A professional footballer who made a fortune by designing, rather than using, a football boot has been shortlisted for the Designer of the Year award.
Craig Johnston, the former Liverpool midfielder, used his knowledge of the game and technical flair to improve contact with the ball by adding protruding fins and ridges to boots. Adidas produced the Predator line, which has become the world's best-selling boot, worn by David Beckham and Jonny Wilkinson. And the South African-born designer has just patented another boot design, The Pig.
The three other contenders for the honour are Sam Buxton and Paul Cocksedge, who were tipped for success in The Independent, and Daniel Brown, 36, a website designer whose prolific output secured his place, even though he has been out of action since he broke his back in the summer.
The award, whose winner will receive £25,000, was established last year by the Design Museum in London, as a design rival to the Turner Prize for contemporary art and the Stirling Prize for architecture, and in recognition of Britain's world-class designers.
Alice Rawsthorn, the museum's director, said the shortlist showed the diversity of talent in Britain, although the nation still frequently failed to capitalise on their ideas.
"We have rather wonderful designers," she said. "Design is an area where, if you look at the scale of international competitiveness, we're right at the top in every sector. With someone like Danny [Brown], he is internationally acclaimed. Even if people don't know his name, his pioneering work influences the images they see on their computer screens every day." Many designers end up working abroad or having their work manufactured overseas, she said. But others showed entrepreneurial spirit. Cocksedge, who left the Royal College of Art 18 months ago, produces pieces himself.
Although part of his graduation work at the RCA was a bowl made from old vinyl records, Cocksedge, 25, has become known for his stylish lights, including Bulb, a vase which lights up when a flower is inserted.
He won the Bombay Sapphire Glass Award for excellence in contemporary glass design last year with NeON, suspended hand-made glass vessels filled with glowing neon gas.
Buxton, 31, has worked as a product designer for Kenzo and Habitat, and invents ingenious versions of familiar objects. His most recent creations are a series of stainless steel, fold-up sculptures, such as the Mikro-house and the Mikro-office.
Johnston, 43, became head of innovation at Adidas after he retired from professional football. The Predator was worn by Wilkinson in the Rugby World Cup. The Pig, which has not yet gone into production, is aimed at further enhancing a player's control of the ball.
An exhibition of the work of the four nominees will be on show at the Design Museum from 6 March to 13 June.
The shortlist was chosen by a jury, which includes last year's winner, Jonathan Ive, the designer of the iPod, and David Adjaye, the architect. They sifted through nominations both from design professionals and members of the public, and will announce the winner in May.
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