You may have seen the Red Dot design award around. It often appears on smart-looking objects, that little red sphere with its tangerine peel design. It is one of the most important and coveted design awards worldwide with its stated aim of searching out good design and innovation and it has been doing since 1955. I always thought it was a single award given out yearly to an outstanding product but I’m so wrong – in 2020 it awarded the right to display the little red dot to 1,644 products! With 76 of those getting an additional Best of the Best award – this from around 6,500 entries from 60 countries.
The German design award is based at its Red Dot museum in Essen (there is a second museum in Singapore) and it is big business. Each year sees more awards handed out and winning comes at a cost: it is between 99 and 500 Euros to enter but winning will set you back a further 3,500 – 6,000 Euros, though that comes with a Red Dot marketing package to promote the winning product. If everyone who won this year paid up (if you don’t then you won’t appear in the yearbook or on their website) then even taking the lowest fees it would net about 6 million Euros.
So is it worth it? Companies still enter so presumably they feel it is and there are access options for young designers with Red Dot granting 50 young designers free entry and a Young Talent Award worth 10,000 Euros. And it still carries a cache, promoting both good design and the German reputation for design excellence. Despite the huge number of entries, the 40 independent judges, experts from the design world, test all the products extensively: juicers and vegetable slicers are put into action, cars and motorcycles get put through their paces at a nearby airport and even a tram gets tested out. I noticed that quite a few vibrators received awards, but no mention is made of the testing procedure for those. One presumes they were given a good going over though.
But it isn’t just products that get Red Dots: perhaps less well known are the awards campaigns and design concepts, some of which are quite arresting such as this installation in the Netherlands, a fake camera pole to highlight an accident blackspot.
And this vending machine tempting people with a 2 Euro t-shirt offer. When anybody tried to buy one, they were instead shown pictures of the conditions endured by the workers who made the garments and asked if they were happy to donate the money to them. Ninety percent said yes.
There are also awards for multimedia applications like this one detailing the 1928 crash of the airship Italia. The fascinating story of the disaster as the Italia returned from its expedition to the North Pole and the resultant international rescue operation is shown with maps, infographics and 3-D animated scenes.
But ultimately products are what the little red dot is best known for and there are 49 categories of these covering everything from fashion and furniture to electronics and medical technology. A high proportion of those are high tech items which have a smart phone interface which is perhaps unsurprising these days. Maybe that makes the stationery items stand out a little more, being analogue, so here are some highlights from the 2020 winners.
11 2020 Red Dot Design That Caught My Eye
This is not the first time that Leuchtturm have won the award, they rather fittingly won back in 2019 with their Bauhaus tribute notebook – Everything Starts with a Dot. But they won again this year with their pen the Drehgriffel (a German compound noun meaning twist and stylus), which is loosely based on a popular propelling pencil from the 1920s known by the same name. Leuchtturm bought up the rights to the name and changed the pencil to a ballpoint, giving it a distinctly retro look. How closely it resembles the original is hard to say since I can find no picture of it anywhere and Leuchtturm are quite coy on their website about the whole business.
It does look rather nice and, being made of brass and aluminium, its pleasingly heavy. Red Dot said it was a “convincingly independent design” whatever that means.
DS Shake Pen
An attractive pen with a clever mechanism – this works by using counterweight springs to allow a small forward or backward shake of the wrist to either depress or retract the fine writing point. Once depressed, the clip moves to fix it in place. They look good too in their muted colours, assuming of course the label is removable.
This was designed by three 17 yr. olds as a Kickstarter project to make a notebook that could be endlessly reused. The magnetically attached pencil never runs out, everything can therefore be erased, the pages are (said to be) indestructible and waterproof and it synchronises with smart devices. The magnetic closure also removes the need for an elastic closure and the clever video of people taking it into a swimming pool without damaging the contents or notes inside and sending it into space (35km up so not strictly space) ensured they hit their funding goal within 21 hours.
Multilayer Tearable Eraser
A stackable eraser made to be separated into small units for sharing or carrying and connected back for storage. The many different angles allow for precision erasing of all manor of errors and the block/puzzle shape and bright colour make it appeal to children. And me.
Electric Pencil Sharpener
It looks like something you might find in a kitchen, but it really is a pencil sharpener. Its USP is that it once you put the pencil in the opening on the top, it takes it in automatically and sharpens it to the perfect point before ejecting it back. Said to be good for people who have limited grasping capacity, it also looks like a cool gadget to have and use but something of a luxury for most of us.
Journal de Chic
Despite the terrible name, these are quite smart little notebooks which take street art from various cities and feature it on the cover. The elastic strap has the longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates of the respective location which is a nice little touch.
As for the non-stationery items, there were a few that caught my eye amongst the Red Dot design winners…
The Linus Lock is a new smart device from Yale which works with your existing cylinder lock but allows you to operate it with your smartphone. This means you can give out virtual keys to people, check you did actually close and lock the door (I’d like one for that feature alone) and auto-unlock as you approach. Named the Linus Lock because the inventors of the cylinder lock and founders of the Yale company were Linus Yale and his son…Linus.
FORM Smart Swim Goggles
These swimming goggles have an augmented reality display on the inside which shows your performance figures in real-time – split times, distance covered and stroke frequency etc. Hopefully they keep the water out too.
Eight Sleep Pod
This is a smart bed which maintains a constant temperature by pumping hot or cold water through the mattress, kind of a modern update to the electric blanket. It also uses your pulse rate to assess the quality of your sleep, all managed through an app, of course.
Knirps Pocket Umbrella
It doesn’t look particularly spectacular, but it claims to weather gusts of wind up to 120kph, which is quite astonishing. It is made from high-tech materials which make it very lightweight and it opens AND shuts at the touch of a simple button. Presumably it is more rounded than the standard offering making it less vulnerable to catching in the wind. Sadly the only picture I can find shows it closed so we’d have to buy one to see.
But possibly my favourite tech product is this clock, a minimalist design with a dynamic elastic membrane. The time appears as a pulse, engraved in the display, which then fades away leaving no trace afterwards. The designers talk of the clock seeming to breathe and giving the passing of time a physical touch, which does seem like a literal description rather than just the usual hyperbole.
Of course this is just a small selection given there are over 1,500 winning products but you can see all the products, brands and concepts that have won a Red Dot design award on their website. Worth checking out as it is really quite fascinating.