Innovative book, library and interface design thriving in 2013

Amid daily claims that the physical book is dead and public libraries are experiencing a horrible demise, there’s one place you can go to see great new designs for both books and libraries alongside the latest digital interface developments: London’s Design Museum.

designs of the year banner low res

Designs of the Year is an annual exhibition that showcases the nominated entries for the competition of the same name. I’ve worked on the exhibition and its associated catalogue three times now. As well as giving me an adrenaline rush (it’s a nail-biting challenge chasing up the esteemed – and therefore ridiculously busy – nominators of around 100 projects, collating and reworking text from multiple sources and passing everything for press in a very short amount of time), the project gets me a close-up view of some of the best design work going on at the moment and provides plenty of inspirational examples to share with students.

This year, books, annual reports (a first, in my experience of the exhibition) and libraries feature in a gallery that also showcases  The Shard, Thomas Heatherwick’s Olympic Cauldron, a life-saving approach to distributing rehydration kits across sub-Saharan Africa and a range of digital projects.

The Ralph Ellison Collection book covers by Cardon Webb were inspired by 1940s and ’50s jazz album covers; American author Ellison ‘fell in love with music’ before he focused on writing.

The typography of Kapow!, designed by Studio Frith, encourages readers to twist and turn their way through Adam Thirlwell’s novel.



You can tell from this trailer that it’s no ordinary book:

Although it may look like someone’s forgotten to press the print button, Serviceplan‘s Annual Report for Austria Solar is actually my favourite of all the 99 designs on show in the exhibition.


Why? Because something special happens when you take it out into the sun:

The two libraries nominated for the competition couldn’t be more different. MVRDV‘s pyramidal Book Mountain in Spijkenisse, Netherlands maximises the amount of space for books.

Clapham Library by Studio Egret West, on the other hand, doubles as a giant performance space.

Of course, the exhibition isn’t all about books or architecture, and I’ve already used several ‘non-book’ designs  as examples in Kingston lectures this semester. The mandatory cigarette packaging now enforced in Australia is a good illustration of the fact that design isn’t necessarily about making things appealing and attractive. In fact, the sludge-green Pantone 448C background was chosen after market research showed it was the least appealing colour.


Windows Phone 8 is nominated thanks to its customisable user interface, and a visual language that moves beyond analogue metaphors like ‘files’ and ‘notepads’.

Introduction of Windows Phone 8, San Francisco, America - 29 Oct 2012

Image courtesy: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA/Rex Features

Finally, the website is an excellent example of clean, simple and user-focused design, exemplified by the development team’s excellent design principles. After the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t Annual Report, that’s got to be my personal winner from the show.

Designs of the Year is on at the Design Museum, London until 7 July 2013. The winners of the Designs of the Year Award will be announced on 17 April.


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