Considered one of the most pre-eminent design competitions in the US, the IDEA program’s scope and influence now reach far beyond US boundaries.

Out of 660 finalists for the 2012 IDEA program, 35 took home a Gold Award, 71 Silver and 123 Bronze. The top corporate winners were Samsung, claiming seven awards, Belkin, securing four, and Coway and LG Electronics picking up three each.

Among US design firms, IDEO received 13 awards, Smart Design captured six, Teague, fuseproject, Nectar Inc. and NewDealDesign LLC earned four each, and frog, New, Ziba and Ammunition won three respectively. Art Center College of Design – Pasadena, California topped this year’s list of college wins with eight awards.

“I believe the diversity of experts and opinions within this year’s jury shaped the debate and ultimately made a statement – not only about the best design of 2012, but also setting a clear direction for the future,” said IDEA’s 2012 jury chair Rhys Newman, head of advanced projects at Nokia.

“This year’s jury awarded products that brought together hardware, software, service and experience. While there are many well-designed, innovative products, the exciting future is in the convergence of disciplines and expertise that span the digital and physical divide, ultimately resulting in useful and beautiful products for people.”

IDSA revealed the Best in Show, Curator’s Choice, People’s Choice and the Sustainability Award at the IDEA ceremony in August at its 2012 International Conference in Boston.

“In deliberating on the Best in Show, the important bellwether for where the cutting-edge concerns of the profession are, we witnessed the jurors turn from products that demonstrated great experiences to those that combined all the elements of new digital experiences into solutions that can transform behaviour,” said IDSA’s chair George McCain.

Nineteen international design experts from design consultancies, corporations and universities comprised the IDEA 2012 jury and spent weeks previewing entries online, followed by two-and-a-half days of debate and hands-on evaluation of the entries in person at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

This year’s Best in Show was Nike+ FuelBand – a fitness tracker and watch, all in one. Designed with an ath-letic lifestyle in mind, the wristband records calories burned, steps taken and – impressively – ‘NikeFuel’. As conventional calorie counters take many variables into account – such as fitness level, gender and body type – Nike wanted to create a common metric for tracking physical activity in order to make it easier to record and compare data. NikeFuel is a measuring device created by Nike to calculate activity in a universal fashion, regardless of body type – the more the user moves, the more NikeFuel is accumulated – so people can assess and compare their data more easily.

“With a strong, opinionated, experienced group of jurors, the discussions were passionate and often contentious, which is as you hope and expect,” explains Newman. “There were other products that challenged the Nike entry, the Gold Category winners were all candidates, with varying degrees of emphasis on great product design, amazing humanitarian or environmental impact,” he explains.

“But what was good about the Fuel was that as each juror interrogated the individual elements of it, each found that it was a really well-resolved product. The (hardware) wristband is nicely done, the UX delightful and the Nike ‘sleight of hand’ in creating Fuel, as opposed to calories, speed, distance, et cetera, which allowed a lot of the complexities to be resolved. Lastly, and for me more importantly, it’s a product that gets people moving. Literally. Which is not a bad thing.”

The two other special award winners were Panasonic LED Clear Bulb, winner of the IDSA Sustainability Award, and Embrace Infant Warmer, winner of the People’s Choice Award.

The LED Clear Bulb is the first LED bulb on the market to recreate the look, quality and mood of an incandescent bulb. The light source resembles a filament that can project light in all directions. With the same dimensions as an incandescent globe, it can easily be used in all incandescent fixtures, yet with a rated lifespan of 40,000 hours and excellent energy-saving performance, it’s a superior alternative to incandescent bulbs.

The Embrace Infant Warmer was developed for premature and low-birth-weight babies in developing countries. More than 20 million premature and low-birth-weight babies are born around the globe every year and, tragically, around four million die each year, and survivors often have life-long associated illnesses. Hypothermia is the main cause as these babies don’t have enough body fat to retain their own body temperature. The Embrace Infant Warmer is an innovative and affordable alternative to the traditional incubator, which is expensive, complicated to use, requires constant electricity and often only available in city hospitals. It’s a hypo-allergenic sleeping bag that is kept warm by heating a reusable wax pouch using water, which is placed inside the bag and the baby is kept warm for at least four hours at a temperature of 37ºC.

Newman says a few other standout trends or projects were the incredible quality and valuable student work from the Design Matters program from Art Centre College of Design, Pasadena, in terms of both the subject areas that the products focused on, as well as in their ability to communicate, prototype and realise functional products that made a substantial positive difference to the lives of people.

“The medical categories are always amazing, but this year, we could see the influence of designers really making a difference in this area, ‘humanising’ technologies with amazing sensitivity to people and the often de-humanising experience,” says Newman. “GE are a standout example of this.”

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