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The Year's Best-Designed Products


When people talked about innovation in the '90s, they invariably meant technology. When people speak about innovation today, it's more than likely they mean design. So writes Bruce Nussbaum in the current issue of BusinessWeek, introducing the magazine's 2005 annual design awards. The competition is run by the Industrial Designers Society of America. The awards are called Industrial Design Excellence Awards, IDEAs.

And, Bruce Nussbaum, of the 148 awards--gold, silver and bronze--I wonder if you could tell us some trends about which companies and which countries are big winners.

Mr. BRUCE NUSSBAUM (BusinessWeek Magazine): Well, anyone who has a cell phone these days knows that Korea has been doing very well in design lately. Samsung and LG and some others have been doing very well. Clearly, if you have an iPod, you know that Apple does wonderful design, although you may not know exactly why it does that great design. It goes way more--way beyond just doing cool things. Nike does really creative design way beyond running shoes. And, of course, we're getting some very wonderful design out of Europe, which has always been a--sort of a design capital.

SIEGEL: Now I want you to tell us about one gold prize winner, a very unusual-looking vehicle. It's the Shift Bike.

Mr. NUSSBAUM: Well, the Shift Bike is a fascinating concept, and I hope it gets into production pretty soon. This Shift Bike changes the paradigm of a training bike. Instead of having those two training wheels it's really a tricycle with one big wheel in the front and two in the back that have a--sort of a pyramid shape to them. And when, you know, you're sitting on it as a little kid and you're moving slowly you are very well-balanced. But as you go faster and you have a little more confidence, those two rear wheels begin to close together so they become, in effect, one wheel. And so you're basically teaching yourself how to ride a bike. It's a fascinating concept. Yeah, and actually when you see the picture it's really beautiful as well.

SIEGEL: Now another gold award winner of a completely different sort of product is the Purist Hatbox Toilet, which, I might say, goes for even under $3,000.

Mr. NUSSBAUM: Three thousand dollars for a toilet. It's hard to describe a toilet as beautiful but this is beautiful. It's like a piece of sculpture. It's very minimalist. Then again, they've broken the paradigm of what a toilet is by redesigning it and they've taken away the tank. They have a new kind of pump that's underneath that allows you to operate the toilet, and then it has a lid and a seat and when the lid comes down it closes and it, in fact, looks like, you know, your Aunt Tilda's hatbox. And for all the guys out there who are always slamming the seat down, including me, they have a hinge in which it slows everything down. So when you close it they come down very, very, almost elegantly and quietly.

SIEGEL: I see.

Mr. NUSSBAUM: I know this sounds ridiculous for a toilet...

SIEGEL: It's the soft-landing toilet lid, you're saying?

Mr. NUSSBAUM: It just--it blows you away.

SIEGEL: Do you see in the items that were entered a look of the early 21st century emerging, something that typifies design in our times right now?

Mr. NUSSBAUM: What actually I see in these products is that there is a look--they sort of have a modernistic look to them, but what I really see here in terms of design is that we are moving beyond the shape and the color of design to design strategies and design research where people actually go out and observe how normal people behave. Whether they're taking showers with that really cool, new Moen shower head thing, they're doing research in how people actually operate things now and how they move through life and what they want. And we're seeing a lot of design from the bottom up and a lot of innovation from the bottom up and a different use of design from simply making things pretty to making them more usable and more interesting and like that. That's really what I'm seeing here in this contest.

SIEGEL: Bruce Nussbaum, thanks a lot for talking with us about this.

Mr. NUSSBAUM: Thank you very much. It's wonderful.

SIEGEL: Bruce Nussbaum is the editorial page editor of BusinessWeek. He was talking to us about the magazine's annual Best Product Design awards. There's a link to BusinessWeek's Web site, which has pictures of these items, at our Web site, npr.org.

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SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Morning EditionAll Things Considered
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.