Nike’s FlyKnit, A Paradigm-Shifting Shoe Knit Like Socks

2012 saw the advent of “minimal” running shoes amongst mainstream runners, and Nike led the pack with their FlyKnit technology. Unveiled on the soles of Olympic athletes in London, these sock-like shoes incorporate proprietary technology developed over four years by Nike.

KiBiSi’s City Slicker Headphones

KiBiSi’s second entry on this list, Capital, are a set of sleek headphones that are designed for durability. Unlike other high-end DJ-style headphones, these babies are strong: a fiberglass-reinforced nylon exterior and a 40mm titanium driver make them fairly indestructible.

Oru, An Ingenious Origami Kayak That Folds Flat

The Oru Kayak, a polypropylene sheet that folds into a super lightweight package, topped its goal on Kickstarter almost immediately. It’s completely unlike typical kayaks, which require plentiful storage space when not in use, and can even be carried on the bus. Total weight? Only 25 pounds.

A Sofa That Abstracts Rome’s Most Beautiful Park

Knoll’s classic 1960 Petal Table was the starting point for this contemporary piece, designed by Noé Duchaufour Lawrance for La Chance. But unlike the Knoll original (which was based on Queen Anne’s Lace), Lawrance based the couch on trees in Rome’s largest public park, Villa Borghese. The result is a piece of seating that looks lovely from the front or the back--a rarity.

An iPhone Case That’s As Handy As A Swiss Army Knife

Who hasn’t wished their iPhone came with a beer opener? The Ready Case has all that and more: a USB drive, two ‘kickstands’ for watching movies, a multi-tool, and a lens ring all fit into these unassuming little 4S and 5 cases. Throw in a tire patch kit and I’m sold.

A Line Of Fan Gear For People Who Hate Sports

A branding coup aimed at conscientious objectors to sports mania, the Anti-Sports League offers non-sports fans to pledge their loyalty to a team against all teams, distinguished by its founders’ tasteful graphic design.

MakerBot’s Second Generation 3-D Printer

MakerBot founder Brett Pettis brought Brooklyn Mayor Marty Markowitz out to announce the downtown Brooklyn startup’s second generation printer, the Replicator2. The 3-D printer represents years of research and development for the company, with much-improved resolution and a new software that makes it much easier for new users to get started with the machine. The company also opened a physical location, where customers can both buy 3-D printed gadgets and play with the printers themselves.

Dyson’s LED Light That Lasts 50 Years

This paradigm-changing LED light from Dyson must have upset a good many competitors. After intense research on commercial LED lamps, the company found that most of them incorporate planned obsolescence in their circuitry, simply by not incorporating a more effective cooling system. Dyson’s update will last for 50 years--or longer.

Nendo Reinvents The Headset As A Pen

This year, we saw a lot of great design from Nendo, the Japanese product design company founded by Oki Sato. They may be known for their poetic treatment of furniture and homewares, but their design for a bluetooth headset is also lovely. The design is inspired by a simple ballpoint pen, and eschews flashy design details for an ultra-simple and durable exterior.

A Spaghetti Container With Built-In Portion Controls

Spaghetti, for whatever reason, is very easy to overindulge in. Maybe it’s the starch, maybe it’s your mom standing over us insisting we have seconds … But most of us are dangerously unstoppable when it comes to spaghetti. Enter the Tel Aviv design studio Ototo’s Spaghetti Tower, a $23 storage container that tells you how much pasta you should really be making.

A Bench That Reinvents The Brownstone Stoop

Julien de Smedt--one half of the former wunderkind architecture firm Plot--took on the project of designing a multi-functional piece of seating for Vestre. Inspired by a classic Art Kane photo of Harlem jazz musicians sitting on a stoop, the team came up with the idea of a multi-level seat that can function alone, or as part of an ad-hoc meeting space.

Nike Overhauls Nike+ And Launches Fuelband

The Fuelband solved many of the problems associated with other fitness-tracking products this year, giving users a real-time ambient way to track their activity during the day. Embedded with a simple accelerometer and linked to an app, a curved lithium-ion battery, and a sleek UI, the band offers a glimpse at where the gamification of fitness is heading.

A $9 Cardboard Bike That Can Support Up To 485 Lbs.

A simple insight into the structural properties of paper (it gets stronger when it’s folded, as with Origami) led to the development of Izhar Gafni’s 20-pound wonder bike, which can be manufactured for as little as $9 and can hold 24 times its weight.

F.A.T. Lab’s 3-D Printable Kit That Makes All Toys Compatible

The awesome people at F.A.T. Lab and Sy-Lab designed a collection of 80 toy connectors that make all brick toys--LEGO, Duplo, Fischertechnik, and so on--compatible. The collection can be downloaded for free and 3-D printed at home. Or if you’re in Holland, maybe you could send it over to Staples.

Elegant Toys That Explain Scary Medical Procedures To Kids

Eindhoven Academy grad Hikaru Imamura addressed an incredibly difficult scenario--explaining a scary medical procedure to a child--with a good dose of heart in these wooden toys. Ranging from a light-up ECG machine to a CT scanner, Imamura offers play as a way to communicate potentially terrifying experiences to kids who might not be able to understand adult terminology.

Ploom Pax, An E-Cigarette That’s Covetable By Design

The silly facsimiles offered by the e-cigarette industry spurred the Pax, a sleek little vaporizer that looks nothing like the object it’s meant to replace. Described as a “lustable gadget,” the Pax applied design and marketing ideas more closely associated with the tech world than the tobacco industry.

Fendi’s Furniture Created From Humble Animal Waste

Culturally, we (speaking loosely) revere certain animal products--leathers, skin, and furs--while other animal byproducts are thrown out with the trash. Tapped by Fendi to design a collection of furniture, Formafantasma used animal “waste” like bones, fish skins, and bladders to made high-design chairs and knives. “Searching underneath and above the sea, from the vegetal to the animal world, the installation offers a holistic view on leather as a material,” explained the designers.

The World’s Most Gorgeous Scrabble Set

Scrabble is a game of tradition. So it wasn’t without some trepidation that we looked upon this redesigned version by Andrew Capener. But we were pleasantly surprised: Capener’s pared down version does away with the gaudy colors and details of the standard version, and gives us a simplified walnut board that focuses on what’s really important: linguistically shaming your opponents.

Stylish Clothing For Lady Cyclists

The only worse look for a cyclist than a mud-skidmark is a ripped open shirt or pencil skirt--and let me tell you, these things happen when you’re hauling it to work. The founders of Iva Jean, a San Francisco company that makes commuting clothes for ladies, want to help. Their line of cyclist-friendly skirts and blouses incorporate incredibly simple design details to make them entirely workable by bike.

An Ultra-Minimal Shoe Inspired By Amazonian Runners

Minimal shoes certainly had a year! On the heels (so to speak) of the blockbuster book about runners in Mexico’s remote tribes, shoes that incorporated what we know about barefoot running became all the rage. The Kickstarter-backed Iguaneye offered runners something a bit different: a tire-like sole without any coverage on the rest of the foot. Inspired by Amazonian runners, it provides an alternative to other barefoot-inspired shoes.

Twine, Your Gateway To The Internet Of Things, Finally Goes On Sale

One of the most hotly anticipated gadgets of the year, the Kickstarter-backed Twine finally went on sale this fall. For the uninitiated, Twine is a sensor that can measure temperature, moisture, position, and vibration, meaning that the savvy user can program it to send alerts and signals about specific events. For example, you can program a Twine sensor to text you when, say, someone enters your house, or any number of other prompts. It’s a real step towards the Internet of Things (aka Ubiquitous Computing) that we’ve been hearing so much about.

A Helmet That Decelerates Reality

Ever wish you could slow down time? So did Lorenz Potthast, a young German interaction design student who designed a helmet that actually makes it happen. Well, kind of. Potthast used vvvv to build a program that takes video of your surroundings and slows it down, showing you the world in slow-mo via a small screen inside the helmet. The idea is to call attention to the increasingly hectic pace of the world around us, and hopefully, help us slow down a bit even (without the help of a gigantic mirrored helmet).

A Sleek Magnetic Bike Light, Built to Danish Standards

KiBiSi have brought a certain Scandinavian charm to dozens of everyday objects over the past few years, but their iFlash is particularly neat. The magnetic bike light was designed in response to a new Danish law that standardizes the quality of bike lights, from brightness to durability. Thanks to a permanent base and super-strong magnet clasps, they’re easy to keep track of, too.

A Durable, Stylish Chair Made Of Cardboard

Re-Ply, a low-slung chair Kickstarted by San Francisco architect Dan Goldstein this year, is built from cardboard collected from business around the city. With a distinctly Eamesian profile, Re-Ply reversed the preciousness of high-design furniture by making it from recycled materials.

InCase’s First Luggage Line, Geared To The Creative Traveler

InCase, makers of the ubiquitous iPhone cases sold in all Mac stores, designed this set of luggage based on items they had designed for themselves. Beyond sleek, simple aesthetics, the roll-on bags incorporate some long-overdue design details, like a fold-down sleeve for laptops so you don’t have to take them out of the case at the security checkpoint.

Nike Kinect Is The Perfect Exercise Game With A Fatal Flaw

This year Nike paired their Nike+ program with a Kinect, offering in-home workouts and games tailored to your physiology. Co.Design’s Mark Wilson tried one out and loved it, but found a fatal flaw in the concept of at-home training itself: “This is the best exercise game yet, but after having such perfection realized before my eyes, I realize that I might not have wanted an exercise game in the first place.”

Atheist, A Godless Footwear Collection With Brilliant Details

Atheism as a footwear concept seems unlikely, but in practice, it’s utterly brilliant. Designed by a first-time shoe designer and funded on Kickstarter, Atheist shoes have become something of a phenomenon. And not just because of clever design details like a “void” logo and “Ich bin Atheist” tread patterns. The shoes were created with a long-time cobbler and has some elegantly utilitarian details, from a nearly stitchless upper to a sole that’s encased in the upper’s body to prevent separation.

The Faraday, An Electric Bike That People Will Actually Want To Ride

A former Ideo mechanical engineer and founder of Faraday Cycles designed this beauty of an electric bike, powered by a lithium-ion battery that can be recharged by the owner. With built-in LED lights and a porteur rack on the front, it became the dream bike of many a city cyclist, taking Kickstarter by storm.

A Design-Saavy Reinvention Of The Ice Cream Bar

London-based designers Doshi Levien took on what sounds like a dream project for Haagen-Dazs: redesigning the ice cream sandwich. Given complete free reign, the duo created a series of Death Star-like balls that interiorize toppings like caramel. Printed with lunar patterns and embossed with a tiny logo, they’re a bit like enormous truffles. How do you eat a giant ball of ice cream? You’ll figure something out.

Thonet’s Wooden Bike, Crafted Like Their Century-Old Chair

Thonet is known for designing some of the most famous wooden chairs of the 19th century, but the company launched itself into the 21st in a collaboration with London architect Andy Martin. They invited Martin to design a wooden bike, incorporating the techniques and signature structural details of Thonet chairs. The result is mind-bogglingly expensive at $70,000, but undeniably beautiful.

A Smartphone Charging Cable That’s Also A Flexible Dock And Tripod

Jon Fawcett’s Bobine, a USB charging cable that also functions as a stand and tripod, is almost too good to be true. In fact, some readers suggested that it might be, by arguing that the design puts far too much stress on the charging mechanism. But after being endorsed by Photojojo, the little metallic gadget is now available for only $28.

Nest 2.0, A Subtle Update To The Smart Thermostat

Nest, the brilliant little thermostat that learns your living patterns and helps you save energy, is only a year old. But its creator--who managed Apple’s iPod division for years--is already updating the original model. The second-gen Nest makes subtle improvements to the original, bringing Jobs’s thoughtful approach to user-centred design to an object that hasn’t changed majorly since it was invented.

Co.Design

Our 32 Favorite Products From 2012

Shoes, boats, and e-bikes, oh my! 2012 saw Co.Design writing about product design with a heavy emphasis on transportation.

Co.Design covered hundreds of products this year, ranging from Nike’s latest to the reinvented ice cream sandwich. It was difficult to pick favorites, but here they are: the most intriguing product design stories of 2012.

A few observations. First, if there was any question about 2012 being the year of Kickstarter, consider this: of the 34 stories that topped Co.Design’s product design coverage, nearly half of them were made possible through crowdfunding. That includes paradigm-shifting ideas like Twine, the ubiqitous computing sensor that will change how we live; it also includes smaller (but no less brilliant) ideas like a line of clothing designed for lady cyclists.

Second, many of these products came from people who have little to no experience in the industries and markets into which they ventured. We saw architects designing bikes and advertising execs designing shoes. In the end, good design can spring from anyone with an insight into a problem, and anyone with a plan to fix it.

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