Introducing: the designs of the year

The ingenious creations that are set to define tomorrow’s world

MOST museum shows look back to the past. With flying cars, floating schools and wheelchairs that grow with the owner, this one is all about the future. Next week the seventh Designs of the Year exhibition opens at the Design Museum, and the broad selection of exhibits ranges from the useful to the beautiful to the downright ingenious.

For curator Gemma Curtin, this year was remarkable for the number of designs made possible by crowd-funding websites such as Kickstarter. “Six designs were funded that way. The Bradley timepiece for example, which is a watch for blind people. Funding on the web means you can access people who are willing to give money to a niche idea.”

Selectors from around the world were asked for their favourite designs from the last 12 months in the categories fashion, graphics, furniture, transport, digital, product and architecture. She then whittled the selections down to 76 – we’ve chosen our favourites.


Totemic pairs stiff, 3D embossed materials inspired by biker culture and clothes with elegant, even ethereal A-line silhouettes. The result is a collection that was at once powerful and feminine, futuristic and full of poise. Still only 26 years old, Williams graduated with distinction from Central Saint Martins last year. A surefire one to watch, her designs have even already been made for Barbie dolls.


The historic community living in the Makoko water slum on Lagos lagoon have had it hard of late. Many politicians see Makoko as an eyesore and a threat to future regeneration plans, and in 2012 they tried unsuccessfully to evict the residents. The basic wooden dwellings are also at threat from climate change, but with ingenious architectural projects like this (by NLÉ, Makoko Community Building Team), they can remove rising sea levels from their list of woes.


It looks like something from Futurama, but thanks to the clever people at e-Go, the single seat aeroplane is right here buzzing around in the present. Thanks to performance-boosting technology, it’s much cheaper to run than other small aircraft. Its ultra-thin but sturdy carbon-fibre bodywork means it weighs just 115kg without the pilot inside.


Bottle caps that can also be used as buildings blocks – a simple idea that makes recycling fun. They can be collected and stacked on their own, but they’re also compatible with other popular children’s building blocks. This means that, instead of slowly filling up landfill sites, these bottle tops can be built into a useful object such as a stationary holder or they can be a cheap, sustainable alternative toy.


The Chinese pictographic alphabet can be baffling to Western beginners so entrepreneur ShaoLan Hsueh wrote Chineasy to bridge the gap between cultures. The book uses illustrated characters to help students learn commonly occurring Chinese symbols, which can then be combined to create phrases. Chineasy’s system aims to de-mystify the Chinese alphabet for language students brought up on phonetics, while also providing a glimpse into the country’s culture.


Designed by London-based contemporary designers Barber & Osgerby, this three-legged oak chair is only the third new chair developed for the Oxford University’s 400-year-old Bodleian Library since 1756. One of its legs is made from a strong vertical timber, inspired by the spines of the 11m books currently housed in the historic library. Judges say it is “strong, but remarkably light” with “a strong sense of craft heritage and structural form.” The rounded back is also great for improving readers’ posture.


Forget your TFL Journey Planner, Citymapper is the navigation app that everyone’s talking about. The clean, green interface incorporates A to B routes to and from destinations on public transport, on foot, by taxi or cycling. It also includes price estimates and calories burnt which it then converts into a percentage of your daily allowance or the fraction of a cheeseburger. You can also switch city to Paris, New York or Berlin.