The design 'Oscars': Gov.uk website beats the Olympic Cauldron and the Shard to top award

The decision even surprised one of the new site's designers

Dubbed the "Oscars" of design, the Designs of the Year awards pitched 99 of the most imaginative creations of 2013 against each other. The leading contenders included Thomas Heatherwick's Olympic Cauldron, the Shard skyscraper, a Louis Vuitton collection designed by artist Yayoi Kusama, and a group that has literally reinvented the wheel.

But the winner of the Design Museum's annual award was not an innovative building, a product to help people living in the Developing World, or eye-catching clothing.

The award went to the new website of the British Government, a decision which even surprised one of the site's designers.

The judges were unanimous in their vote. And the designer added: "It has the potential to have a huge impact on people's lives."

Previous winners of the award include the London 2012 Olympic Torch, a folding plug designed by Min-Kyu Choi, and the Barack Obama "Hope" poster by Shepard Fairey.

Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum, called Gov.uk the "Paul Smith" of websites, adding it reflected "all the things that we would like to take for granted from the Government but, in a sea of red tape and jargon, usually can't".

The Gov.uk website, which was designed by the Government Digital Service, won the digital award – one of seven categories – earlier this month. At a ceremony in London last night it landed the overall prize.

Ben Terrett, head of design for Government Digital Service, said it was a pioneering web operation that governments around the world were beginning to follow.

"It is a huge leap for government. We're building it the way Google and Amazon do it, the way you would do if you started now," he said. "It was described to me as common sense at scale. The potential is massive." He added that Gov.uk "can be a fundamental part of Britain's digital infrastructure".

The designers have been working on the site for more than a year following recommendations in a report by Martha Lane Fox.

User numbers soared in October after a previous incarnation, Directgov, was switched off. This Monday alone, more than 6 million people visited the site. The Government has predicted the overhaul will save millions of pounds.

All 24 government departments will be on the site by the end of the month, and Government Digital Service is working on bringing 300 agencies on board. In all it is replacing 2,000 websites, although it will not be bringing in the NHS or local government.

Mr Sudjic called the site a "remarkable success on so many levels. It makes life better for millions of people coping with everyday chores". It provides information on everything from driving licences and passports to benefits and housing services.

Among the nominations, The Shard, designed by Renzo Piano, lost out to Tour Bois le Prêtre, a retrofitted decaying residential tower in Paris.

Heatherwick's cauldron was beaten in the product category by ColaLife's Kit Yamoyo, an anti-diarrhoea pack for poor families in Africa. Another celebrated design to miss out was the Raspberry Pi single circuit board computer.

The LiquiGlide ketchup bottle which uses edible lubricant to end the misery of not being able to get sauce out of a bottle also missed out.

Mr Sudjic said: "The point of the awards is you think about design from so many different aspects that there's not one idea of what good design is."

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