Brit Insurance Designs Awards are the Oscars of the Design World

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Images by B. Alter, from: Panda Eyes

Now in their third year, the Brit Insurance Designs of the Year Awards show the most innovative and forward thinking designs from around the world. The short list has just been announced and all the designs and models are on display at the Design Museum.

Chosen by a jury and covering seven categories: architecture, fashion, furniture, graphics, interactive, product and transport, they are a great opportunity to see what the design world has been up to and where it is going. The results are mixed this year...

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Cafe of Equivalent$

Maybe it is the global nature of the world now but many of the products were already familiar. Lots have been in TreeHugger (aren't we good) such as the portable plastic Beehaus, Pact underwear which is sustainable and charitable ( all in a pair of knickers) and the Kyoto Box for solar cooking. In the architecture department, much has been written about the new High Line Park in New York, and the magnificent Neues Museum in Berlin. The gocyle electric bike has also received lots of press.

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The most interesting items for this viewer were more conceptual. Many were placed in the "graphics" category, although they were not just a matter of looking good or selling products.

For example, the Trillion Dollar Campaign in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean newspaper had been closed down by the government and the country's currency was so inflated that the trillion dollar note wouldn't even buy a loaf of bread. An advertising agency created posters, billboards and flyers from the banknotes themselves. They were plastered all over the country and news of the use of the materials brought international recognition.

The Newspaper Club, in the UK, is a way to take advantage of down, unused press time at printers. The company prints cheap, well-designed newsletters for anyone.

Pig 05049 is a book about a pig. For three years, a Dutch artist studied all the products made from a pig which had been selected at random from a pig farm. The animal was used in 185 products, all of which are pictured in the book. It's a "visual catalogue of the afterlife of one animal which reveals the complexity of the meat processing industry."

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The Repair Project, from Lisbon, Portugal was about saving a little bit of our throwaway society. The artist used traditional tools and craft techniques to repair damaged park and street benches around the city. She inlaid new wooden thwarts into old beaten up benches.

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Sugru is a bit like play-dough but it hardens and is waterproof and can be used for mending things. You stick it on things and it changes them; either making them look different or work differently. The designer calls it "hack things better" and sees it as a "design revolution by non-designers who take control over their possesions to make them function better for themselves."

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Under the Fashion category, the exhibition Accessories and Artefacts: Women's Lives in Paris 1940-1944 showed hundreds of fashion accessories from that period. It showed how Parisian women managed to remain fashionable during the Vichy occupation during World War 2. How did those chic women do it? Recycling, re-using, re-cutting their clothes. These shoes were made out of fake leather with cork soles, hats decorated with wood shavings and handbags with secret compartments. Dresses were taken apart and restyled. Subversive messages were incorporated into them. A scarf bearing Pétain's portrait served as Vichy propaganda, while the Resistance hid leaflets in bags with false bottoms and trick linings. Fascinating stuff.

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