which were designed to “ensure it lasts for the next 100 years”, Abloh said.

Women’s urinal takes aim at “normalised inequality” of long waiting lines

The Peequal – designed by University of Bristol graduates Amber Probyn and Hazel McShane – took aim at an ongoing issue for women: long toilet queues. Comprising a pedestal (where the urine is directed) and the surrounding structure (for privacy and support). The Peequal can be delivered flatpack, and sustainability will be considered for materials as the product scales, according to the designers. Keeping the pandemic and germs front of mind, there’s also the option to use the urinal hands free.

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