Decade In Design: The Biggest Events Of 2011

The past decade has been marked by ferment and change–and design has played its part. Tell us what we missed at #designdecade.

Decade In Design: The Biggest Events Of 2011
An Absence Felt: One of the World Trade Center memorial’s twin pools

A Long-Awaited Vision, Reviewed By All

More than 5,200 designers submitted proposals to the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition. The winning bid, by architect Michael Arad and landscape designer Peter Walker, expresses the nation’s mourning through minimalism. “It doesn’t take a stance on freedom or democracy or national security,” says Local Projects’ Jake Barton, who worked on the placement of the names on the memorial (and served as a judge of Fast Company’s Innovation By Design Awards this year). “It embodies the scale and the solemnity [of the attacks] in this incredibly dramatic fashion.” Here, three snippets of the architects’ original proposal, put up against the critical response and what tourists were feeling one rainy summer day.


“The pools and the ramps that surround them … are large voids, open and visible reminders of the absence.”

Critical response: “Arad figured out how to express the idea that what were once the largest solids in Manhattan are now a void, and he made the shape of this void into something monumental.” –Paul Goldberger , The New Yorker

Visitor’s take: “The square footprint was meant to be the towers, and the water flowing into the black abyss and beyond was sort of like a renewal of the spirit. It’s very moving and emotional.” –Pete Reutt, Merritt Island, Florida

“The haphazard brutality of the attacks is reflected in the arrangement of names, and no attempt is made to impose order upon this suffering.”

Critical response: “The ecumenical indifference of fate cannot have been more plainly put.” –Martin Filler, NYRBlog

Visitor’s take: “At first when I saw it, I was wondering why the names weren’t in straight lines. It’s the idea that no one was expecting what happened.” –Tanna De Kam, Rotterdam, Holland


“The memorial grounds will not be isolated from the rest of the city; they will be a living part of it.”

Critical response: “It’s hard to gaze on those somber fountains without imagining an errant Frisbee floating into the reverent abyss.” –Justin Davidson, New York magazine

Visitor’s take: “With it still under construction, to get here was a bit of a hassle. But when you’re able to walk up to it, it’ll be great.” –Joanna Klinvex, Pittsburgh

Click to enlarge

Why people love an infographic

Pioneer generations collected maps as new lands were found. Today is a “different golden age of mapmaking,” says Ben Gibson, creative director of design firm Pop Chart Lab. (This poster of beer styles was its best seller of 2011.) “We think a lot about the Internet age of information overload and how it’s nice to have blocks of information on one page to wrap your head around. It’s a cool way to tell a complicated story.”

When Design Is Also Art

Do mainstream audiences care about high fashion? An unexpected museum hit answers that question.

Alexander McQueen was a fashion superstar when he committed suicide in early 2010. But even dedicated couture hounds were surprised by the response to a McQueen exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art the following year. More than 660,000 people showed up, making it the eighth-most-popular show in the Met’s history. Curator Andrew Bolton takes stock of the success.


What did you learn from this exhibit?
It reinforced our belief that a show’s popularity rests on its artistic merit. McQueen was rather unique in that he harnessed pure emotions in his clothing, and his clothing often touched on broader concepts–life and death, or the idea of the ugly and the beautiful. And he had just passed away; people responded to the fact that they were in the presence of this extraordinary genius who was no longer with us.

Do you think today’s audiences are more attuned to design?
Absolutely. At least in the museum context, people would rather see fashions that are not really about reality or practicality. They want to see fashions that are more about fantasy, harnessing the imagination, fashions that are more concerned with ideas and concepts.

That’s interesting, because consumers now also seem hyper-aware of how much design is about good commerce.
It’s really about the forum. When in a museum, I think people don’t consider fashions that are relatable–fashions they can see in shop windows–to be art. In a museum they want those expectations to be challenged. But I don’t think it’s just about sculptural clothing that only exists on the runway. If you look at couture–Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel–they do extraordinary handcrafted details, which are just as much about artistry as really high concept.

2011 Highlights

PANTONE 18-2120
*According to expert color forecasters at Pantone.


Coffee Joulies, which keep coffee hot longer, are a Kickstarter hit.

The Jawbone Up fitness-tracking bracelet has such a high failure rate the company offers full refunds to all.


MIT City Car: Concept design for shareable electric-car system.

SHOE OF THE YEAR: Yves Saint Laurent Tribtoo Platform Pumps: Red sole prompts trademark tiff with Christian Louboutin.


Lemnis: In partnership with Ikea, does for LEDs what GE did for CFLs.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami; Design: Chip Kidd


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[Photo by Kevin Trageser;Pop Chart Lab (infographic) | (c) The Metropolitan Museum Of Art (Mcqueen) | Uffe Elbæk Photo: courtesy of The Danish Parliament]