It’s a mammoth effort for a design association to host an annual awards competition. What are the biggest challenges and benefits to the IDSA and IDSA members?

The biggest challenge is to help people understand the difference between the IDEA program and other awards programs, especially the number of fly-by-night awards that have popped up in China over the past few years.

The number of entries that you submit, the company that you come from or whether you sponsor the awards or not have no influence on who wins. We run the jury separately from the business of the awards. IDSA does not have any say or influence over the jury, who are chosen from the profession for their unique perspective or expertise in a certain category. We try to ensure that we have representation from across the spectrum from educators to students to industry experts and gurus.

When you win an IDEA award, it is by pure peer review. There are no businessmen, sponsors or government officials in the jury. Just your peers. For that reason people call the International Design Excellence Awards the Oscars or the pinnacle of awards.

Communicating that difference is the most challenging thing we face as it is important to the designers who enter, but not so much to the companies who are probably more interested in an endorsement of their product than a pure peer review. The benefits to the IDSA, its members and the industrial design profession are that they have an award that they can be proud of and that they can rely on for objectivity. And they do.

What was the response like to the awards this year?

We have been growing over the past few years, and this year produced a new all-time record amount of entries for us at just over 2000. The number of entries from other countries also grew from 30 to 39 countries. Entries from China doubled last year, as expected.

We have seen over the past 31 years of the award how each Asian power has risen in the number of awards that they have won as their economies have matured and their design professions have moved from just being able to make stuff cheaply to making stuff well. It started with Japan in the late 1980s and Korea at the beginning of this century.

While I don’t think China is ready for big wins yet, it is clear that companies there are starting to set their sights on winning! In addition to the growth in countries, we started a new category for Service Design last year that grew well for its second year and reflects the profession’s involvement in the design of more than just artefacts.

What do you think is unique about the three Best in Show winners?

The jury is responsible for continually evolving the definition of excellence by which the entries are judged. In last year’s jury we had a very healthy debate about the designer’s changing role in designing responsibly. This is more than just designing in a sustainable manner, which is a part of responsible design. Because of that discussion, we modified the criteria for excellence and raised responsibility to the top of that list.

Last year’s winners (all three) demonstrated design’s contribution to sustainability. What we saw in the choice of the jury this year was that they looked more to the entries’ responsibility to humanising technology.

While vastly different products, all three of this year’s Best in Show products excelled in improving the human experience of a technology product. The Windows Phone 7 improves on the iPhone interface.

The Boeing 787 improves the ghastly experience of flying today with a different experience brought through a combination of larger windows and lower cabin pressures – all made possible by the radical change in manufacturing process from an aluminium frame to a plastics composite body, as well as careful attention to lighting to ease transitions between time zones and fit more to the body’s biorhythms. These changes would not have been possible if the design team had not been in the project working with the engineers from the start.

The Bespoke Fairing speaks for itself. It humanises and adds sensitivity to a prosthetic that I’ve never seen before. Just listening to Bespoke Fairing’s acceptance speech made it very clear from their humble manner that this is a group that takes their responsibility as designers to help those less fortunate than many very seriously. In a world where cheap and unnecessary products are becoming more the norm, the designer’s responsibility to make products that are superior and humanising in their experience has never been greater.

How is the partnership with The Henry Ford Museum going?

The partnership with The Henry Ford Museum has been amazing, for one simple reason. We both feel the importance of linking the IDEAs to the story of innovation and there is a meeting of the minds as far as the way that this link can benefit us all.

The Henry Ford Museum is the leading museum in the world telling the story of innovation. They are second only in size to the Smithsonian, but have a single focus, whereas the Smithsonian has many, many interests and museums. The Henry Ford Museum has over eight million square feet (2.5 million square metres) of permanent exhibits.

From 2009 all winners of the IDEA program became a part of that permanent collection, which is a huge honour for our IDEA winners and a very serious commitment by The Henry Ford Museum to recognise the contribution of industrial designers in the story of innovation.

The Henry Ford Museum asked us to partner with them in 2009. They had come to the conclusion that the story of innovation could not effectively be told without the inclusion of the output of the industrial design profession which has made huge contributions to the US and global innovation in the past few decades.

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