Innovation of the year: The blueprints for our future

As the Design Museum prepares to announce the award for the most stylish innovation of the year, Alice Jones introduces the seven category winners

They range from Yves Saint Laurent's Downtown tote bag to the Nintendo Wii, and from the Parisian self-service bicycle-hire scheme to a kitchen bin whose lid hovers on its rim when opened, and a felt chair that stacks noiselessly and cannot be used as a weapon, designed for a Swedish prison. These are just some of the 100 creations nominated by a panel of experts including the designer Wayne Hemingway, fashion photographer Nick Knight, and director of the Design Museum Deyan Sudjic, for the first Brit Insurance Designs Awards.

Illustrated here are the winners of the seven categories, from architecture to fashion, who have excelled in their field, coming up with future classics that marry form and function in the most harmonious and intriguing ways. "We're trying to get a snapshot of the things that are interesting, new and fresh around the world," explains Sudjic. "The exciting thing about design is that it's got multiple roles – you want things that work, you want things that aren't irritating, you don't want things that feel meretricious.

"But also you want things that are engaging. To say something is functional is a one-dimensional way of seeing things. We don't buy a car simply on the back of its good performance or safety record, or because it's petrol or diesel. We also buy it because we want to spend time with it."

All 100 nominees can be seen in an exhibition at the Design Museum in London, a comprehensive survey of the difference good design can make to lives around the world. Desirable luxury items such as Philippe Starck's Moore armchair – a highly laquered sculptural bowl of a seat that spins on a rectangular plinth – and John Galliano's Madama Butterfly-inspired spring-summer collection for Dior haute couture are on show alongside more accessible and ubiquitous innovations such as Uniqlo's affordable cashmere jumpers based on the Pantone colour spectrum, the iPhone, and TomTom's portable GPS car navigation system.

The exhibition forces us to look twice at objects we might otherwise take for granted – table lamps, posters, calculators, cars and shoes – and to open our eyes to the more arcane philosophies of design, which see Dai Fujiwara, chief designer at Issey Miyake, incorporating elements from dismantled Dyson vacuum cleaners into his clothes, and Poke creating the "world's longest website" (you can scroll ad infinitum) as part of an Orange ad campaign.

And while most of the objects on display are covetable, not all are necessarily loveable. A nomination for Transport for London's plan for the extension of the congestion charge may raise a few hackles. "Some people would see it as monstrous, the work of the devil," admits Sudjic. "Others would say it's a fantastic thing that London has done, which other cities around the world are now taking up as a great idea."



Brit Insurance Design Awards, Design Museum (www.designmuseum.org), until 27 April

Product
One Laptop per Child, by Yves Behar

The project of a non-profit organisation set up by MIT to bring learning, information and communication to the world's poorest children, Behar's laptop design requires 90 per cent less energy than a standard laptop, allowing it to be charged by solar power or foot pedal. With its bright colours and lightweight, durable features, it is also child-friendly. "What's exciting about the laptop is that it shows design done to a budget", Sudjic says.

Furniture
100 Chairs in 100 Days, by Martino Gamper

Gamper's starting point for this project was the realisation (near-heretical in contemporary design circles) that "there is no perfect chair". He challenged himself to make 100 chairs in as many days, recycling old chairs to create new hybrid models.

Fashion
Airborne, by Hussein Chalayan

When Chalayan showed his autumn/winter 2007 collection in Paris, The Independent's fashion editor described it as a "delicately beautiful, even visionary, fashion moment". The collection included a domed hat that emitted a warming red light, motorised hoods that flipped up to protect against biting winds, and the main event: a white dress covered in Swarovski crystals that was lit from inside with more than 15,000 LEDs and changed colour as the model walked the catwalk.

Interactive
Burble London, by Haque Design & Research LTD

One of the most extraordinary designs in the show, the Burble is a 70-metre-high structure made up of 1,000 huge helium balloons, each of which contains a controller and coloured LEDs. Members of the public arrange the structure on the ground and then control its shape when it is in the air by pulling on a handle. "It's a kind of tethered firework display," Sudjic says. "Not only does it look beautiful, but it's interactive." This inventive piece of public art launched in Holland Park in September at the beginning of London Fashion Week.

Transport
Mex-x, by Meyra-Ortopedia/ Vertriebsgesellschaft gmbH

In a category that included the London Serpentine Solar Shuttle, the interior of the Airbus 380 and the new Fiat 500, it was the modest figure of the Mex-x wheelchair for children that sped off with the prize. Its low-tech appearance conceals some complex design ideas: the chair combines the flexibility of a folding wheelchair with a fixed frame, and is able to grow with the child.

Graphics
Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, by various artists. Creative director, Paul Buckley

Another closely fought category, with obvious contenders such as Helvetica, a documentary film about the typeface, honoured alongside Cartlidge Levene's easy-to-read store plans and signage for Selfridges on Oxford Street as well as the National Gallery's Grand Tour project, in which replicas of works from its permanent collection were hung in unexpected street locations, such as Caravaggio's Salome outside a sex shop in the heart of Soho. The winner, however, is a portfolio of unique book covers for Penguin, in which classics such as Lady Chatterley's Lover and the Marquis de Sade's Philosophy in the Boudoir have been given new covers by cartoonists, including Frank Miller, the creator of Sin City.

Architecture
National Stadium, Beijing, by Herzog & de Meuron

In an extremely tough category, which included Zaha Hadid's Bergisel ski jump in Innsbruck, David Adjaye's Stephen Lawrence Centre (with a glass façade designed by Chris Ofili), Thomas Heatherwick's East Beach Café in Littlehampton and Michel Rojkind's origami-inspired Nestlé chocolate factory in Mexico City, Herzog & de Meuron's 100,000-seat stadium is an impressive winner. Unlike many other elements of this summer's Olympics, the "Bird's Nest" – from the same Swiss firm that converted a derelict London power station into Tate Modern – has been widely praised. "Beijing is using architecture to show the world it has come of age," says Sudjic. "Every 30 years, a stadium comes along which defines the time. The last one was probably the Munich Olympic stadium in 1972."

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