Design Museum reveals 2017 Designs of the Year shortlist

The Refugee Nation flag, designed by Yara Said with The Refugee Nation for Amnesty International
The Refugee Nation flag, designed by Yara Said with The Refugee Nation for Amnesty International

Designs of the Year was founded ten years ago to celebrate designs that deliver change, set new standards in their fields or capture the cultural zeitgeist.

The shortlist has always included an eclectic mix of beautiful designs – from grand buildings to elegant identity systems and luxury fashion – alongside life-saving inventions and projects that tackle social or environmental issues. This year’s list is no exception and spans political campaigns, clothing made from marine waste and a rescue drone designed to help refugees.


Shortlisted architectural projects include a memorial and learning centre in Utoya, Norway commemorating the victims of terrorist attacks carried out by far right extremist Anders Breivik in 2011; the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC designed by architect David Adjaye, a timber bridge in southern China and a prefab house designed to tackle a shortage of affordable housing in Beijing, as well as a structure that harvests rain and dew to provide drinking water. As with previous years, the architectural shortlist includes a mix of small and large-scale projects – from a refurbished cottage to a secondary school made with local materials.


In the digital category is DixonBaxi’s on-air branding for the Premier League (developed from DesignStudio’s overall identity), a 3D recreation of a Syrian prison created using sound and witness testimonies, Niantic’s smash-hit game Pokemon Go – probably the most successful AR game of all-time – and Meet Graham, the unforgettable road safety campaign for Transport Accident Commission, which used a sculpture created by Patricia Piccinini to highlight how ill equipped the human body is to withstand collisions. Emoji depicting professional women – including an engineer, a chef, and a doctor – are also shortlisted alongside a text service to provide refugees with important information and Google Noto, a free typeface created by Google and Monotype.

All use digital technology in some way, shape or form – though some projects seem a more natural fit in this category than others (Meet Graham, for example, is a sculpture showcased via a digital campaign rather than a digital design).


The Pussyhat designed by Krista SuhJayna Zweiman, Kat Coyle and Aurora Lady for this year’s Women’s Marches is one of six fashion projects shortlisted, alongside Nike’s Pro Hijab – a single-layer Hijab developed with athletes – a Levi’s jacket woven with Google’s Jacquard thread, which can be paired with a mobile device to provide directions at the touch of a tag embedded in the cuff, merchandise to promote the launch of Kanye West’s Life of Pablo album, and clothes made from marine waste by sustainable brand ECOALF.

There is less of a focus on catwalk collections this year and more on inventive designs that just happen to be garments: the Life of Pablo clothing is part of a clever promotional campaign, Ecoalf’s Upcycling the Oceans shows how marine waste can be recycled to create desirable objects and Levi’s Commuter Jacket offers a glimpse of the future of connected clothing while the Pussyhat is more of a political statement than a fashion item.

Aitor Throup’s New Object Research collection is the only runway presentation featured in the fashion category and appears to have been selected on the basis of how it was presented (clothing was displayed on life-sized articulated sculptures which were operated by a team of puppeteers and later exhibited in Dover Street Market).


The graphics category has a strong political focus this year with Wolfgang Tillmans’ anti-Brexit campaign, a special issue of the New York Times Magazine focusing on the political situation in the Middle East over the past decade (the magazine contained a single 42,000 word non-fiction narrative alongside 20 photographs, telling the story of the rise of ISIS and a global refugee crisis) and a set of posters designed to promote dialogue among EU countries following the Brexit vote.

Also included is a flag designed by Yara Said to mark the participation of the first ever refugee team in the 2016 Olympics, OK-RM’s design for Real Review magazine (a vertical fold divides spreads into four pages instead of two), Smorgasboard Studio’s national branding for Wales, Emeka Ogboh’s branding for Sufferhead Stout (a beer that has apparently taken the German market by storm) and Karlssonwilker’s identity for Reykjavik Art Museum (which we wrote about here).


Product designs include a rescue drone designed to help refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea, a translating earpiece, a two-wheeled robot that can carry up to 40lb of cargo for miles at a time; an ink made from air pollution, a wedge dowel that enables IKEA customers to build flat pack furniture without using tools, a smart cot that rocks babies to sleep and a stair climbing mobility device (Scewo) designed for use outdoors.

Some of these products are prototypes or have yet to be brought to market – the designers behin the Scewo mobility device are seeking funding and the translating earpiece and GITA two-wheeled scooter are expected to launch this year and next. Also featured in this category is a furniture collection made from lava and a chair made with flax and sustainable glue.


The transport category, perhaps unsurprisingly, is dominated by electric vehicles: there’s an electric tram, a 3D printed, self-driving electric bus, an electric moped and a battery-powered water taxi.

Also shortlisted is a self-balancing motorcycle from Honda that reduces the possibility of falling, and a concept for a system enabling driverless vehicles to cross intersections without crashing.

Most of the designs are concepts or prototypes so it will be a while before we seem them on our roads and rivers, but the category offers an exciting glimpse of the future of travel – a future that will be less reliant on fossil fuels and more on sustainable energy.

With such a diverse shortlist, choosing a winner is always a challenging task. The award has previously gone to a cultural centre in Azerbaijan and the website.

Last year’s winner was a flat pack refugee shelter created in partnership with IKEA and UNHCR. The design could be assembled in four hours and aimed to provide refugees with a more comfortable and robust alternative to tents or makeshift structures. However, a report published by Dezeen last year claimed that just one third of the 15,000 shelteres manufactured had been deployed with the rest left unused after concerns were raised over its safety and apparent flaws in the design – highlighting the problems inherent in awarding designs that have yet to undergo extensive testing in the real world.

Shortlisted deigns will be showcased in an exhibition at the Design Museum which opens on October 18.

A winner will be selected in each category and the overall winner will be announced on 25 January 2018.