Long known for its cutting-edge technology and groundbreaking designs in the car world, the Lexus Design Award (LDA) is another great innovation from the Japanese luxury brand.
For the last seven years, the LDA offers the next generation of forward-thinking designers a chance to progress and develop their ideas alongside top, hand- selected industry professionals who help mentor and guide them throughout the design process. Helping them from idea to funding and development to prototype, the world- class mentors are with them every step of the way, offering their expert advice and experience.
Having been held at the annual Milan Design Week since 2013, the prestigious award unveiling took place this year in a virtual ceremony due to the new safety measures put in place since the Covid-19 outbreak.
“We were presented with a unique set of circumstances this year,” says Brian Bolain, Lexus International’s General Manager of Global Marketing & PR. “But Lexus remains focused on the award’s original mission of supporting tomorrow’s creators with a new launchpad for their careers.”
The 2020 edition of the global design competition called upon young creative talent to ‘Design for a better tomorrow’. The guiding principles of this directive is to seek out design that goes beyond the mere mastery of shape, form and function, and become a solution to overcome life’s current – and future – challenges. And perhaps even more fitting this year, as ‘Design for a better tomorrow’ highlights the need for some essential lifestyle changes that will inevitably be borne of these challenging times.
Lexus has incorporated three of its fundamental principles – ‘Anticipate, innovate, captivate’ – into choosing designs for the final line-up, all of which are examples of engineering that aim to anticipate the needs of the user experience as well as benefitting society. Naturally, the finalists and the winning design will also demonstrate innovation with fresh, imaginative solutions and be able to captivate the audience.
With more than 2,000 entries from 79 countries, six finalists were selected by a pedigree panel of judges including world-renowned designer Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of Architecture & Design at MoMA; John Maeda, a technologist and Chief Experience Officer at Publicis Sapient; architect Jeanne Gang, named one of 2019’s Most Influential People in the world by Time magazine; and Simon Humphries, Head of Toyota & Lexus Global Design.
Speaking about this year’s award programme, John Maeda said, “With the idea of designing for a better tomorrow, people do think about how to save the Earth – which is pretty important, because with no Earth there is no tomorrow. I think what does interest me the most, though, is how to enable universal employability and income generation because if you can eat, you’ll have a better tomorrow. The future of design is thinking much more about the environmental impact, societal impact and the impact of the total experience – not just the design itself. The future of design is about experience.”
In January this year, the six talented finalists participated in a unique workshop experience in New York City. The workshop put the finalists together with this year’s four acclaimed mentors: Joe Doucet, founder of Joe Doucet x Partners; Bethan Gray, Creative Director of Bethan Gray Design; Philippe Malouin, Director of Philippe Malouin Studio; and Shohei Shigematsu, Partner and Director of OMA in New York City. Each of these shared their own distinctive wisdom and expertise to help the up-and-coming designers realise their designs.
Held at the Intersect by Lexus lifestyle space in New York City, the workshop prepped the finalists for the ensuing months and set up a programme of ongoing guidance and support via one-on-one online mentoring sessions.
This unique aspect to the LDA is what really sets the awards apart from other industry competitions. The designs and designers are not just sponsored, but tutored and guided so that they can create aworthwhile evolution for themselves and the product.
“We are in the eighth year of the Lexus Design Award, and some of the designers that won the past editions are doing great.” says Paola Antonelli. “Some have developed the work that they won with and have gone on to establish companies, and altogether they made us proud.
“But what I really like is the fact that the Lexus Design Award is about building working prototype. It’s not about just having a concept of an idea, but implementing it, and the help of the mentors has been fundamental. I hope that this award will continue because it’s really a very exemplary way to help designers. Not only by giving them a medal or a little bit of money, but rather about truly helping them make something happen of their ideas.”
The six finalists chosen for 2020 were as follows below. Biocraft by Sutherlin Santo (US), which combines natural biopolymers with emerging technology such as 3D printing to produce materials with advanced capabilities that can improve our health and the environment. Biocraft intends to replace inert products in our daily lives with ones that actively engage with their surroundings by removing CO2 from the air and disseminating nutrients.
Feltscape by Théophile Peju & Salvatore Cicero (France and Italy, based in the UK). The pair have created a breathing cloud that fosters the philosophical idea of isolation and meditation. It is made of felt and recycled bioplastic with an innovative robotic fabrication process.
Flash Pak by Yaokun Wu (China, based in the US) makes life jackets easily accessible, and provides protection to people in high-risk flooding areas by installing the custom- built jackets on to lampposts. By utilising the natural buoyancy of the life jacket, it allows the life vest to rise up to the water’s surface for easy access regardless of how high the water is.
L.I.C.K. by Irina Samoilova (Russia) is a portable body cleaner designed to help people who are unable to use a bath. The device has a soft cleaning surface, like a cat’s tongue – similar to how cats clean their bodies of impurities. This cleaning surface has papillae with a U- shaped cavity and different levels of hardness – again, like cats’ tongue.
Open Source Communities by BellTower (Kenya). BellTower has created a proposal outlining an efficient way of designing communities in developing countries based on smart, open-source plans. The designer’s endeavour is to see how these designs may be refined to create a water-resource centre that is sustainable. Pursewit, by Aqsa Ajmal (Pakistan) a sleek new design that simplifies sewing-machine usefor the visually impaired. The operation is made more intuitive and tactile, helping to facilitiate the often-cumbersome process of sewing.
All of the finalists stand out for their original and inventive solutions, each of which highlights the creative interplay between design and technology. Each design features a diverse range of innovative craftsmanship techniques, materials and applications. In many cases, they incorporate biodegradable materials, use renewable energy sources and help to reduce our carbon footprint.
From the exceptional lineup of finalists, the judges chose one ultimate Grand Prix winner whose design could lead to a better tomorrow. This year’s Grand Prix went to Open Source Communities.
Open Source Communities was announced as the winner in early September, and was presented with the new Grand Prix trophy, designed by Hideki Yoshimoto – a successful designer based in London who works with a number of global brands.
As the winner of the first Lexus Design Award in 2013, Hideki incorporated his engineering background and commitment to Japanese takumi (artisan) craftsmanship into the trophy design. The trophy will continue to be the face of the award for years to come, and highlights the timelessness of simple yet bold creations.
With a focus on creating a model for sustainable water-resource centres that can serve whole communities, BellTower brings together the expertise of five individuals who
are committed to improving basic living standards in developing countries.
Having been established in 2014, Open Source Communities is a proposal originally put forward by John Brian Kamau, who keenly recognises that ‘design thinking’ is essential to improving quality of life, as well as the importance of networking on a global scale.
When Kamau considered living in Nairobi, he came up with the concept of a community that uses open source to give more people easy and affordable access to a safe and comfortable lifestyle. Although a major UN centre, Nairobi is a place where high-tech coexists with urban poverty. So Kamau joined forces with other local professionals – Joyce Wairimu Gachiri, Ian Githegi Kamau, Esther Wanjiku Kamau and Arvin Booker Kamau – in order to combine their skills in risk management, information technology, design, project management and strategy to build an open-source community model for personal, corporate and industrial needs.
“It was a great honour for us as BellTower to be one of the six finalists chosen in December 2019,” says John Brian Kamau of BellTower. “Our journey began with many challenges. However, we persevered to showcase our ambitious concept. Our visit to MoMA helped us understand how the artists’ diverse cultural, social and political positions are presented in thought-provoking, modern and contemporary art styles. This inspiration helped fuel our creativity. During the workshops at Intersect by Lexus, the mentors helped us think about how to break down our problem and provide a prototype solution, all while building design and leadership principles throughout the process. Our LDA experience has taught us invaluable lifelong lessons. All our future designs will be aligned with the key principles as part of the Lexus family.”
This year’s LDA has offered another truly inspiring selection of forward-thinking designers that put safety, community and pleasure at the forefront of their design concept. Open Source Communities embodies the ethos of ‘Design for a better tommorrow’ – a direction in which all design of today should be following.
This feature first appeared in FOUR’s 03.20 Edition