What's the recipe for a great product? That's the billion dollar question that designers may spend their whole lives chasing. And the most nebulous ingredient, user experience, is also the most important.
UX extends to a remarkably diverse range of products. It might involve a prosthetic arm for kids that also lets them tinker and learn, all while turning themselves into superheroes. Or an augmented reality changing mirror that makes a typically awful experience a little more fun. Or even a smart Gatorade bottle that tracks how athletes respond to exertion, adapting their hydration based on biometric data.
After combing through hundreds of submissions for this year's 2016 Innovation by Design Awards, this is the work that nailed that elusive, ever-changing ingredient. Check out this year's one winner and 17 finalists below.
IKO Creative Prosthetic System
Creator: Carlos Torres
The IKO Creative Prosthetic System, which won this year's UX category, combines robotics, programming, and prototyping into a prosthetic arm that's half prosthesis, half Lego set. It allows kids who are navigating the world with a disability to create any kind of arm they want for themselves—and develop new science and engineering skills while they're at it.
Adobe Creative Cloud 2015
Adobe has given digital creatives the tools they need to realize their work for decades. But as our relationship with technology has changed, and mobile devices have become more prevalent, the company has moved to adapt. With Creative Cloud 2015, Adobe united its mobile and desktop products into a single, intuitive, subscription-based package that makes managing your workflows easier than ever, no matter what platform you're on.
AirCom Pacific In-Flight Experience
Flying economy sucks, but great UX design can help. Leading the way is AirCom Pacific, whose new in-flight experience overhauled the entire passenger experience, starting with the seats, which feature an integrated footrest, headrest that makes napping easier, a reclining function that isn't an orthopedic nightmare—or a nightmare for your neighbors—and a tray table that folds up to reveal an in-flight screen for ordering food and movies.
Firm: Local Projects
Client: The Tech Museum of Innovation
Synthetic biology, bioengineering, and biological design are fields that scientists ultimately hope will allow humans to hack our genes, use synthetic DNA as super-efficient hard drives, and even create new types of life-forms. But how do you explain it to someone who isn't a scientist? At the BioDesign Studio, a new permanent exhibition at San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation, you learn by doing. In the studio's hands-on labs, you can try everything from creating your own life-forms to hacking live bacteria colonies.
Mobile ads aren't much more than an annoyance to most users. But the company Button thinks they can make them a lot more useful. Button's software development kit allows developers to integrate actionable software buttons into other developers' apps; for example, a music app could contain a Button that sends you to the Ticketmaster app. Once the Button is tapped, the referring app gets a small cut of the transaction. It's an ad—but a useful ad.
Smart homes represent new opportunities for hackers. DOJO is a home security system that protects your little corner of the internet of things from cyber attacks, with a smooth, pebble-like device that connects to your router to monitor network activity. If something suspicious is going on, it will change colors and start buzzing. Find out more here.
Edyn Garden Sensor + Water Valve
It's not always easy to figure out what your houseplants need to stay alive. For those of us born with brown thumbs, the Edyn Garden Sensor takes the guesswork out of growing. You stick the sensor into your plant's soil, where it monitors moisture, temperature, humidity, and sunlight. And maybe most importantly, it tells you what you're doing wrong.
Gatorade Gx Platform
Every athlete's hydration needs are different. The GX Platform is Gatorade's digital platform for keeping pro athletes hydrated. A smart patch calculates how much they sweat, and its composition, then creates a formula for a personalized blend of Gatorade that is tracked through an internet-connected Smart Cap, which coaches can monitor to make sure their players are getting all the electrolytes their bodies crave.
Lancôme Le Teint Particulier
Matching makeup to every customer's skin tone is a challenge for any cosmetic brand. To solve this problem, L'Oreal created Le Teint Particulier, a process that uses a colorimeter to scan a customer's skin, then uses an algorithm to blend 20,000 pigments into the perfect tone, designed just for them.
My UV Patch by La Roche-Posay
Company: L'Oreal/La Roche-Posay
The dangers of sun exposure aren't always easy to communicate to consumers. A stretchable heart-shaped sensor, the My UV Patch from L'Oreal and La Roche-Posay is designed to help you keep track of how long you've been in the sun. Thanks to its photosensitive dyes, the patch subtly changes color as it remains under sunlight. Taking a picture of the pixelated patch with the accompanying app will analyze it for exposure, giving users a concrete way to know when they've gotten enough rays.
Osmo is an education company that combines Montessori learning principles and computer vision to help kids learn. Its app, Numbers, uses the iPad's FaceTime camera to track kids and interact with them as they manipulate physical tokens in front of the tablet to solve math puzzles and challenges.
The Facebook-owned VR headset, Oculus Rift, finally saw its widespread retail release in 2016. The streamlined software and hardware—which includes headset, sensor, remote, and Xbox controller—is VR that anyone can use, thanks to deft UX. It finally bring virtual reality into people's living rooms, after nearly 20 years of false promises.
Firm: MAP Project Office
What does a Lego set for the internet of things look like? It looks a lot like Sam, designed by Sam Labs: a series of blocks containing wireless sensors, which can be linked together and programmed with an intuitive smartphone app, allowing customers to give their smart home any mods they can dream up.
Firm: Starry, Inc.
Just a few years ago, only a handful of gadgets might be regularly connected to your home Wi-Fi router. Now, it's a cosmos. Starry Station is a new kind of router, designed specifically for the internet of things, that makes it easy to manage the constellations of computers, gadgets, and appliances that are connected to the web, thanks to an intuitive touchscreen UI that is simplicity itself to understand.
Target's Open House is a transparent mock-up home that's designed to explain and demonstrate new internet of things products. It serves not only as a space for customers to check out the most cutting-edge home tech, but also as a funnel for the mega-retailer to see which up-and-coming products have the most potential for a broader market.
Technology Will Save Us Digital Making Guide
Company: Technology Will Save Us
How do you teach kids how to hack and build? The goal of Technology Will Save Us is to demystify the maker movement for kids. The company offers a collection of DIY sets that use an intuitive digital guide to inspire kids to create everything from automated plant waterers to synth kits.
The Oak Mirror
Firm: Oak Labs, Inc.
The changing room mirror is finally getting smarter. The Oak Mirror is a hybrid changing mirror and touchscreen that allows shoppers to change the lighting, request additional colors and sizes in a particular garment, or "Complete the Look" with a variety of accessories and additional articles of clothing—all without leaving the changing booth.
Volvo Concept 26
The average American spends 101 minutes driving every day. Volvo's Concept 26 is a car interior designed for a more comfortable autonomous or semi-autonomous commute. It allows drivers to switch between three ergonomic modes: "Drive" gives them complete control; "Create" puts more space between the retractable steering wheel and the seat, which glides back, while a monitor reveals itself on the dash; and "Relax" provides a more reclined position that still gives a clear view of the road.
Many thanks to our judges: Artefact's Rob Girling, Big Tomorrow's Nick de la Mere, and Pinterest's August de los Reyes. And make sure to check out all of this year's Innovation by Design honorees right here.