Understated or flashy, industrial design winners are innovative

Comments Email Print
IDSA Nike Inc.'s Feather Pavilion took the gold environmental category award.

A learning thermostat, a low-cost portable endoscope, smartphones, economical computer printers and a blood analyzer are among the gold winners in the Industrial Designers Society of America's latest contest.

The innovations fell into various categories, including visual appeal, usability, unmet needs, their benefit to the user or to society — even emotion figured in as a factor.

As usual, plastics played a big role in many of the winning designs.

IDSA of Herndon, Va., organizes the annual contest and a 24-member panel of designers chooses the winners. Thomas Overthun chaired the panel, comprising consultants, corporate and academic designers that met May 1-3 at the Henry Ford in Detroit to review 687 finalists and pick the products that won the 27 gold, 45 silver and 106 bronze IDEA awards — for International Design Excellence Awards.

Overthun is associate partner and practice director for design firm and consultancy IDEO of Palo Alto, Calif.

Here are details about some of the winners:

Computer equipment

A redesigned thermostat from Nest Labs Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif., won gold in the computer equipment category for being a thinner, more durable, better integrated product that doesn't require programming but still conserves energy. The Nest learning thermostat actually customizes the temperature by anticipating the habits of the user. A built-in activity sensor shuts the thermostat down when no one is home. Each time the user adjusts the temperature, the thermostat registers that individual's heating and cooling preferences and "learns" to anticipate them.

The thermostat's head unit has an acrylic lens, stainless-steel wheel and chassis parts of glass-filled polyarylamide, glass-filled nylon and polycarbonate. The backplate chassis is partly made of glass-filled nylon.

The product comes with a kit for fastening it to the wall, including a screw driver that sports a handle of glass-filled PC that's overmolded with cellulose acetate.

Fred Bould of Bould Design of Mountain View, Calif., helped create the second-generation thermostat, which costs about $249 and hit the market in October.

The first-generation Nest learning thermostat was launched in 2011.

Social impact design

A portable endoscope with a compact design that uses off-the-shelf parts was given a gold award for being a low-cost alternative for use in developing countries.

Evolving Technologies LLC of Campbell, Calif., markets the product under its Evotech brand name. IDEO helped with the design.

Proto Labs Inc. of Maple Plain, Minn., machined medical-grade ABS for the shell but the designers said that shell can be injection molded for larger production runs. The endoscope has some aluminum parts and a silicone gasket.

The portable unit is powered by a laptop computer.

Evotech wanted to simplify the device and reduce its cost, which it did — to less than 4 percent of the $70,000 price tag on a standard endoscope.

Medicine for Humanity doctors in Uganda worked with the prototype endoscope in a pilot study, where they successfully treated more than 20 women with vesicovaginal fistula. In India, local physicians used the device in more than 30 clinical evaluations and procedures.

The prototyping and study led to the final design.

Extensive work was done on the endoscope handle and waterproof casing. In less than a month and guided by doctors' feedback, the team built 11 versions of the handle and designed a heat sink and enclosure for the device's LED light source.

Communication tools

Gold IDEAs went to three mobile communication devices made with plastic. Designers at Nokia Corp. won for its Lumia range of smartphones including the 920, 820 and 620 models.

Starting with its N9 line, Nokia has continued to develop and improve the plastic unibody of the phone. The company faced material challenges regarding color and the ability to withstand exposure to ultraviolet rays. Designs can incorporate glass-filled substrates or plastics with sheet metal inserts.

The 920 features a precision-milled one-piece PC body, a curved visual display made of Corning Gorilla Glass and scratch-resistant ceramic side keys and camera bezel.

The 820 offers interchangeable, colored shells made from a PC/ABS blend.

The compact 620 has dual-shot PC shells; the inner shot, a high-melt-temperature substrate, creates an opaque layer of color. A translucent color is placed above that. The speaker mesh is PET sheet with dual paint applications to match the inside and outside colors.

Credits go to Shunjiro Eguchi and Tiina Aarras for the Lumia 920, Tuomas Reivo and Terence Tan-Han-Yang for the Lumia 820 and Daniel Dhondt and Sawa Tanaka for the Lumia 620. The designers work for Nokia of Espoo, Finland.

The 920 and 820 Lumias made their first market appearance last fall; the 620 came out at the end of the year. Prices range from $250-$600.

The square silhouette of HTC Corp.'s new Windows 8S smartphone reflects the thinness and lightness of Microsoft LiveTiles. The phone contains several PC components.

The company wanted saturated, vibrant colors, which are accentuated further with a color effect that the designers say creates an appearance that the casing was dipped in paint.

One & Co. of San Francisco helped design the phone. Its price ranges from about $195 to $370.

Another gold winner in communication tools is a SpareOne cellphone that runs on a single AA battery that keeps working even when power is unavailable or inaccessible.

The SpareOne emergency cellphone can provide up to 15 years of battery life if stored in off-mode with a plastic tab inserted. The power source is sufficient for 10 hours of talk time when in use. Features include a torchlight on top, a dedicated 911 dial button, the ability to pre-set nine speed-dial numbers and a talk-through resealable waterproof bag with a humidity-proof seal.

Alan Cymberknoh was the SpareOne project manager for Xpal Power Inc. of Costa Mesa, Calif. He led a team of designers in Singapore and Hong Kong that created the $100 product, which is made in China. The phone uses GSM — Global System for Mobile Communications — protocols and came out last year.

Xpal is a subsidiary of Tenn¬Rich International Corp. of Luchu Hsiang, Taiwan.

Computer equipment

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. designers took home gold for two ultrasmall laser printers.

A personal mono laser printer has what Samsung calls its Clip-Unscrew assembly, which it said requires no knowledge of printers or the use of screws or tools. Instead, the structure is embedded with clips that are easily connected by hand.

The injection molded housing is produced as one planar form. When the planar form is folded, a user can snap together the clips along the edges to assemble the shell.

Designers Min-chul Kim, Sang-in Lee and Seung-wook Jeong said their biggest challenge was finding a material that would work with the folding process.

They decided against ABS, the common choice for the housing, instead choosing compressed polyethylene, widely used for kitchen containers, they said. The material made for a "seamless connection," even with the folding, according to the designers. That innovation, they said, greatly reduced manufacturing requirements.

The designers of the Mate-Easy personal mono laser printer wanted the user to be able to change the color and color combinations of the printer's exterior modular panels. The panels slide in place, again simplifying assembly.

The same injection mold is used to make exterior modular panels with the same specifications, once again reducing manufacturing costs, according to Samsung.

Paint-free ABS and high-impact polystyrene went into the printer, which breaks with the blandness of a conventional one. Side panels are detailed with circular air-intake holes.

Credits for the Mate-Easy go to Samsung's Kwang-hyuck So and Seung-wook Jeong.

Each printer costs about $70.


Nike Inc.'s Feather Pavilion took the gold environmental category award. The elaborate, interactive pavilion was debuted at the Nike+ Festival of Sport last August in Shanghai. It was designed by Tapei, China-based architect Arthur Huang, who Nike calls "a pioneer in sustainable thinking." The pavilion, which is partly composed of feathers, is Huang's architectural interpretation of Nike Flyknit's principles of performance, lightness, form-fitting and sustainability, the company said.

Nike, based in Beaverton, Ore., formed the Flyknit collective as a global platform for innovation within the company and from guest innovators from all disciplines.

Using precisely engineered yarns, Flyknit technology aims to change the way performance footwear is designed, produced and worn. The pa¬vilion's environment morphed as visitors walked through it.

It was composed of self-interlocking translucent honeycomb-shaped Polli-Brick units, blow molded from recycled PET. The canopy and loomlike strings consisted of the 100 percent-recycled super-strength PET yarn reinforced with recycled rice-husk-based nanosilicone dioxide. The result was a triangular cross-section of light-reflective filament.

PC and polypropylene were also used in some applications.

Huang is co-founder and managing director of Miniwiz Sustainable Energy Development Co. Ltd., which supplied the materials. In some cases, Miniwiz modified the project's chemically assisted mechanical recycling technologies.

Eskyiu Ltd. of Hong Kong was also involved in the project.

Baths, spas, wellness

Lunar Europe GmbH'sVela cycle trainer concept looks more like art than mechanics.

The company wanted to give the home fitness equipment the appearance of sculpture.

Lunar designers said they envision an extensive use of polymer-reinforced carbon fiber, and hub suspension cables made of DSM's Dyneema ultrahigh-molecular-weight PE fiber.

They said Dyneema is 15 times stronger than steel wire and has almost no distension. Die-cast aluminum would form the hub.

Living room/bedroom

Mitsunobu Hozumi of hozmi design of Kobe, Japan, and Ryo Shimizu of Simiz technik of Suita, Japan, won for a concept of da caster. Hammer Caster Co. Ltd. of Higashiosaka, Japan, was their client.

The structure has an aluminum shell, a roller and an internal ring made of an undisclosed resin.

A sliding configuration incorporates a ring-shaped wheel with a central hole. The hubless caster is strong and solid but seems to float.

The concept seeks to harmonize with the design of furniture or fittings while maintaining a distinct presence as a caster.


Blackmagic Design Pty. Ltd. of Melbourne, Australia, won for a $2,995, cinema-quality digital camera for professional production of films, documentaries, television episodes and commercials. The compact camera is one-third the size and weight of cameras now costing about $15,000.

Silicone with a polyurethane coating is used for the rear and side moldings. The buttons are from a polycarbonate/ABS alloy with a coating of ultraviolet-light-resistant paint.

Other materials include machined aluminum for the camera body, stainless steel for the lens mount, brass with gold coating for the contact pins and optical-grade glass with magnesium anti-reflective coating for the filter.

The camera entered the commercial market in April 2012.


Franz von Holzhausen of Tesla Motors Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif., won for the lithium-ion-battery-powered model S premium sedan. Final assembly occurs in Fremont, Calif.

Polymer materials include ABS, rubber for seals and tires, thermo¬plastic elastomers for soft-touch parts and other plastics for the model's in-car touch-sensitive 17-inch infotainment screen in the middle of the instrument panel.

Pricing for the Tesla model S starts at $59,900.


Designers at littleBits Electronics Inc. won for electronics modules that can snap together with magnets to make larger circuits and for prototyping.

Each Bit has a specific function, for example, sound, light or sensor. The Bits are color-coded: blue is power, pink is input, green is output and orange is wire.

Materials used include ABS and, for printed circuit boards, fiberglass.

LittleBits are open-sourced, meaning all design files and technical specifications are available "so that any engineer, enthusiast or amateur can download the files, learn how the Bits are made and make them themselves," the company said.

The firm has released more than 35 color-coded Bits and has concepts for hundreds more. They cost $29-$49.

Credits go to Ayah Bdeir, Paul Rothman and Jordi Borras of New York-based littleBits.


Samsung's Lab-Geo A20A blood analyzer, a compact unit made for hospitals emergency rooms and urgent-care centers, also took gold. The design team of Junghoon Kim and Sangmin Hyun, both of Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung, and freelance designers Kio Lee and Kyung-soo Sun opted for injection molded plastic, not steel plates, to avoid the life-cycle issues of corrosion and paint stripping.

Balance was an issue. The designers had to take into account the analyzer's high-speed rotation.

Several components are molded from silicone and a flame-resistant PC/ABS blend. A Samsung chemical affiliate supplies the plastics. An adjustable LCD touch-screen lets users tilt the devise as needed.

The analyzer, which launched last year, costs about $15,000.

Another gold-winning concept, the Vacc-Stamp device for administering vaccines, comprises a smooth plastic shell with a single pre-loaded dose; a micro needle; a disinfectant stamp; and a soft, patchlike surface for contact with a baby's skin.

A technician can press small buttons on the Vacc-Stamp's side to inject a micro needle and simultaneously release a disinfectant and anti-inflammatory mixture for the stamping of a decorative heart shape on the skin's surface.

Credits go to Han Dhojin, Han Chanhee, Kwon Yoonjoo and Yoon Sejin of Seoul, South Korea-based Samsung Design Membership, which aims to develop talented designers through academic-industrial cooperation.

Winners of the Best in Show, Sustainability, People's Choice and Curator's awards will be announced Aug. 21 in Chicago on the opening day of IDSA's four-day international conference.

Started in 1980, the IDEA program is designed to promote business and public understanding about the impact of industrial design on life and the economy. For the third year, The Henry Ford museum will house IDEA winners in its permanent collection.

Sponsors and media partners of IDEA 2013 include Plastics News, British Design Innovation, Curve magazine, Core 77, Design Bureau magazine and Yanko Design.