Earlier this year, we put out a call to the design and business communities: What are the best design-driven innovations of the past year? More than 1,100 companies and organizations responded, offering 1,700 nominees in nine categories. An all-star group of 27 judges—from MoMA curator Paola Antonelli to Nicholas Felton of Facebook—worked with us to identify 56 finalists. Presented on the following pages, these standouts represent the creative explosion under way in our economy. (All of the finalists were introduced or came to market in the year ending June 1, 2012.) The winners will be unveiled on October 16 in New York. As you’ll see as you read ahead, they are all worth cheering.
Here, the finalists for the "2-D Design" category.
A cartographic experiment, Stamen’s Watercolor project reskins Google Maps to look hand-painted. The hope is that digital maps might become not only more functional but also as beautiful as they were in mapmaking’s glory years. This one, says Strausfeld, "is amazingly well done."
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Relying on scores of sensor arrays and some of the most powerful calculations ever performed, the Perpetual Ocean renders 30 months of maritime-current data as a captivating, swirling, van Gogh–esque visualization. Says Strausfeld: "Projects like these change how the public interacts with NASA."
A radical remaking of the standard map, TimeMaps redraws the geography of the Netherlands based on travel time using public transit. The map morphs throughout the day, as trains start or stop running and change frequency.
Designed by a dyslexic, this typeface aids reading for those with the condition, using letter-forms with subtle differentiations to reduce "dancing." The b and d, for instance, are not mirror images, making them less likely to be mistaken for each other.
Travis Kochel for FontFont
Chartwell, says Felton, "is an ingenious hack." This easy-to-use tool could disrupt all manner of chart-making programs, thanks to a clever font system that turns chains of numbers into elegant charts. Tweaking a graph is as simple as changing a number.
David is the Vice President of Innovation at The Coca-Cola Company. He is responsible for leading the company’s global design vision, strategy and capability. Since 2004, he has led the design thinking for some of the world’s most loved and valuable brands. Butler’s career experience includes leading brand, product and experience design with numerous Fortune 100 companies. He is a frequent lecturer and strong advocate for design education.
Nicholas is a product designer at Facebook that helped shape the site’s Timeline, an infographics pioneer, and a co-founder of Daytum.com, a website for collecting and communicating daily data.Felton is fascinated with data as a shorthand for the routines and milestones of our lives and is the author of several Personal Annual Reports that weave numerous measurements into a tapestry of graphs, maps and statistics reflecting the year’s activities.
Lisa Strausfeld is the Global Head of Data Visualization at Bloomberg and the CEO of Major League Politics (MLP), which she founded in April of 2011. Prior to founding MLP, Lisa was a partner at Pentagram where she and her team specialized in digital information projects including the design of large-scale media installations, software prototypes and user interfaces, signage and websites. Her clients included One Laptop per Child, GE, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, Bloomberg LP, MIT and the New York Times.
A version of this article appears in the October 2012 issue of Fast Company.