Design Diversity: Cooper Hewitt 2020 Awards, Part 2

Last week we brought you five of the nine National Design Awards from the Cooper Hewitt Museum. Here we present the promised final four, rounding out the designers selected by this year’s museum jury as the best of 2020.

Digital Design: Design I/O

Emily Gobeille and Theodore Watson. Photo: Courtesy of Design I/O

Design I/O LLC, with studios in Brooklyn NY and Petaluma CA, is focused on development of immersive, interactive digital installations — and the new forms of storytelling they make possible. Its designers devise digital experiences for museums and public spaces, exhibitions, and events. Their works have been installed at the New York Hall of Science, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Philadelphia’s Franklin Park Conservancy, the Frost Museum of Science in Miami, and the TELUS World of Science in Edmonton, Alberta. Some of their exhibits have been displayed as far afield as Amsterdam and Singapore. With more than 15 years’ experience, Design I/O and its partners continue to push the boundaries of what is possible at the intersection of design and technology.

Design I/O, Funky Forest is an immersive interactive ecosystem where children create trees with their body and then use physical logs to divert the water flowing from the waterfall to the trees to keep them alive; is has been exhibited at the Cinekid Festival and the Singapore Art Museum (Amsterdam, 2007, and Singapore, 2010) Photo: Design I/O
Design I/O, Connected Worlds is a large scale interactive environment aimed to teach sustainability from a systems thinking perspective (The New York Hall of Science, New York, New York, 2015). Project partners: The New York Hall of Science, Moey Inc. Photo: David Handschuh
Design I/O, Mimic is a playful interactive installation at the TIFF Kids digiPlaySpace that allows visitors to engage in a dialogue with a robot arm through gesture (Toronto, Canada, 2017). Photo: Design I/O
Design I/O, The Pack is a 3D open world video game designed to teach computational thinking and environmental sustainability (Apple App Store, Mac and PC desktops worldwide, 2019). Project partners: The New York Hall of Science. Photo: Design I/O

Still images of the firm’s works offer appealing depictions of natural processes, but in the actual installations the actions of viewers – most often children – can alter these  images in dynamic and meaningful ways. As viewers direct water to animated clusters of trees, for instance, they respond by visibly thriving. To see some of Design I/O’s products in action, the reader can visit

Product Design: Catapult Design

Catapult Design: Angela Hariche, Nadine Foik, Payan ole-MoiYoi, Noel Wilson, Charlie Sellers, Karin Carter, Adam Horbinski. Photo: Courtesy of Catapult Design

“We imagine a world where everyone has access to well-designed products and services that stimulate and sustain better lives.” Thus the nonprofit consultancy Catapult Design defines its mission. Based in Denver, Catapult works with organizations worldwide to develop market-based solutions contributing to sustainability and resilience. Challenges addressed by its products include food security, water supply, sanitation, healthcare, and mobility.

Catapult Design, Pedicab, designed to improve utility and encourage sustainable transport specification (Nepal, 2017). Client: Asian Development Bank. Photo: Courtesy of Catapult Design
Catapult Design, Shiriki Hub, developed to redesign a solar-charging kiosk to be smarter, more user-friendly, serviceable, durable, and ultimately scalable (Rwanda, 2016). Client: ARED (funded by Autodesk Foundation). Photo: Courtesy of Catapult Design
Catapult Design, Healthy Start, produced to design and source a vitamin-fortified porridge, packaged for door-to-door sales (Uganda, Kenya, 2013). Client: Living Goods Photo: Courtesy of Catapult Design
Catapult Design, Water Wheel, designed to create a better device for both water transport and storage (India, 2012). Client: Wello. Photo: Courtesy of Catapult Design
Catapult Design, Anza Cart, developed to design a hand cart for rural farmers that can carry up to 120kg and be flat-packed into a 24ĂŽ x 24ĂŽ x 3ĂŽ box (Tanzania, 2011). Client: Anza. Photo: Courtesy of Catapult Design

Along with design and engineering skills, the Catapult team brings to the task research, education, and business skills honed through decades of experience in the areas of the world that it serves. Among its notable clients and funders are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, World Bank, Peace Corps, National Endowment for the Arts, and Mastercard Centre for Inclusive Growth.

Design Visionary: Kickstarter

Aziz Hasan. Photo: Kickstarter

Since its launch in 2009, Kickstarter has served as a powerful tool for designers and other creative people to take their ideas directly to the public for funding. By now more than 19 million people have pledged over $5.5 billion to projects across the creative spectrum—from art, design, and technology to theater, games, and food. Based in Brooklyn NY and led by CEO Aziz Hasan, Kickstarter’s team of some 92 people works to help creators realize their proposals.

Kickstarter incorporates elements of investment, commerce, and charity, but is not quite any of those. ItĂ­s an evolution of the patronage model, a way for communities to fund independent creative projects collectively (Brooklyn, New York, 2020). Photo: Kickstarter
Crowdfunding can be used for many things, but Kickstarter is just for creative projects. It’s a great place to support art for art’s sake—as with William Kentridge’s 600-yard-long “Triumph and Laments” on the Tiber in Rome (Rome, Italy, 2016). Photo: Tevereterno
Kickstarter can help creators rally support for an idea. The team behind +POOL wants to build a public pool in New York’s East River with walls that will filter and clean the polluted water. The concept has attracted the attention of many New Yorkers — and urban planners around the world (New York, New York, 2011). Photo: +POOL
The company has made its Brooklyn offices something like a community center for the creative community, hosting educational seminars, film festivals, publishing conferences, dance performances, game testing, crafting, and more (Brooklyn, New York, 2019). Photo: Kickstarter

A distinctive aspect of Kickstarter funding, behind its remarkable success, is that the contributions of would-be supporters become actual (their credit-card charges are put through) only if creators’ fund-raising goals are met by an announced date. Backers receive no monetary reward, only the satisfaction of supporting promising projects – and the people initiating them. Kickstarter earns a modest fee only for those projects that meet their fund-raising targets.

Architecture: Snøhetta

Craig Dykers. Courtesy of Snøhetta

For over 30 years, Snøhetta has been creating notable architecture on five continents. Its practice has extended into landscape, urban design, product design, and branding. Founded in Oslo, Norway, the firm has long had a busy office in New York as well. The Oslo office is led by Kjetil Thorsen and the New York office by Craig Dykers, along with partners Elaine Molinar, Michelle Delk, and Alan Gordon.

Snøhetta, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, conceived as a revival of the ancient library in the city founded by Alexander the Great some 2,300 years ago and lost to civilization centuries later; the 11-story library can contain up to 4 million volumes of books, and can be expanded up to 8 million. In addition to the library facilities, the library also contains other cultural and educational functions including a planetarium, several museums, a school for information science, and conservation facilities (Alexandria, Egypt, 2001). Project partners: Hamza Associates. Photo: James Willis
Snøhetta, Norwegian National Opera and Ballet is as much landscape as architecture and fosters public awareness and engagement with the arts. Its accessible roof and broad, open public lobbies make the building a social monument rather than a sculptural one (Oslo, Norway, 2008). Photo: Birdseyepix
Snøhetta, National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion, with its low, horizontal form and its uplifting geometry, acts as a bridge between two worlds—between the Memorial and the Museum, the above and below ground, the light and dark, between collective and individual experiences (New York, New York, 2014). Project partners: Adamson Associates. Photo: Jeff Goldberg/Esto
Snøhetta, SFMOMA expansion realizes in built form the museum’s goals of being a welcoming center for arts education and an important public space for the Bay area. By nearly tripling the amount of exhibition space and expanding the unticketed gallery areas and outdoor public spaces, the expansion allows the museum to be more accessible than ever (San Francisco, California, 2016). Project partners: EHDD. Photo: Iwan Baan
SnÂŻhetta, Under, EuropeĂ­s first underwater restaurant is designed to fully integrate into its marine environment over time; as the roughness of the concrete shell will function as an artificial reef, welcoming limpets and kelp to inhabit it, (Lindesnes, Norway, 2019). Project partners: Hamram Kvadrat. Photo: Ivar Kvaal
Snøhetta, Calgary Public Library is sited within a complex urban condition, where a fully functional Light Rail Transit Line crosses the site from above to below ground on a curved half-moon path, dividing Downtown and East Village. The building aims to welcome over twice as many annual visitors to its expanded facilities, filling a vital role for the rapidly expanding city (Calgary, Alberta, 2018). Project partners: DIALOG. Photo: Michael Grimm
Snøhetta, Times Square’s new pedestrian plazas radically carve out 2.5 acres of pedestrian-only space at Manhattan’s core, transforming a notoriously congested intersection into a world-class civic space (New York, New York, 2017). Photo: Michael Grimm

Snøhetta gained international attention back in 1989, when it won an international design competition for an extraordinary library in Alexandria, Egypt. Its works in North America include the September 11 Memorial Museum and the reconfiguration of Times Square in New York, the major expansion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Calgary Public Library in Canada. In Norway, the architects have completed the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo and the small but unique Under restaurant burrowing into the sea bed at Lindesnes.

Design Diversity Celebrated

The Cooper Hewitt’s 2020 honors reflect not only expanded variety in the ethnicity and gender of designers recognized this year, but also a greater variety of clients and purposes of design accomplishment, even – in the case of Kickstarter – the inclusion of support for design, as well as products of design. May the recognition of greater diversity continue!