Crazy experiments often presage what becomes the norm. That’s why the Experimental category in the Innovation by Design Awards is so important: the brave, innovative, and sometimes oddball ideas presented help inspire us all. Our finalists below tackle big ideas, ranging from a digital locket that stores cherished memories to a personal heating system that follows you around, thus cutting energy costs. A big thanks to our judges for helping us make sense of this forward-looking category: Cynthia Breazeal, founder of Jibo and professor at the MIT Media Lab; Matias Duarte, VP of design at Google; and Mark Rolston, founder at Argo 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.
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.
Creators: Dominic Wilcox, James Rutherford, Suzy O’Hara
Firm: Dominic Wilcox Studio
Client: Thinking Digital Arts
Inspired by tourist binoculars, this large device allows people to listen to the pre-recorded sounds of a city coded to match with specific areas. Just point the Binaudios at the part of the horizon want to hear, and it’ll zoom your ears in, no quarters required.
Creators: IDEO + Solspace
Companies like Tesla, Uber, and Google are changing the way we drive. But lies beyond the prototypes they’re testing now? The Future of Automobility is a series of three concepts for the future of transportation, including self-driving offices and delivery trucks that drive themselves.
Creators: Garrett Groszko, Daniel Nacamuli, Ian Bach, Melissa Martin, Flavio Carvalho, Tim Meador, Joanne Ong, Laura Mosca
Smart devices have created new problems for designers to solve, not least of which is interface: How does a gadget or appliance communicate to you when it doesn’t have a screen? Henri is a prototyping tool that emits sound and light in response digital programming, letting designers focus on designing ambient interfaces for the zero-UI future.
Creators: IDEO, Lund University School of Industrial Design
Ikea tasked IDEO with figuring out what kitchens might look like in 2025; IDEO London and students from Lund and Eindhoven universities responded with a smart investigation into the the social, technological, and demographic forces that will change how we behave around food. Their concept kitchen includes interactive countertops filled with helpful data visualizations, and open-shelf pantries that efficiently use induction to keep ingredients at ideal storage temperatures.
Creators: Nuno Oliveira, Philip Blaikie, Jesper Broering, Brian Oko, Colin O’Dowed, Philip O’Dwyer
For this project, Method created a series of concepts that illustrated how new data, new technology, and new social mores might remake currency altogether. For example, in one experiment, researchers tracked users and their spending habits when they had to post their transactions on Instagram. Then they used the data to explore how hormones and financial decisions are connected, proposing an app that could monitor your biochemistry and warn you if you were in danger of impulsive spending.
Creators: Narlene Ducao, Ilias Koen, Jennifer Sta. Ines, Josue Diaz III, Natalia Villegas, Hans Ma, Yapah Berry, Vanessa Mejia, Shay Krasinski, Chris Willard, David Briggs
Firm: DuKorp Corp
MindRider is a connected helmet that tracks, in real time, how your rides, movement, and location engage your brain. The MindRider app then creates a novel mapping of excitement and relaxation over time, and across many users.
Creators: Carlo Ratti, Assaf Biderman, Yaniv Turgeman, Leigh Christie, Miriam Roure
Firm: MIT Senseable City Lab
A staggering amount of energy is wasted heating entire rooms. What if we could just heat individual people instead? Personal Climates address energy waste and the desire for human comfort by concentrating thermal zones directly on people with infrared spotlights of warmth that follow users across an otherwise cold room.
Creators: Gadi Amit, Jaeha Yoo, Jon Patterson, Ben Wong, Patrick Drake
Firm: NewDealDesign LLC
Tattoos might not be purely decorative in the wearable age. Underskin is an implantable, dual-sided sensor that acts like an Apple Watch for the post-Singularity world. It could light up in different patterns to display real-time biometric data; serve as an identity key for your digital life; or become an easy way to swap data with other people.
Firm: Space Caviar
What if your home had an airplane mode just like your smartphone? That’s the concept of RAM house, an exploration of how humans live with technology. Each room in RAM House contains movable radar-absorbent shields. Just as a curtain can be drawn to visually expose the domestic interior of a traditional home, panels can be slid open in RAM House to allow radio waves to enter and exit.
Creators: Steve Bittan, Matthew Edwards, David Mingay, Tim Smith, Adam Taylor, Harsha Varshan
Most car dashboards are a UI mess. This concept re-imagines the instrument cluster of automobiles to decrease distractions caused by other digital screens vying for a driver’s attention, while increasing the efficiency of car dash design.
Creators: Malcolm Lee, Noah DiJulio, Lee Croy, Sean Madden, Carl Alviani, Ayelet Katz, Greg Martin
Firm: Ziba Design
Signet is a concept that combines the shipping label, postage stamp, and wax seal into a unique digital design. Using Signet, all you would need to do to ship a package is wrap it and stamp it. An accompanying app would figure out where exactly a person lives, and would handling routing if they’re not home.
Creators: Brendan Dawes
Designer Brendan Dawes wondered what it would be like if we interacted with email physically; twisting knobs, flicking switches, and watching it glow. So he created ‘Six Monkeys’, six dedicated machines with analog interfaces that encourage users to interact with their email in new, whimsical ways.
Creators: Sang-won Leigh
Firm: MIT Media Lab
What if all of your screens were windows into a shared digital space? THAW uses your smartphone as a kind of magic lens that combines all your screens into a single experience, allowing you to download a song from your laptop just by looking at it through the iPhone’s camera, or to literally “pick up” a video game you were playing on your television console and keep playing it on your smartphone.