A Designer Life

Awesome Products: 12 Life-Changing New Design Ideas You’ve Never Seen Before from the Lexus Design Award at Milan Design Week

I’m delighted to inform you that this post was sponsored by Lexus International who brought me to Milan Design Week, and that all opinions in this article are my own. See my Flickr gallery of the event in Milan here.

The Lexus Design Award 2017

In early April, I was lucky enough to be personally invited by Lexus to attend the Lexus Design Award and experience all that Milan Design Week has to offer. As an industrial designer myself, I was incredibly excited to see what cutting-edge ideas the up-and-coming design visionaries in my field would submit to the Lexus Design Award. Needless to say, I was not disappointed by the depth of innovative and life-changing new design ideas from all of the prototype finalists in the competition. From an infinitely colour-changing changing ceramic mat, to a mesmerising architectural light screen solution that pixelates the ambient light, to a concept that fits your entire life essentials into a box, to a toy that converts ordinary vegetables into melodic musical instruments (yes, that’s right!) – all of the prototype finalists were worthy of recognition and offered a completely new perspective on the ordinary that I had never seen before.

The theme of the Lexus Design Award in 2017 was ‘YET’ – but what does that mean, and how can it be interpreted through design? It’s such an intangible concept unless examined more deeply, but is core to the Lexus design philosophy. The ‘YET’ philosophy at the heart of Lexus’ creative mindset drives Lexus to push the boundaries of creativity by fusing seemingly incompatible elements. It says “Don’t compromise; harmonize.” The resulting synergy sparks breakthroughs, while revealing possibilities beyond imagination.

The Lexus Design Award was first launched in 2013 to help stimulate ideas for a better world, and to support up-and-coming designers and creators worldwide. Judges for the award were Paola Antonelli (Curator), Birgit Lohmann (Chief Editor of Designboom), Toyo Ito (Architect), Yoshihiro Sawa (President of Lexus International), Aric Chen (Curator) and Alice Rawsthorn (Design commentator). Incredibly, the 2017 Lexus Design Award attracted 1,152 entries from 63 countries. Chosen from a high calibre of entries, the four prototype finalists and eight panel finalists embodied the philosophy of ‘YET’ through their fresh new designs.

I’m now excited to share with you the twelve awesome life-changing design ideas, from the four prototype finalists and eight panel finalists of this year’s Lexus Design Award.

1. PIXEL | Designer: Hiroto Yoshizoe | Mentored by Snarkitecture

PIXEL won this year’s Grand Prix prize – and it’s not hard to see why. Lexus judges chose PIXEL – a configuration of visors that alternate their appearance in tandem with the viewer’s movements and perspective – as the Grand Prix winner due to it’s imaginative exploration of two seemingly contrasting elements: Light and Shadow. This idea would have many applications, from architectural facades, privacy screens in the home and office, theatre sets, exhibitions etc. and could be scaled up or down and fabricated from a wide range of materials such as cardboard, sheet metal or ceramic. Seemingly simple but flawless in execution.

PIXEL does not need any technology and electricity to come to life, and works with the surrounding light and natural sunlight. Shoji, the key inspiration of this work, is an architectural fitting that has been used for more than 800 years, and is made out of wood and paper. While covering the view, it can bring in light softly from the outside. With such contradicting functions, it was a revolutionary design and also a perfect example of this year’s theme ‘YET’.

The designer Hiroto Yoshizoe, working with mentors from Snarkitecture, produced the single unit PIXEL in sheet metal, plaster, and paper, each with differing design details and specifications. These units can be stacked, just like bricks, to create a facade or screen of any size.

Hiroto Yoshizoe graduated from Musashino Art University. He is currently based in Tokyo working on art direction and design as a spatial designer for commercial facilities. Hiroto focuses on interpreting the ideas of change, movement and time in space to create designs from both modern and analogue approaches. You can connect with Hiroto here.

2. PLAYER’S PFLUTE | Designer: Jia Wu | Mentored by Max Lamb

The Player’s Pflute (yes, that’s spelt correctly) was the undisputed crowd favourite of the Lexus Design Award this year. ‘Vegetable YET a musical instrument’ was the hilariously obvious tag line, and the delightful toy kit developed by Jia Wu mentored by Max Lamb brought smiles and giggles to both young and old throughout the Lexus Design Event and exhibition at the La Triennale di Milano. From first hand experience, I can tell you that this product gave me one of those “Shut up and take my money!” moments. I would have gladly purchased ten kits to take home in my suitcase. While it has a fun aesthetic, photos hardly do this project justice since you really need to hear how it sounds. If you watch the video below, you’ll hear how fantastic the vegetables actually sound when converted into instruments. You really can play a capsicum like a harmonica, and a cucumber like a clarinet!

This highly interactive toy kit is the catalyst for a fun learning experience, and especially for children who wouldn’t normally have access to a range of quality musical instruments due to the prohibitive cost. Therefore, Jia Wu’s Player’s Pflute’ can help every child to explore music. With the modular music toy system that comes in a convenient case, children use their imagination to connect everyday objects found in every household (ie. vegetables) and make real music. By encouraging improvisation while playing, it nurtures children’s musical interest and appreciation.

Jia Wu is a young industrial designer who specializes in creating new possibilities in interaction, products and infrastructures. Professionally trained by Design Product program at Royal College of Art in the U.K. and practicing design both in China and the UK, she is driven and passionate about using design as a catalyst for change and discovering the future. You can connect with Jia here.

3. STRUCTURAL COLOR: STATIC YET CHANGING | Jessica Fügler | Mentored by Elena Manferdini

Structural Colour originally was presented as a conceptual investigation into how static forms, such as pyramids and prisms, arranged on a surface, could make that surface appear differently depending on the location of the observer in relation to the surface. The concept evolved dramatically under the guidance of  mentor Elena Manferdini, and metamorphosed into a rug made up of ceramic beads that is specially woven to have the ability to infinitely change colour, pattern, and design, according to the desire of the user.

Static Yet Changing is a rug design that appears static in design yet has the ability to physically and visually change with the needs of the user. The ever-changing function and aesthetics of the piece addresses the idea of designing for longevity, creating products that evolve over time. Jess Fügler is a graduate at the Royal College of Art’s Design Products program. The inspiration for her design narratives are fuelled by research on and curiosity about science and culture. Jess currently lives in New York and works as the Studio Director for Matter Made and the Co-founder of Other Kingdom. You can connect with Jessica here.

4. HAVING NOTHING, AND YET POSSESSING EVERYTHING | Designer: Ahran Won | Mentored by Neri & Hu

“Having nothing, and yet possessing everything” is a capsule for mobile living that contains only the essentials needed for a minimal lifestyle. Each box that makes up the entire portable unit is able to contain a certain category of possessions (such as keepsakes, clothing, kitchen cooking utensils, hygiene and bathroom necessities) and can also be rearranged in a variety of configurations to create a cozy micro-living environment, with arrangements for sitting, eating or sleeping. I can see die-hard minimalists enjoying the status afforded by living a light weight lifestyle through using this product, but the design actually begins to address a much more serious concern of current events, that of the very real challenges of survival faced by refugees and the homeless. Time will tell if individual living capsules are actually a viable solution to a growing and alarming problem of displaced persons in our world.

Designer Ahran Won believes in the potential of design to be a positive element for our collective future. She is currently studying landscape architecture at Harvard Graduate School of Design, and previously studied architecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), and international law at Ewha Womans University in South Korea. You can connect with Ahran here.


A measuring spoon for the blind, with unseen yet visualized tactile graduations, the Buoyant Measuring Spoon for the Blind is a measuring spoon that has braille which lets a blind person measure correctly by touch.

6. PLATANACEAE | Designer: Paula Cermeño

Banana leaf bandages that outperform synthetic materials yet are biodegradable and soothing, PLATANACEAE is a series of first aid bandages for burn wounds that happen at home. The hydrated texture of banana leaves is refreshing when in contact with the skin. These bandages wrap around different parts of the hands and arms.

7. THE LANDSCAPE OF PAPER | Designer: Kuniko Maeda

Disposable yet upcycled material using traditional and modern technology, the Landscape of Paper is a concept that explores how to extend paper’s short life cycle. It transforms delicate paper into a strong structure while minimizing waste. By harmonizing opposites, the designer discovered a new application for paper.


Mass produced yet one-of-a-kind ceramics created using a portable kiln by design collective TAKEHANAKE-Bungorogama (who are Yoshifumi Takehana, Bungo Okuda and Akira Okuda), this concept transforms mass produced ceramics into a “one-of-a-kind” item unique to one individual, changing the value of the piece.

9. PAPER KETTLE | Designer: Ryo Katayama

Combustible yet fire resistant paper kettle, this design creates the lightest possible way to heat water, made of only paper. Normally paper burns in fire, but when paper contains water it becomes fire-resistant, which makes it ideal for outdoor use.

10. POD: HOMELESS YET HOME | Designer: MODlab (Eric Schwartzbach and Benjamin Ward)

A temporary shelter for displaced populations,  Homeless YET Home POD is a lightweight, modular, easily assembled, easily transported, temporary shelter for displaced populations throughout the world.


A high-tech yet retro radio tunes in programs from both past and present. This retrospective radio enables users to listen to any radio program from the now or from any time in history. The tuning dial is linked to archived programs stocked on the Internet.

12. TRAFFIC LIGHT SYSTEM | Designer: Evgeny Arinin

A simple yet sophisticated traffic light, this traffic light system creates a simple to understand yet sophisticated solution for drivers and pedestrians at a traffic light, in terms of better interaction, functionality and design.

If you want to know more about the Lexus Design Award (and maybe even enter next time!) you can find out more here.  I also prepared a Flickr gallery with all the full-size original photos from the Lexus Design Event and exhibition launch, which you can check out right here.

x Jess