From a game-changing light fixture and a minimalist smartphone to a rugged refugee shelter, we’ve gathered the 10 best product designs of 2015 – bright ideas that made us think, put a smile on our faces, and simply changed the world for the better this year.
1 Best tech: MP 01 phone by Punkt.
Welcome to the slow tech movement. Jasper Morrison’s new phone for Punkt (a Swiss brand whose motto is “Technology. Tamed”) dials down the addictive multitasking of the modern smartphone. Released during London Design Week in September, the no-fuss gadget allows for phone calls and texts – and features a calendar and alarm clock – but no camera or apps for Internet browsing and mobile games. While it seems a nonstarter in our Insta-Tweet world, it’s a pretty daring idea – and we applaud any device that nudges us back to our saner selves.
2 Best humanitarian design: Better Shelter by IKEA
It’s a design that we wish weren’t in such high demand. Since putting its shelters into production in March of this year, IKEA has struggled to keep up with orders for the quick-assembly, three-year structures, created in collaboration with the UN High Commission for Human Rights. They’ve been deployed in Iraq, Ethiopia and Lesbos, Greece, where each houses up to five people, and provides them with electricity via roof-mounted solar panels. The Swedish giant is at the fore of big-ideas thinking, with its new Space 10 innovation lab in Copenhagen and an upcoming design collaboration with the master of scrapwood, Piet Hein Eek.
3 Best graphic: Peace for Paris by Jean Jullien
Like the rest of the world, Jean Jullien watched the events unfold on the evening of Friday, November 13 with horror and helplessness. A native of Paris now living in London, the graphic designer turned to his sketch pad and, with an ink-daubed brush, ended up creating an enduring peace symbol with the Eiffel Tower at its centre. It immediately went viral, with many around the world posting it on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, then printing it onto t-shirts and flags. Created in a moment of despair, the Peace for Paris sign encapsulated a message of hope and solidarity with the City of Lights as it dealt with the worst terrorist attack in its history.
4 Best lighting: N55 by Viabizzuno
Italy’s Viabizzuno are poets of light with a very practical purpose. Launched during Milan Design Week, the N55 fixture features an electrical housing that can be unscrewed and shipped back to the company, and replaced, once it burns out. The fixture – with wonderfully expressive bulb designs by Peter Zumthor, Kengo Kuma and other leading lights as well as a multitude of applications, from floor lamps to track systems – can therefore be used in perpetuity. It’s as green as it is bold and beautiful.
5 Best workstation: Hack desk by Vitra
After spending some time at tech startups in Silicon Valley, the German designer Konstantin Grcic came to the realization that what they most needed was the ultimate flexibility. “It became clear that these companies are very dynamic, with teams expanding or shrinking overnight by 50 people,” he explained to Azure. So he came up with a collapsible desk constructed with a simple metal frame and plywood panels. Its work surface is height-adjustable, and the entire thing stores compactly in a slender vertical box. Hack is utility and functionality realized to the nth degree, no gimmicks added.
6 Best seating: Butterfly by B&B Italia
Butterfly, on the other hand, is pure comfort. Patricia Urquiola designed the outdoor sectional for B&B Italia, with a tubular steel frame and cold-formed polyurethane foam. The collection is meant for contract projects, such as hotels and yachts – where its luxurious plushness will no doubt get major play.
7 Best storage: BoxinBox by Glas Italia
Philippe Starck’s BoxinBox line for Glas Italia exemplifies one of our favourite trends for 2016 – colourful transparency. The collection includes tables, boxes and other furnishings made of laminated and thermo-welded extra-light glass that nest together and are supported on a stainless steel base. The internal chests are in vibrantly hued green, blue and orange – bringing big colour into glass furniture and storage.
8 Best interior accessory: Moooi
Moooi’s digitally printed line was a sight to behold in Milan. The company has been able to reproduce in minutest detail the intricate graphic designs and high-definition photography of its designer-collaborators. This rug, called Eco Alliance and devised by Canadian graphic designer Marian Bantjes, is inspired by the concept of time, with two variable repeating patterns in deep, oceanic greens and blues. It’s a work of art, for the ground beneath our feet.
9 Best problem-solver: Thinx panties
Thinx period-proof underwear is an ingenious product. Similar to maxi pads and tampons, these highly absorptive, leak-resistant – and good-looking – panties come in a range of versions that correspond to flow. Then there’s the brand’s taboo-busting ad campaign, which was deemed too graphic for New York’s subways – even though there was no nudity, just suggestive images of dripping eggs and halved grapefruit. Plus, the socially conscious company is part of a crusade to get feminine hygiene products into the hands of girls in developing countries, where 100 million girls miss school every month because of their periods. It sends a portion of every purchase to Afripads, a Canadian-run and Uganda-based organization that teaches women to sew washable, reusable pads.
10 Best household gadget: Pulcina by Alessi
If we seem to be pouring a lot of love on the Italians, it’s perhaps because despite the country’s economic woes of late it still represents the height of design – even when it comes to something as simple as the espresso moka. For this project, three giants of Italian innovation came together: Michele de Lucchi, one of the founding members of Memphis, designed the moka; Alessi, one of the enduring engines of Italian manufacturing made it; and IllyCafe, Italy’s pre-eminent espresso bean brand made it happen. The stainless steel pot, which promises to deliver the perfect brew, is a statuesque beauty.
See the rest of our 2015 Top 10 lists here.