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 “Interactive Design” category.
Windows 8 and Windows Phone represent a paradigm shift for Microsoft, and an entirely different design philosophy from Apple’s and Google’s. The UI is all about pristine, touch-screen-friendly tiles–a bet on the mobile-driven future of computing.
Every home buyer asks, What would it be like to live here? Trulia Local answers with a web interface that offers school ratings, crime stats, and other info, powered by massive data sets never before harnessed for consumer use.
Dreamed up by MIT students, Sifteo cubes are like Lego bricks for the 21st century. The 19 games blend physical and digital interaction. The brainteasers engage kids more than mere button pushing or screen tapping.
Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Zag with Rain
Music-lesson CDs are boring, and Guitar Hero doesn’t teach anything. But Playground Sessions, three years in the making, works astonishingly well at teaching the piano, via pop songs, smart feedback, and social sharing.
The most successful social network for mobile works because of its simple, one-screen menu and share buttons that fan from a single button under your thumb. Gushes McGonigal: “Who doesn’t love Path?”
Cundari for the Hospital for Sick Children
Kids with cancer often struggle to explain their pain, but lacking good data, doctors can’t fine-tune treatment. Enter Pain Squad, a data-collection tool in the guise of a simple iPhone game. “This is a strategy you could apply to so many things,” Fadell says.
The Numberlys hints at storytelling’s potential in the app age. Inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, it follows a family’s quest to enliven their world–with challenges and games woven seamlessly into a rich virtual universe. “It’s amazing,” says Fadell, “to watch how engrossed my kids are with this.”
Ford Electric-Vehicle Dashboard
Ford’s EV dashboard guides you toward energy-efficient driving. Based on past patterns, it also projects how far you can drive on the current charge, data that McGonigal deems “so elegant in responding to the problem of range anxiety.”
Scott Snibbe Studio
For her album Biophilia, Björk ditched liner notes and opted for an immersive 3-D world crafted around the 10 songs. Tapping the stars in each mini-constellation leads to karaoke, games, and essays.
Leanne Allison and Jeremy Mendes for the National Film Board of Canada
Animals and humans often battle for the same land. This 20-minute interactive documentary tells that story through a female grizzly’s eyes, using 1 million photos gathered over 11 years by motion-triggered cameras. Users navigate via a dynamic infographic, a novel and powerful form of storytelling.
Tony is the founder and CEO of Nest, the company that developed and markets the breakthrough Nest thermostat. Previously, he led the team that created the first 18 generations of the iPod and the first three generations of the iPhone. Before Apple, Tony built the Mobile Computing Group at Philips Electronics. Tony has authored more than 100 patents. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelors in Computer Engineering.
John is President of the Rhode Island School of Design. He is a world-renowned artist, graphic designer, computer scientist and educator whose career reflects his philosophy of humanizing technology. For more than a decade, he has worked to integrate technology, education and the arts into a 21st- century synthesis of creativity and innovation. At RISD, Maeda is leading the “STEAM movement” to add “Art” to turn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education and research into steam.
Jane McGonigal, PhD is the author of the New York Times best-selling Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, as well as a world-renowned designer of games designed to improve real lives and solve real problems. She is the Chief Creative Officer of SuperBetter Labs, a social venture based in San Francisco. She holds a PhD in performance studies from the University of California, Berkeley and is highly sought after as a keynote speaker for events with global reach, including TED, the Game Developers Conference, SXSW, Google Zeitgeist and the 2012 World Economic Forum at Davos.
A version of this article appears in the October 2012 issue of Fast Company.