Pause for a nanosecond to admire the year's best designs: a German-engineered sports car, a see-through computer in aquamarine, a plastic perfume pack designed for travel.
These are among the top winners in I.D. Magazine's annual awards issue, delivered to newsstands yesterday. But with the pace of change these days, even winning designs can be overtaken before the very hot issue cools.
Take the perfume bottle set, designed by Karim Rashid for Issey Miyake Parfum. Its two bottles fit together like pieces of a 3-D puzzle. The innovative packaging was launched a month ago. But the designer has already topped himself. A three-in-one set is due in stores next month.
"Progress is accelerating and change is accelerating," acknowledges Chee Pearlman, I.D. editor in chief, who oversees the competition. "But I'm optimistic that a lot of things we are seeing right now as fresh will have some kind of iconic status."
The Audi TT Coupe could be a contender. Jurors found it "the most interesting car of the year." Less whimsical than the VW Beetle, whose designer, Freeman Thomas, it shares, the car evoked "longing for an era when sports cars were well built, went fast and looked like desire on wheels."
For 45 years, I.D.'s awards have established a benchmark of desirability. Beginning with the postwar American design boom, the I.D. Annual Design Review bestowed awards for Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome, George Nelson's storage units and Charles Eames's building block playing cards. More lasting in their impact on contemporary lives were Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building, the IBM logo and Velcro.
The magazine's last product review of the century, a 256-page compendium, judges consumer products, graphics, packaging, furniture, environments, machines, and student projects or concepts. Winners include the amorphous Lego-like Zoobs, described as "the world's first plastic life form," the Oral-B CrossAction Toothbrush and the memorial to women in military service at the hemicycle at Arlington National Cemetery. The complete collection, about 200 designs, will go online later in August (www.idonline.com).
The young or restless have provided some of the most inventive works, such as the Picasso Internet Radio, which stars on I.D.'s cover. A concept of Thomson Consumer Electronics, it is endowed with horns like a Picasso bull. With more radio stations available on the Internet than on the dial, the company explained, it was time to rethink the shape of the machine.
As they say, it's a concept.
Corporations have long sought to seduce us with a product's style, impress us with how smoothly it functions, make us want to take one home. Now more than ever, a strong design is essential to a brand. (Designer Rashid is quick to caution, "If the product doesn't live up to the branding, you have nothing in the end.")
For Apple, the winning designs for iMac and G3 computers, with their glowing translucent plastic cases, have become the new corporate identity.
Design chief Jonathan Ive has said he was imagining a computer the Jetsons would own. As futuristic as that might have sounded five nanoseconds ago, "we've learned the hard way that a top-of-the-line computer is absolutely obsolete five years later," Pearlman notes.
The design-wise may want to clear space in their closets, as she has. "I think old computers will be collected like Eames chairs."