The Designs of the Year awards and exhibition at London's Design Museum offers plenty of food for thought for marketers.
1. The mobility revolution
Automotive manufacturers continue to push the boundaries of what's possible: VW's XL1 concept car combines a turbo-diesel engine with an electric motor to deliver 100km per liter of diesel; while Toyota has collaborated with French architect and designer Jean-Marie Massaud to produce the ME.WE concept car - a lesson in craftsmanship and eco-design. The e-Go single-seater aircraft, meanwhile, costs only $75,000 and can be refueled using gasoline from any garage forecourt.
2. Making Goes Biological
There are plenty of examples of Making among the awards, of course, as well as the fascinating 'In the Making' exhibition at the Design Museum, showing the peculiar beauty of products 'paused' at various stages of the production process. But MIT Media Lab's Silk Pavilion has introduced a new dimension: it uses 6500 silkworms as biological 'printers' to add additional layers of silk to a computer-designed and -manufactured structure.
3. Smartphone Innovation
Two great examples of how to think around the current stranglehold of dominant smartphone manufacturers. First, the ethically-produced Fairphone, designed to challenge the unsustainability of the production process by combining conflict-free raw materials and recyclable components with open-source technology and transparent pricing deals: 25,000 were sold before it had even been launched. And secondly, Phonebloks, a modular concept to combat the waste of planned obsolescence: using a locking system based on Lego, you can clip plug-ins into your basic main board, such as your favorite sound, data or camera system.
4. DIY Cosmetics
Only 3% of the 15 million YouTube videos dedicated to beauty are related to major brands. Analysts suggest the next major cosmetic breakthrough will come from the internet. The stage is set for the Alchemist's Dressing Table - a make-your-own cosmetics set that combines the cosmetics industry's inherent luxury with the maker phenomenon and the desire for an understanding of provenance central to the organic movement.
5. Nest 2 - Son of Nest
Everybody knows the story of the Nest thermostat and the subsequent acquisition by Google. Welcome to the next product on the production line: Nest Protect, the household smoke alarm. Like its father product, the beauty of Protect is that rather than trying to be the Next Big Thing, it uses great design to resolve the small annoyances in the product experience that we have begrudgingly learnt to accept. No more.
6. Next-Gen Cycling
The cultural phenomenon of cycling promises only to grow in significance, and as it does, innovation is occurring not only at a super-performance or an aesthetic level. The humble form of everyday personal mobility is transforming, too: Tracey Neuls' Reflektor Geek Bike Shoes add reflective piping to the back of her rubber-soled cyclist shoes; the minimal Hybrid/24 electric bicycle points to the future of electric bicycle design by looking like a bike that happens to be electric; the IFmove commuter bicycle folds away in less than two seconds and weighs just 12 kilos; and then there's the awesome Plume retractable mudguard...
7. Pitching for Crowdfunding
A remarkable number of the products at the awards were originally funded by Kickstarter. Which raises a challenge: as crowdfunding becomes increasingly popular and competitive, how can you make your pitch stand out to get the backing you need? Enter Sidekick Creatives, a collective with expertise in everything from art direction and video production to social media and verbal & visual storytelling.
8. Virtual Reality
Oculus Rift, the 3D darling of the gaming developer community, was also honored. Fresh from its acquisition by Facebook for $2 billion, observers remain divided on whether its new parent will take the technology to new heights and thereby catapult Facebook into hyper-reality or whether the apparent retraction of develop support will trigger a slow and painful death.
9. IoT Goes Public
The Internet of Things continues its march to ubiquity. Hello Lamp Post is an initiative out of Bristol in the West of the UK - an app-based game where people can have 'conversations' with street furniture. Lamp posts and postboxes can, in turn, respond in their own distinct personalities. It's a softer, more humorous version of the Minority Report vision of the future that IoT has served up so far.
10. "Ideas Can Come from Anywhere"
Downstairs from the Designs of the Year 2014 exhibition at the moment is 'Hello. My Name is Paul Smith.' Amongst other things, there's a recreation of his messy office - full of inspirational objects from around the world - and there's a quote from the great designer: "Ideas can come from anywhere. We use many things as references: films, artists, photography, general observation." It's a lesson you can see reflected in this year's Designs of the Year that marketers should learn from.