After hundreds of hours mulling over the best design work in the world, Fast Company is proud to announce the winners of this year's Innovation by Design Awards. This year’s entries were as strong as we’ve ever seen, with over 1,500 projects from across the globe. In the eyes of our esteemed judges, the projects you'll find below were the best of the best. There were only 13 winners anointed in the entire competition. Each of them represent what's best about design today: Big ideas, meticulously thought out details, and a clear viewpoint about how we live now—and how it could be better.
There's more: On top of those 12 honorees, you can find equally inspiring work, in the finalists for each of the 13 categories, which are linked below.
So again, congratulations to our winners and finalists, and a sincere thank you to everyone who entered and supported Fast Company’s commitment to elevating the design profession.
Creator(s): Brian Peters
These bricks combine 3-D printing and ceramics, and because they don’t require a mold, can easily be built into unique patterns. The resulting bricks can be far more complex than the usual rectangles we build with—X-shaped bricks, for example, or interlocking honeycomb segments—opening the door to new innovation in architecture and design.
Firm: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
Client: Florida East Coast Industries Inc
Public-private partnerships have yielded a new wave of civic innovation, such as the popular Citi Bike program in New York. All Aboard Florida scales this strategy to a commuter rail system. The new 235-mile rail network is meant to connect South Florida to Central Florida, and its stations would feature shopping opportunities to revitalize the economies. SOM-designed rail stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach would serve as key nodes of the system and are envisioned as gateways to their respective cities—and architectural destinations in their own right.
Firm: Local Projects
SciPlay's suite of educational apps are designed to enhance playtime with visual aids that reveal the hidden patterns of scientific concepts. But for teachers, who often rely on qualitative cues to assess the effectiveness of their lesson plans, the SciPlay apps offers a quantitative look at how students are absorbing information.
Creators: Local Projects
Client: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
As part of a three-year-long renovation and redesign spearheaded by Local Projects' Jake Barton, the Smithsonian Design Museum took a step into the future with an array of interactive works meant to entertain, but also educate visitors on the history of design. Armed with a digital pen, each visitor can bookmark favorite pieces for later viewing, and draw any object, such as a vase, to see what others throughout design history share similar proportions.
Creators: Jennifer Darmour, Lulu Mills, Jon Garn, Rob
Girling, Gavin Kelly
Billing itself as a locket for the 21st century, Purple is a wearable necklace that connects a wearer to her social networks, gathering images and messages from friends and family. The wearer can then save their most cherished digital memories in a locket in the same way your grandmother might have worn a portrait of her sweetheart.
Creator(s): MIT Media Lab Mediated Matter Gorup (Steven Keating, Neri Oxman, Will Patrick and Sunanda Sharma) with Deskriptiv, the Pamela Silver Lab at Harvard Medical School, and Stratasys
Most wearables convey a bit of information and not much more. But Neri Oxman, founder of the Mediated Matter research group at MIT, imagines a future where wearables aren't just passive lifestyle devices: They could generate the food, energy, light, and oxygen to keep us alive. In a project dubbed Wanderers, Oxman proposes wearable vessels that have photosynthetic bacteria culturing inside, creating the resources that an interplanetary traveler would need to survive in other climates.
Creators: Michael Bierut, Aron Fay
Client: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The MIT Media Lab identity, developed Pentagram's Michael Bierut and Aron Fay, uses a flexible 7-by-7 grid as a baseline for creating myriad, cohesive marques across each of the Lab's 23 research groups. It references Muriel Cooper's minimalist 7-bar logo for MIT Press—in use since 1962—to create a field for 1-bit letterforms that can stand next to Helvetica, a typeface once integral to MIT's identity.
Creators: Agency: Matt Eastwood, Menno Kluin, Andrew McKechnie, Juan Carlos Pagan, Sam Shepherd, Frank Cartagena, Brian Gartside, Aaron Stephenson, Kyle McMorrow, Nina Horowitz, Ralph Navarro, Ed Zazzera, Dr. Theresa Dankovich
Firm: DDB New York
A staggering 3.4 million people die every year from water-related diseases and nearly all of them happen in developing nations. To combat the problem DDB New York and WATERisLIFE created the Drinkable Book, a beautifully bound tome whose tear-out pages purify water. The pages are coated with silver nanoparticles that, when used to filter water, can trap a reported 99.99% of the bacteria found in cholera, E. coli, and typhoid. One book can provide up to four years of clean drinking water for a single person.
Acorns automatically rounds up transactions on a user's bank account to the nearest dollar, then invests that spare change into a stock portfolio, recommended based on age, investment goals and risk tolerance. The funds add up quickly and effortlessly, and it's easy to track progress and project how your money will grow. All that makes the app particularly popular with a group not known for investing: Millennials.
Spinlister is a bike-sharing app with no hub or owners to go through; instead, users can lock and unlock computerized Vanmoof bikes from the app via Bluetooth. Bike rentals become untethered from Divvy stations, and the world of bikes becomes available as one rentable network of vehicles.
Creators: Gadi Amit, Susan McKinney, Jacqui Belleau
Caring for infants is fraught with worry. Ensuring that they're in a safe position while sleeping, that they're not running too hot or too cold, and resting for the right amount of time factors into overall wellness but can be nerve-wracking to track. Enter Sproutling, a wearable that monitors your baby’s temperature, heart rate, motion, position, and environment. NewDealDesign packed the technology into a gender-neutral form and tailored the UI so it's easy to use and understand.
Creators: Boyan Slat and the volunteers and staff of Ocean Cleanup
Firm: The Ocean Cleanup
Scientists estimate that the the total amount of plastic product that has entered the ocean is in the range of 5.25 trillion pieces. Instead of going after all that plastic—which would take many thousands of years and billions of dollars to collect—The Ocean Cleanup uses long, ingeniously designed floating barriers to let the ocean currents concentrate the plastic itself.
Creators: Philipp Schoessler, Sang-won Leigh, Krithika Jagannath, and Patrick van Hoof at the MIT Media Lab
Everyone hates cords: they're cumbersome, quick to tangle and constantly in the way. But what if you could interact with your appliance's cable in way that is actually useful? Cord UIs are embedded with sensors, so that tying your cord in a knot can dim a light, or placing a clamp on a cable can put a computer into sleep mode.
Creators: Stewart Butterfield, Brandon Velestuk, et al.
Slack has had a stunningly successful year. It's slated goal: Ending email hell. It does that with an intuitive chat system, beautiful cross-platform app integrations, and clever chat bots that teach users about the service. Slack has proven that enterprise software doesn't have to cold, sterile, and stodgy. It can be fun.
A version of this article appeared in the October 2015 issue of Fast Company magazine.