Soundstage 2 at Sydney's Fox Studios is where much of the action happened in The Matrix, Superman Returns and The Great Gatsby. For three days recently the cavernous hangar set the scene for another kind of drama: the judging of the heavily contested Good Design Awards, now in their 61st year.
Arrayed down neat rows of long tables draped in black cloth, cameras vied with kettles and coffee makers and wine coolers did battle with water bottles. A series of vibrating ‘Satisfyer Rings’ (“suitable for singles and couples”) in the Sports & Lifestyle category were to be judged alongside surfboards and bicycles. Not all products had to be put through their paces, exactly.
It was like being at a supremely sleek garage sale in the home of a super-geek.
“I see the entire world as filled with objects of design, from a toothpick to a high-rise building,” says Dr Brandon Gien, founder and chief executive of Good Design Australia, the peak industry body.
Every year, Gien assembles some three dozen local and international design experts to judge products and services in categories ranging from architecture to apps via medical equipment, furniture, lighting, fashion, packaging and cars (which, unlike the vast array of sex toys, do get test driven).
The Good Design Awards were presented on Thursday night at a gala ceremony in Sydney, with the top gong going to a 3D biotech printer that is advancing the fight against cancer.
It’s a tough slog, adjudicating a design award with more than 700 entries from around the world. It’s not so much like comparing apples with oranges as comparing apple corers with hi-viz orange hardware, but Gien and his team have devised a tight list of criteria across 10 design categories that enable judges of diverse expertise to, if not immediately agree, at least battle it out on even ground.
In the Product Design category, for instance, there was much heated discussion about the relative merits of the Ninja-esque stainless steel disc of the Blazaball fire-lighter cage designed by a small company in Perth, compared with the finely honed ‘Balance’ kitchen knife set from Sydney-based industrial designer Paul Cohen.
In the end, the Best in Class product award went to the aptly named Sway lamp by Melbourne designer Nick Rennie. Composed of a slender carbon rod topped
with an LED orb, the round, weighted base allows the lamp to be knocked about and simply bounce back into place. Cordless, chargeable and highly durable,
it’s suitable for indoors and out.
“Good design needs to be better than adequate,” says Victorian government architect Jill Garner, who sat on the architecture jury. “Legislation is in place to bring poor design up to adequate, but sometimes it can also be used to bring excellence down to adequate.”
The role of programs like the Good Design Awards is to celebrate and elevate excellence, creating industry benchmarks across the public and public sectors.
Garner reckons a building nowadays needs to “go beyond its brief”.
“A good building needs to be a good neighbour. It needs to add something to the street by looking slightly beyond the dotted line of the site boundary,” she says.
“We often look at architecture as an object and judge it on whether it’s beautiful or well crafted or fit for purpose. They’re all really important issues but over the top of all that is the question of what it is doing to the place where it is located and the people who will use it.”
This year’s award for Best Commercial and Residential Design went to property giant Mirvac for its Harold Park development in Glebe, Sydney. Anchored by
the heritage Tramsheds building, which has been converted into a food and entertainment hub, the development comprises seven residential buildings
and almost four hectares of new public parkland.
Good Design Australia, the governing body of the awards, has its roots in the Industrial Design Council of Australia, established in 1958 by a group of
design and industry professionals and funded by the Commonwealth government. Its creation helped the Australian design industry flourish in the 1960s.
The '70s was the halcyon decade; but as local industry fell into decline the Good Design Awards program was eventually folded into the bureaucracy
of Standards Australia.
Gien, who studied industrial design at the University of Newcastle, joined Standards Australia straight after graduation in 1997 with the firm belief that
design should be standout rather than standard.
“Good design,” says Gien, “can transform products, services, experiences, and society as a whole.”
It was under his watch that the revolutionary Cochlear hearing implant system won the Good Design of the Year Award in 2000 and went on to become a global
The 2012 award went to the Deepsea Challenger, a 7.3-metre submersible designed to reach the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest-known point in the
seabed. It was designed by four Australian companies – Acheron Project, Design + Industry, McConaghy Boats and Finite Elements – in partnership with
film director James Cameron.
Design + Industry has again taken out the top prize, for a piece of medical equipment designed for Queensland bioscience company Inventia Life Science.
The Rastrum 3D Bioprinter builds hydrogel scaffolds that mimic the cell matrix of cancer patients, allowing researchers to conduct extensive non-invasive
experiments and screen thousands of treatment drugs, effectively turbo-charging their research into treatment.
Says Gien: “What’s incredible about this machine is that in addition to the fact that the technology is a game-changer in the way cancer will be treated,
it’s also a beautiful piece of industrial design that doesn’t actually look like medical equipment.”
“We’ve printed plastics and metals before, but to 3D-print human cell structures is pretty amazing stuff,” says Murray Hunter, who founded Design + Industry
more than 30 years ago.
He says a third of the team specialises in the concept and two-thirds specialise in the development. "So the concept team pushes up against the engineering
team to optimise the aesthetics of a product. The engineering team then go on with that aesthetic in place to make it work. That means we get the highest
level of outcome for our clients.”
And that’s what is called good design.
July 12, 2019 www.afr.com