Counting back the last 10 Beazley Designs of the Year

The Beazley Design of the Year award was recently awarded to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Now in its tenth year, the Beazley Design of the Year Award has honoured ten individual designs; heralding them as the best in show over an entire year. With nominations ranging from architecture to graphics to transport, the jury have the difficult task of comparing seemingly incomparable designs. Forced to decide what is the essence of great design, the Beazley Design Awards (previously known as the Brit Insurance Designs of the Year award) are often met with scepticism. Although most would agree that it is impossible to pick just one ‘best’ design, the winners from the past ten years all show an extension of design practice, promote change and capture the spirit of the year. Together, the ten winners, from 2008 to 2017, of the Beazley Design on the Year award, make an impressive list.

2017: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.

Smithsonian Museum African American History and Culture
Within the 310,000 square foot space, this building houses galleries, theatres, admin spaces and collection storage. The museum finally open in 2017 after an one hundred year campaign to commemorate African American history. David Rowan, who chaired the judging panel, states that this structure is not only a “striking and already iconic structure at the heart of America’s capital, it’s the realisation of an entire century of planning, rejection, political opposition and finally collaborative execution.” (Source: The Guardian) Although Britain’s Sir David Adjaye was the creative force behind the project, the building was actually worked on by four different practices. Architects of predominantly African American heritage were at the helm of all of these firms. This Museum, inspired by both African and American histories of craftsmanship, is a great symbol of the importance of African American history and culture within the broader sphere of American life.

Smithsonian Museum African American History and Culture

Image: Alan Karchmer, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

2016: Better Shelter

Better Shelter was designed by Johan Karlsson, Dennis Kanter, Christian Gustafsson and Nicolo Barlera, in partnership with the not-for-profit IKEA Foundation and UNHCR. This design responded to the dramatic increase in the number of displaced people over the past few years. It is a social enterprise that uses flatpack technology to create shelters for refugees. The shelters are solar-powered. They offer more stability, privacy, insulation and can last six times longer than a typical emergency tent.

Image: Better Shelter, sourced from

2015: Human Organs-on-Chips

At Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, Donald Ingber and Dan Dongeun, designed an experimental technology to replace human and animal testing in the medical industries. They developed ten different types of ‘organs-on-chips’ which simulate the functions of human organs. Though the technology was still experimental at the time, the possible benefits – of avoiding expensive and ethically fraught human and animal testing – won them the best design of the year.

Image: Harvard Magazine

2014: Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre

This cultural centre was designed by Zaha Hadid Architects for the Republic of Azerbaijan. It became an instant national symbol. The swooping roof is made up of a computer-calculated shell, supported by thousands of unique struts. The fluid design contrasts against the rigid Soviet architecture that is so prevalent in the city and instead feels indigenous; taking cues from the sensibilities of Azeri culture.



A surprise for some, this online portal for all of the UK government’s websites, was the unanimous winner in 2013. Designed by the Government Digital Service, this win demonstrated that civil service bodies can deliver ambitious and state-of-the-art digital projects.


2012: London Olympic Torch

The torch was commission by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and was designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. It was engineered and manufactured in the UK by Tecosim and Premier Group. The perforated design, featuring over 8,000 holes, was made with aluminium alloy and cut by lasers. Weighing only 800 grams, it was easily carried by all torch bearers.


2011: Plumen 001

Samuel Wilkinson was commissioned by Hulger to redesign a low-energy light bulb. Stephen Bayley, who acted as the chair of the jury explained that “the Plumen light bulb is a good example of the ordinary thing done extraordinarily well, bringing a small measure of delight to an everyday product.” (Source:


2010: Folding Plug

Min-Kyu Choi, who was a recent graduate of the Royal College of Art, designed a folding version of the standard UK electrical plug. One of the judges, Justin McGuirk, commented that “the British electrical plug, largely unchanged since 1947, is one of the most overlooked objects in the country. No wonder everyone who [saw] Min’s elegant variation experiences an obvious jolt of delight, followed by an ‘about time’”. This old-fashioned industrial design piece won for rethinking the everyday.


2009: Barack Obama ‘Hope’ Poster

Shepard Fairey, a street artist, designed the poster and used proceeds from selling the image to produce more of it. Though it was never officially adopted by the campaign, it became synonymous with the Obama presidential campaign throughout 2008. Since its creation, the poster has gone viral and many parodies have appeared within American popular culture.

Barack Obama Hope Poster
Image: The Guardian

2008: One Laptop Per Child

Designed in the USA by Yves Béhar of Fuseproject, for OLPC & Quanta Computer Inc., these child-size laptops aid education in developing countries. The laptops are very low-cost, ergonomic and energy-efficient – they can be charged by hand-cranked power if need be. They feature a digital writing tablet, a camera and networking capabilities allowing the laptops to connect to others in the school and to the web.


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