A good product isn't just something that you can't resist pulling off the shelf. It's the satisfaction of a human need, packaged into something that can be yours. The products in this year's Innovation by Design Awards largely mark changing human needs—from solving transportation as we face increasing urban density, to giving the unseen digital bits floating around us a robotic face. Congratulations to all of our finalists, and thanks to our judges for their thoughtful critiques: Caroline Baumann, director at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum; Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, and Jonas Damon, executive creative director at Frog Design. Finally, a sincere thank you to everyone who entered and supported Fast Company’s commitment to elevating the design profession.
(If you're looking for more inspiring work, don't forget to check out the finalists in our other categories: Winners, 3D-Printing, City Solutions, Data Viz, Experience, Experimental, Fashion, Graphic Design, Health, Mobile Apps, Product Design, Smart Home, Social Good, Students, Web Design.)
Firm: Vanmoof and Spinlister
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: Robert Brunner, Steve Sangik Lee, Geoff Dowd
Adobe Ink, a precision pen for iPad, and Slide, a digital ruler, are Adobe’s first forays into hardware and work seamlessly with their drawing apps. They add a level of tactility to the digital UI never seen before in mainstream tablets.
Creators: Mike Butera, Jacob Gordon, John Sundermeyer, Ryan Wrenn
Imagine the keytar of the modern age. This portable instrument can play almost any musical sound imaginable, is customizable for many skill levels and connects directly to smartphones, tablets and computers. Plus, its UX allows a variety of classic inputs from analog music history—like strumming, bowing, tapping, and sliding.
Creators: Google Cardboard Team
Google’s low-cost virtual reality viewer uses a cardboard box and a smartphone to let users interact with movies, go on landmark tours, and examine 3-D objects. Its design isn't just cheap; it lowers the bar to experimenting in virtual reality, and makes it feasible to develop VR apps for a smartphone.
Creators: Philip Krim, Jeff Chapin, Luke Sherwin, Neil Parikh, Gabe Flateman
The mattress aims to be comfortable for all sleepers, layering three types of foam, then wrapping the mattress core in soft textiles. It also challenges traditional, brick-and-mortar mattress sales. It ships straight to customers in sleek packages with a 100-day free trial.
Creators: Eric Norman, Jim Reich, John Yu, Karen Kaushansky, Joseph Morin
Firm: Palate Home
Cinder is a kitchen appliance that allows home cooks to sear food at high, precise temperatures—with all the automation of a 550-degree sous vide machine. A virtual thermometer algorithm infers the temperature of the food as it cooks, measuring doneness in real time.
After six years and $12 million in R&D, Dyson created this no-filter vacuum cleaner uses small cyclones to generate higher centrifugal forces that never lose suction. Inside, vibrating fabric tips—shaking 350 times a second—prevent tiny particles of dust from clogging the machine and eliminating the need for filters that might wear out over time.
Creators: Scot Herbst, Will Hunter, Ayub Khattak, Clint Sever
Firm: Herbst Produkt
A simple box that stands but 3-inches tall, Cue is a device that can track inflammation, vitamin D, fertility, influenza, and testosterone in minutes at home using a saliva, blood or nasal swab, and then import the data into a smartphone app.
Eero re-imagines Wi-Fi routers and bridges as an expandable series of devices that spread across your home to form a dynamic mesh network, guaranteeing coverage without specialty hardware and complicated setups.
Firm: Pauline Deltour and Lexon
Designed to reimagine musical hardware as unabashedly feminine, Fine Speaker is a delicately grooved speaker built with a twisting function for turning on and off, modeled after lipstick.
GoTenna pairs with a smartphone, then it uses VHF signals—like traditional two-way radios—to allow users to text and share locations even when they have no service, be that in an emergency situation or in a crowded stadium environment.
Creator: Made by Many
The iPhone-connected toy teaches children to code by letting them program games into a sensor and light-loaded ball that can respond to being thrown, shaken, dropped, or kept still.
Creators: Dan Harden, Hiro Teranishi, Kyle Buzzard, Kailash Hiremath
This black cube embedded in an aluminum wing is really a hi-fi, HD videoconferencing system designed for affordability and daily use in businesses. Rather than remotes or buttons, it's controlled via a laptop, wirelessly.
Creators: Chris Miksovsky, Clint Slone, Evelyne Chaubert, Charlie Nghiem, Jonathan Downing, Bob Lane, Jeff Salazar, Tiffany Ninmer
A compact, efficient set of utensils including forks, spoons and knives with a bottle opener and toothpick built in, made for camping or just an urban commute.
Creators: Diana Africano Clark, Anders Arnqvist, Pernilla Danielsson, Laura Almenberg, Fernanda Barbato, Jingjing Yao, Fredric Ghatan
While wireless charging has been around for nearly a decade, Ikea could be the first to take the idea mainstream, as they released a small wireless charging pad that can be installed into any kind of furniture.
Firm: Form Us With Love
Janinge is a line of utilitarian, multi-purpose, and stackable chairs, designed to be suitable for outdoor use, yet keep the price down to a mere €39 per unit.
Creator: Cynthia Breazeal, et al.
Jibo is a household assistant that can also be a messenger, photographer, storyteller, and companion, designed with the face of an AI, and enchantingly fluid motions of a sci-fi robot.
Creators: Adam Bowen, James Monsees, Krista Hunter, Steven Christensen, Cole Hatton, Ari Atkins, Chenyue Xing
Firm: Pax Labs
Juul’s e-cigarette is designed to mimic the aesthetic and flavor of real cigarettes, by more precisely mimicking a the state of nicotine when delivered by a cigarette, and delivering more vapor in the process.
Creator: Leatherman Tool Group
This stainless steel bracelet is actually a Swiss Army Knife for the modern man. Its links hide 29 tools for various purposes, from screwdrivers to bottle openers.
Creators: Gregoire Vandenbussche, Ammunition, Lyft
In a powerful, physical rebranding, Lyft redesigned their infamous clowny mustache into a glowing, USB-chargeable, portable product for drivers to attract customers.
Navdy attaches to the dashboard and projects a HUD of driver information like maps onto the windshield so drivers can keep their eyes on the road, retrofitting old cars with the latest in interface technology.
Creator: Tangible Play
Osmo is an iPad peripheral that mirrors the camera lens toward a table, and allows kids to combine digital app-based games with real physical objects like blocks, markers and coloring sheets.
Creators: Tactus Technology with Ammunition and Alloy
Phorm is an iPad Mini case with an invisible, mechanical keyboard built in. Using microfluidic technology, it pops up from a flat touchscreen, giving you a tactile keyboard in the process.
The pruning tools are ingeniously designed with a rotating gear that provides a boost of power in the middle of the cut, where branches are thickest. Additionally, the latest models are easier on the hands, as their handles have been modified with a more oval shape and a gel skin that prevents blisters.
Creators: Yves Béhar, Noah Murphy-Reinhertz, Qin Li, Naoya Edahiro, Logan Ray, Andrea Small
Client: Herman Miller
This modular "social chair" allows for flexibility in forming different configurations, whether work needs to be solitary or team-based. It can be linked into a shared bench system, and additional modular paneling can make the public spaces private.
Creators: Sabi by Urbio and MAP Project Office
Firm: Sabi by Urbio
What started as an ethnographic project to develop bathroom figures for older people became this 13-item bath collection allows for customization and adaptability in bathroom storage. Its centerpiece is a circular ring that can be used in place of a stabilization bar.
Creators: Dr. Marcus Weller, Mitchell Weller
This smart motorcycle helmet features 360 degree camera, GPS navigation, and telemetry information inside a HUD so that drivers can keep their eyes off the road.
Without real flames or glowing orange heating elements, the magic of magnetic induction is invisible by nature. So this cooktop deploys LEDs to simulate flames when the induction plates are on, signaling that a hot pot is on the stove.
[subhed]Creators:[/b] 3D Robotics with Astro Studios
The Solo smart drone is designed first and foremost with drone photographers in mind, with a controller featuring a first person view of the GoPro camera on board, or any other live stream of HD video. Additionally, it can automatically land and takeoff with GPS assist, and a "pause" button will freeze the drone in midair.
Creators: Scot Herbst, Alex Vilgertshofer, Sheila Dahlgren, Thiago Olson, Nick Bognar
Firm: Herbst Produkt
Stratos consolidates credit, debit, loyalty, membership and gift cards into one smart card, which features a dynamic magnetic stripe, allowing it to transform itself into any card in your wallet.
Creators: Panos Panay, Brett Ostrum, Ralf Groene, Stevie Bathiche, Yi-Min Huang, Pavan Davuluri, Ricardo Lopez-Barquilla
A full 30% percent thinner than an 11-inch MacBook Air, Surface Pro 3 is a thin and light 2-in-1 laptop and tablet, with a "continuous kickstand" allowing the device to tilt to any angle the user wants.
Creators: Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool
Built from 133,000 hours of R&D, Swash is an at-home clothing care system that steams clothes—freshening them and smoothing wrinkles in a mere 10 minutes, so that users don't have to run to the laundry or dry cleaner as much.
Creators: Lars Larsen, Johannes Becker
Firms: AIAIAI and Kilo Design
These headphones can be configured 360 different ways—with four different speaker units, five different earpads, three different headbands, and six different cords—each of which easily swaps out if you decide to buy new parts, or want to use the headphones for a different context.
Creators: Clement Gallois, Oliver Mueller, John Mabry, Michael Charles, Kay Kim, Roger Jackson
Firms: Teague & Sizemore Bicycle
Deny is designed to be the ultimate bike for urban environments, complete with auto-shifting gears, electric pedal-assist, smart reactive lighting, a fender that pulls water from the tire, and an integrated handlebar lock.
Creator: Rockwell Group
Client: Virgin Hotels
Realizing that many people actually work from their hotel beds, the Lounge Bed was optimized for sleeping and sitting—with a padded headboard offering lumbar support, and a bucket seat in the corner.