The future is being designed. That is one funny idea. But that’s precisely what the 50 designers, educators, and executives in this year’s Co.Design 50 are doing. The Co.Design editors have chosen a group of people who are pushing the boundaries of their discipline into promising new directions. They are experimenting with new ideas about business, sustainability, and usability. Some work with brands that are familiar today; others, we expect, will become household names in the future. Significantly, they’re all masterful collaborators. And what unites all of them is that their projects will affect not only how we live today but also what life might look like just a few years down the line. Click here for an infographic overview and here part 1, 2, 3, 5.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
Founders, The Row
They made a fortune in children’s clothes. Then they pivoted to high fashion, winning over skeptics with beautiful, unapologetically commercial designs for The Row. Displaying heaps of what’s usually missing from celeb-driven labels—talent—the Olsens earned the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s 2012 prize for best womenswear designers.
Senior director, experience design innovation, McDonald’s
Executives and patrons
Roberts, who studied human-centered product design in grad school, doesn’t design pixels or spaces, but rather services. At McDonald’s, the Ideo and Smart Design veteran is working to give patrons what they want, fast—with a side of warm fuzzies.
Chief creative officer, Starbucks
Executives and patrons
Rubinfeld, an architect, has led efforts to bring Starbucks’s new vision—more sustainable, locally sourced, less cookie-cutter—into stores. Among his experiments: drive-through shops made of shipping containers and cafés created by cutting-edge local talent, like Kengo Kuma, who designed a Starbucks in Dazaifu, Japan, above.
If he were 20 years older, Sharp, who studied architecture at Columbia, might have spent his career designing glitzy retail towers. Instead, he helped found Pinterest, and his emphasis on the details of a seamless user interface has made the site an addictive atlas of consumer lust—and a glitzy retail tower of another kind.
As part of Rem Koolhaas’s team, Romero helped create some of the Dutch architect’s signature works. Now on his own, Romero brings an avant-garde touch to his remarkable range of work. His best building to date is the Museo Soumaya, in Mexico City, an art museum covered in 16,000 mirrored-steel tiles that was commissioned by his father-in-law, Carlos Slim.
Masamichi Udagawa and Sigi Moeslinger
The mass-transit powerhouse Antenna was behind New York’s redesigned subway cars and kiosks. Now, the team is revamping Washington, D.C.'s Metro system based on rider feedback. The elegant cars will have intuitively placed handholds and dynamic LCD route maps.
Curator of architecture and design, Art Institute of Chicago
Educators and curators
Ryan, a veteran, future-forward curator whose postings include MoMA and the V&A in London, heads the Art Institute of Chicago’s effort to build its first contemporary-design collection. One of her recent exhibitions covered cutting-edge fashion. Next up, a major survey of works by Studio Gang Architects, the firm founded by Jeanne Gang.
Executive creative director, Wolff Olins
Branding is everywhere, which is one reason it’s so hard to break through and grab consumers’ eyes. Few creative directors have been as effective as Simmons at convincing clients to sign off on bold solutions. Wolff Olins’s work for the London Olympics was divisive—the firm itself describes the London 2012 logo as "unexpectedly dissonant"—but unquestionably attention getting. Simmons and his team have also done notable work for a host of companies, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, Google, and Current TV, whose animated logo references a waving protest flag.
The Innovation By Design Awards on October 16 will celebrate the controversial ideas, new products, business ventures, and wild ideas highlighted everyday on Co.Design. Award Winners in nine categories will be unveiled at the event. Register today.
A version of this article appears in the October 2012 issue of Fast Company.