2007 Annual Design Review: Consumer Products

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Best of Category LEAF It was, in a way, appropriate that the jurors debated so long before deciding on the Best of Category. After all, the Leaf light’s stop-and-start journey from concept to product took five years, as Behar and his team at Fuseproject worked doggedly to solve the technical problems long associated with LEDs, such as poor light quality and heat control.

Leaf’s final form was achieved through the graceful merging of design and engineering. While the lamp’s fluid, bladelike aluminum arms lend it a striking profile distinctive from the mechanical look of traditional task lamps, they also provide extra surface area to help dissipate heat. When the designers proposed adding bubble forms to the top side of the head to visually echo each LED bulb, the surface distortions further improved the results the engineers were getting from their heat-simulation tests. Moggridge commended the expressive nature of these structural elements. “We’ve seen a lot of LEDs today. But I came across this and I thought, ‘I have to have it,’” he said.

Hales deemed the Leaf a “21st-century sequel to the Tizio. Where Richard Sapper’s minimalist icon was black and angular, with light floating at the end of a delicate but very industrial balance beam, Behar’s is charged with emotion. It’s voluptuously organic and colorful, which is a perfect reflection of the moment we live in today.” Priestman was reticent because he hadn’t seen the lamp in person, but like his fellow jurors, he appreciated its sustainability. For Herman Miller, a company with a tradition of eco-awareness, this, too, was important, especially given that lighting represented an entirely new market for them.

“At some point Herman Miller realized that this product could be a real breakthrough, like the Aeron chair,” says Behar, who, discouraged early on by the company’s flagging enthusiasm for the tough project, went as far as developing a $30,000 working prototype in order to win his client over. “It’s been nice to see that level of excitement, especially after a few years of crossing the development desert.”

Design Distinctions


After Priestman gave a clever rendition of the trying-not-to-spill dance during the judging, the jurors all agreed that it would be a blessing not to have to perform it at home each time they filled an ice cube tray. Tupperware’s Cool Cubes is sealable, so it contains water during the trip from sink to freezer, then keeps odors out. The flexible plastic material also won high marks from the jury. “It’s just good ergonomics,” said Moggridge. “It solves two problems: getting water in and getting the ice out.” The tray’s four corner legs also increase airflow between stacked units, helping their contents freeze more quickly. The $14.99 price tag did give the jurors pause, and Priestman noted that the tray “wasn’t the best-looking,” but all agreed that, in the words of Hales, “until something better comes along, this is a great solution.”


“It’s wonderfully tactile and slightly goofy, the antidote to a decade of fat, black-handled kitchen tools,” said Hales. Formed of silicone rather than metal, the VeggiSteam won’t scratch nonstick cookware and can fit snugly into any small or medium pot; the flexibility also makes for easy storage. In their drive to eliminate unnecessary materials or features, the designers did away with the traditional steamer’s center metal post—nominally a handle to lift the steamer from a pot, but awkward and often too hot to touch —replacing it with two small silicone side handles. “The only thing missing is the fine touch of a Dutch designer like Tord Boontje, who would have made the holes in an ornamental pattern,” Hales noted.


In what has become the signature Chef’n design process, the team behind ZipFlips considered not just how cooks use standard kitchen tools, but also how their habits might change. Moggridge described this latest product group as a “one-up on traditional spatulas.” The thin stainless-steel turner slides right under baked cookies, while the silicone “handle” end can be used to mix the batter. The larger end of the icing spreader helps get the cake coated, while the small end is good for smoothing out the frosting. The jurors commended the line’s innovative use of materials, featuring a revolutionary bonding of silicone and nylon that allows the tools to be thin enough to be inserted beneath an omelet, yet stiff enough to support the flip. “The use of molded plastics is great,” noted Priestman, while Hales appreciated the small handles—which are color-coded according to function—especially in comparison with “those huge OXO grips.”


“Finally, a piece of apparel worthy of the Title 9 generation,” Hales declared of Nike’s Revolutionary sports bra, referring to the 1972 legislation that mandated equal opportunity for women in sports. Designed by Nike innovation designer Dana Reinisch and the result of six years of research and testing, the bra has three points of adjustment to allow for a personal fit. Nike has two patents pending for the support structure and one for the engineered material, which includes stretch and non-stretch zones, but the jurors were just as impressed with details like the bonded seams. With no stitching, “there’s no roughness or chafing,” noted Priestman. “It’s the lingerie version of sports bras.”


PC users are typically a smug bunch, but when it comes to the new Apple MacBook’s magnetic breakaway power connector, you’re likely to catch them in a state of envy. Should someone happen to walk into the laptop’s cord, it easily disconnects rather than yanking the machine off the desk. Replug—designed by William Tan, David Goetz, and Luis Chao of Los Angeles–based Amalgam—does the same for standard audio connections. “It’s a nice little idea,” said Priestman, while Moggridge appreciated the form. “Nothing is wasted in the design,” he noted. The two-part construction includes a magnetized detachable body and 3.5 mm audio tip that connects to any headphone jack, be it that of an iPod, cell phone, or PC.


To design the world’s smallest and lightest digital high-definition camcorder, Sony’s design team overhauled the lens barrel and configuration buttons. “It’s a remarkable product in that it manages to get everything you need in such a compact form that almost feels like a traditional camera in its scale,” said Moggridge. Hales noted that “the form actually encourages you to pick it up.” The jurors also liked that, reflecting the broader trend in consumer electronics, the camera delivers near- professional-level quality in a product the amateur can afford. Priestman focused more on the camera’s “machined aesthetic”: the straightforward brushed-aluminum material, the absence of trendy colors. “Sony seems to have gotten back to a more recognizable style,” he said.


SPARQ Speed Hurdles—the result of a collaboration between SPARQ, the Portland, Oregon–based design firm Terrazign, and Nike—are made of flat, bendable ABS plastic with a strip of webbing connecting the ends. This webbing can be tightened, pulling the plastic into a bow shape and creating a “crossbar” at 6 or 12 inches in height; the two-height option means coaches don’t have to buy hurdles in each size, and “it flattens for easy transportation or storage,” Priestman noted. Moggridge a
ppreciated the hurdles’ aesthetic: “They look good when they’re in use and when they’re stored hanging on a wall,” he said. “They remind me of Shaker furniture.”


Though generally uninspired by the sea of black-and-silver digital products before them, the jurors unanimously loved the Kodak EasyShare. “It is so much more elegant,” said Moggridge, comparing it with the other camera entries. “It’s almost like a jewelry box,” added Hales. In addition to its distinctive design—the elongated form, smooth face, and black body wrapped in a ribbon of chrome—the jurors noted the technical innovation of using two lenses to pack a 5x zoom capability in the slimmest of packages. “The dual lens is really significant,” said Moggridge. The jurors were also impressed that the camera came from Kodak, a company that’s been criticized for its slow transition to digital.


Rooster Technologies’ Smart Light for wheelchairs knows the difference between its daytime travels and a nighttime trip to the bathroom, turning on automatically when illumination is needed. A first for the assistive lighting category, the hands-free device is a welcome tool for those with limited mobility. “I really like the concept,” said Hales, who professed a close identification with the cause because her mother uses a wheelchair. “It’s nice to have something more inclusive in the collection,” echoed Priestman. For Moggridge, the design’s simplicity stood out. He noted details like the elasticized cord used to attach the light to a wheelchair, a low-tech solution that doesn’t require a strong grip or extra tools.


These days, flatness alone isn’t enough to win a television a design award, but the Bravia X managed to woo the jurors with its beauty. “It has an elegance to it,” said Moggridge, who noted details like a translucent polycarbonate frame that gives the impression that the 40-inch display is floating. Hales, too, loved the disappearing edge, calling it “the big-screen equivalent of an infinity-edge swimming pool.” Priestman appreciated the product’s simplicity, especially in contrast with the other flat-panel submissions. “This other screen has a secondary frame,” he noted of a contender. “But all of the components of the Bravia are totally integrated.”


“It has a classic quality to it, despite being very modern,” said Priestman of Yamaha’s Modus H01 digital piano. Moggridge agreed, noting the “elegant legs and the anodized stain on the interior that gives the same warmth you get from a traditional wooden grand.” This old-but-new quality is exactly what in-house designer Yoshihiro Katsumata was aiming for. The wooden keys, simple form, and minimal appearance of “digitalness”—the speaker box is attached behind the keys rather than below the body, and the speakers themselves are downsized—were meant to evoke a traditional piano, while the smaller footprint and colored, customizable interior are designed for a modern living space. “It’s nothing like those cheap plastic synthesizers,” Priestman said.


For those unfamiliar with the sport, the field hockey stick may resemble a golf club, with its long handle and blunted head. But rather than smacking a ball high into the air with a full swing, its goal is to keep play tight and low to the ground. The 361 from hockey giant STX introduces a new design that does just that: While typical stick heads are flat on the side used to strike the ball, the hitting surface of the 361 is slightly concave, continuing the bowed line of the stick’s bottom half. The unique shape puts players’ hands slightly in front of the ball, preventing it from being lifted into the air and allowing them greater control and more power in their passes. “It’s a more highly evolved sports tool than anything I’ve seen,” said Moggridge. Hales, a former field hockey player, agreed. “It’s a sculpted high-tech tool that I’d love to use,” she said.


“Green doesn’t have to be ugly,” said Priestman, lauding Nike’s more stylish second-generation eco-minded footwear. The Considered 2k5 involves significantly fewer components and materials than existing products, reduces the use of toxic solvents and adhesives by 85 percent, and is designed to be disassembled as part of the company’s Reuse-A-Shoe program. Created by Nike’s Sport Culture group, the line now has a dedicated team, a sign that the products currently available are just a start. “This wasn’t a heavily funded corporate initiative,” says Nike design manager Andreas Harlow. “Just a small group of like-minded designers.” The jurors admired both the philosophy behind Considered and the end result. “This is very humble and low-tech looking, but it sends the right message,” said Hales.


Of all the submissions combining technology and clothing, the Nike+iPod Sports Kit wowed the jurors with its seamless integration of two entirely different and equally powerful brands. “That, and the fact that they’ve connected their technologies to allow one to benefit from the other,” said Moggridge. Added Priestman, “It touches on themes running through all of these products—the convergence of technology and fashion, the spread of digital music—and it sets a benchmark.” The collaboration grew out of Nike’s research into runners’ motivation, a path that led the performance-focused company to think about ways to improve the exercise experience. Apple was able to provide runners with not just a soundtrack, but also a way to keep tabs on time, pace, distance, and calories burned through a sensor embedded in a Nike+-enabled shoe that transmits data to a user’s iPod Nano. The data can later be downloaded to a personal training log at nikeplus.com. Hales summed it up: “As a reflection of an active digital lifestyle, this has no equal.”