My “Designs Of The Year” nominations

For reasons of equal self-indulgence and completism, here are the nominations with supporting text I sent into the Design Museum for their “Designs of the year” exhibition.

I was surprised that neither of my console game nominations got through, but on reflection is this the right venue for games?

Surely they are the advance-guard of interactive, digital design – the cutting-edge of interaction design from which, increasingly, techniques are trickling-down to other applications.

But, then, as they are media, stories, toys, places – the experience of which changes through play – that makes Design with a big D uncomfortable. Ah well. For debate.

In the end, Trulia Hindsight, Sharkrunners, fixmystreet and the iPhone made it into the exhibition from my list.

What would your designs of the year be?

Designs of the year nominations: Digital

Cabspotting / Trulia Hindsight / Oakland crime / work of Stamen in 2007

2007 was the year that information visualisation came out of the academic shadows and the research labs, onto the desktop – and into the art galleries. Much of this is to do with the work and debate around the work of Stamen.

While Cabspotting makes the jaw drop at the beauty of everyday data in the city, Oakland Crime Maps makes subtle political points as well as being a handsome interface for a complex, live data set. Instead of just profiting from UI conventions being set in this new field, Stamen is driving them — and a questioning, critically-thriving community of practice.


While YouTube has the headlines and the hordes, Vimeo has very happy users. Privileging quality of experience and quirky-though-painstaking design (such as its log-in screen! Possibly the most gorgeous log-in screen ever?), its privacy controls and ease-of-use have carved it a loyal niche.

By area/code for discovery channel online

Despite the clean graphics and straightforward gameplay, you might think this is a run-of-the-mill promotional game for the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week? You’d be wrong. You set up a virtual team of shark researchers and navigate your vessel in the ocean off the southern california coast. The twist is that the sharks you are pursuing are not coded, they’re GPS-tagged, real sharks leading you a merry dance, in real time, around the Pacific! A pioneering, well-executed and playful way to explore natural history online.


by Clover Studio

As the sheer graphical horsepower of games consoles increases, it’s more and more gratifying to see designers opting out of the realism arms-race and creating vivid, original worlds such as that found in Okami. The core of its success is the close-coupling of the visual look of the world with the game mechanics and control-system. Turning the 3D world into a 2D traditional Japanese artwork, then using the joypad to draw calligraphic solutions to your problems creates a satisfying, involving and, often jaw-droppingly-beautiful experience.


A great home-grown exemplar of wonderful physical/digital service design. From the delightful, straightforward user interface of the website, where you create various printed objects from your content (Flickr pictures, Habbo-hotel characters), to the little touches of copywriting in the emails that keep track of your order, to the
delightful packaging your finished product comes in.



From the prolific volunteers at, a very neat exercise in using constraints positively. By returning a ‘gamefield’ of only a very small area around your postcode, and allowing only observations/fixes to hyperlocal problems – extraordinary levels of feedback and concrete solutions result.


iPhone/iPod touch OS by Apple

A beautiful bit of holistic digital/physical design, executed incredibly well with cutting-edge technology. “A remarkable v1.0” as has been said. Important for not only the quality and consistency of the UI, but also for being a genuine example of the overused term “paradigm shift”. Lessons from games UI: direct manipulation, physics and flow are now going to be everywhere – not just on mobile but on the desktop, as the iPod touch/iphones metaphors bleed back into the desktop. Expectations have been raised for the rest of the consumer electronics industry by Apple once more.


Nike+ by Nike/Apple

The cutting-edge of ubiquitous computing is not perhaps in medicine or warfare, but in personal fitness, and purchasable on the high street for about thirty pounds or so. Nike+ is the slickest, neatest, most-well-put-together fusion of physical product, digital service and networked community that’s out there (for now). If there’s any fault one can pick with it, it’s that it allows only one thing (running) to be so slickly-enhanced, and it’s this slickness that precludes further innovation by the community.


BioShock by Ken Levine / Take-Two Interactive

It’s rare that a video game is an enjoyable experience for a spectator, and even rarer to hear a spectator ask the player to go back so they can look at a design detail, a piece of scenery or architecture? The sheer detail and horrifying beauty of BioShock’s art-deco undersea setting is nothing short of Kubrick-meets-Jules-Verne spectacular. An astonishing bit of art, that also has literally killer game-play.

0 thoughts on “My “Designs Of The Year” nominations

  1. re: “surprised my game-based nominations didn’t make it”

    I kind of see your point. I think the problem is that there are some things that are very easy to convince people of the value of, and something that are harder, and when it comes to the latter, non-casual, narrative-driven console games come near the top.

    Something like Sharkrunners might have value to other panellists simply from the description; your paragraph describes things which could apply to things other than games, for instance. But your descriptions of Bioshock and Okami focus very much on design within the boundaries of “video game”; to someone not versed within those boundaries, it’s very hard to explain without showing it moving.

    (That said, anyone watching Okami for more than 10 minutes must surely see the wonder of it).

    This is a shame, because I can talk about a film as a film, no more, and most people can understand my enthusiasm; I think it’s a sign that the medium still lacks the maturity to be talked about simply on its own terms; either because people lack the experience of the medium, or because they dismiss it out of hand.

    The generally positive response to the Wii, for instance, is in much down to the “instant hook” and sense of wonder that the interface provides; especially in a post-Wii world, it’s much harder to explain the wonder of something that might take several hours to sink in, and many more to complete.

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