The Best Product Designs Of The Year

What's a winning design? It's what transforms something as mundane as a barbecue grill or a miter saw into works of art that also perform well. These are just some of the winners of the 1993 Industrial Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) that are really stirring the product pot. And all the winning companies are making design the heart of their product-development strategies.

Hurdle rates have been going up in this decade-old design contest for some time, but in 1993 it proved especially tough to win the gold. "The level of submissions was higher than any other competition I've juried," says Peter Bressler, chairman of the IDEA eight-judge panel and principal of his own Philadelphia-based Paradigm: design.

BACK-ROOM BRAWLS? The competition was particularly rough in computers. It is clear that much of the best industrial design in the world is taking place in the U.S. computer industry. The reason: As products become more indistinguishable technologically, differentiation is shifting to design--both in how the physical product looks and how it shows off its programming and data. The focus is on


There were lots of battles behind the scenes, according to the jurors. The EO 440 pen-based Personal Communicator, with fax, phone,

and portable PC in one (designed by frogdesign for EO Inc. and sold by American Telephone & Telegraph Co.), was knocked down to a bronze because most of the jury didn't like its side "ears," which house connectors and serve as handles. Other jurors thought the ears were a great

design solution.

One of the great surprises of this year's IDEA contest is the glimmer of a revival in consumer products. The level of design is beginning to creep upward, after years of neglect, according to jurors. Black & Decker Corp. won a silver award for its 12-inch Compound Miter Saw by its DeWalt Industrial Tool division, and a bronze. Bissell Inc. won two silvers, including one for its Trio Vacuum. Gold IDEA awards went to American Tourister Inc.'s Genesis Softside Easyturn luggage, new. My First Sony models for kids, and the striking Sensor for Women razor. Knoll Group won a prize for environmental design and Steelcase Design Partnership won for


There were more entries from large corporations this year than ever before--and more winners. Apple Computer Inc. came away with the most awards, two gold, a silver for it's eye-catching Adjustable Keyboard, and one bronze. Hewlett-Packard Co. and NCR Corp. were close behind with three awards apiece, while Boeing Co., IBM, and General Motors Corp. received two each. Chrysler Corp. won a gold for its LH sedans, and Nissan received a silver for the Quest, designed in San Diego.

FEWER ENTRIES. The larger design firms also won big, reflecting the growing consolidation in the consulting business. ZIBA Design led the pack with seven awards--two golds, four silvers, and a bronze. Design Continuum, frogdesign, IDEO, Lunar Design, and SG Hauser won three each.

Overall submissions from both corporations and consultancies, however, dipped from 753 in 1992 to 678 this year. The slow economic recovery has been hard on independent design shops, although business has picked up in recent months. There were 31 gold winners--up from 25 last year--26 silver, and 34 bronze.

To be eligible to enter the annual IDEA contest, U.S. citizens and international members of the Industrial Designers Society of America must have designed a product that was manufactured and on the market by Dec. 31, 1992.

An independent jury composed of professional designers evaluated the submissions for the society.

BUSINESS WEEK is proud to support the IDEA contest and takes a close look at eight gold medalists and one silver to tell the intriguing story of why design is so hot in the business world today.