Ostracion cubicus (or boxfish) was the crucial inspiration for one of the designs that nabbed top honors at this year's Red Dot Awards for communication design. Announced Dec. 6 at a posh Academy Awards-like ceremony at the Red Dot design museum in Essen, Germany, the awards are some of international design's most coveted.
This year, 12 jurists from across Europe examined nearly 3,900 entries from 34 countries. The prestigious Dot, as the award is known, was awarded to 336 winners, of which 27 received a "best of the best" designation. A separate "junior prize," of $15,000, went to an innovative piece of software that enables designers to quickly create their own fonts. Only open to students, the junior prize is also the only one that comes with a cash award. Other winners earn the right to use the well-recognized Red Dot logo to distinguish their products and earn the admiration of fellow designers.
As interest in the award organization has grown—from the design and business communities—organizers have noticed an increase in the number of companies and clients entering their products or campaigns for consideration. According to Jean Jacques Schaffner, a principal with the Basel (Switzerland) design firm Schaffner & Conzelmann and a judge of this year's contest, nearly half the submissions came from companies themselves. The others were submitted by the creating design and advertising firms.
The Bionic Concept Car
"This kind of work is an investment in the future for a lot of companies," says Schaffner. "For the largest firms, [a Red Dot award] is a benchmark of how current they are, how relevant to today's market." In past years, Red Dots have gone to such companies as LG Electronics, Apple (AAPL), Nokia (NOK), Philips, Siemens (SIE), and Sony (SNE). This year, Adidas (ADSG) and Mercedes-Benz (DAI) grabbed top honors.
Winning entries varied widely. Adidas' 70-square-meter "multisensory" installation-cum-retail-store (BusinessWeek.com, 11/03/06), in which consumers can test Adidas' high-end products and services, was awarded a prize, as was Mercedes-Benz's Bionic concept car. Modeled on the angular boxfish, the highly fuel-efficient vehicle was accompanied by a touring exhibition with a prototype of the visionary auto alongside an illuminated quarter-size scale model sculpture of the fish, bathed in the light of animated water reflections. The vehicle and accompanying exhibit were intended to "stimulate enthusiasm for the brand," says Thomas Hundt, a professor at the Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences and managing director of jangled nerves, the design firm that put the expo together.
One of the quirkiest entries combined the world of corporate finance with a sense of childlike simplicity. Recognizing that corporate ad agencies are increasingly attempting to transform dry financial presentations into graphically rich, even artistic, documents, the annual report for IPOS (Intellectual Property Office of Singapore) took home an award. The cover of the book functions as a board game while the report itself contains dice and game tokens. By playing, "readers" not only learn about business ideas within a global market, but also broaden their knowledge about the services and processes of IPOS.
Curiously, the dominant trend this year may have been the lack of coherent trends. "Anything goes," says Schaffner. "We saw nearly everything, from punk typography to classic pop design." This, he argues, makes the communication design awards unique. "This is the reason for popularity of Red Dot. You judge the work based on how well it communicates—solves the problem—not just aesthetics or the medium."