Neri Oxman and Blu Dot Among 2018’s National Design Award Winners

Women and progressive causes receive top billing in this year’s National Design Awards.

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum has announced winners of the 2018 National Design Awards, also known as the Oscars of the design world, jury-selected from a group of peer-nominated talents. Among this year’s honorees: MIT rockstar professor (and erstwhile Brad Pitt acquaintance, as of late) Neri Oxman, Minneapolis-based furniture company Blu Dot, and the social design and innovation-focused network Design For America.


In an era defined by fire, fury, and #MeToo, we’re relieved to see the list dominated by women and organizations backing responsible practices—a small but welcome salve to the unrelenting tumult.

“All 10 of this year’s winners present a powerful design perspective and body of work that is at once inclusive and deeply personal, accompanied by great achievement, humanity and social impact,” said Caroline Baumann, director of Cooper Hewitt, by statement. Now in its 19th year, the annual awards program was established in 2000 as a project of the White House Millennium Council to recognize design excellence across a range of disciplines, from architecture to interaction design, fashion, and more; a special Design Mind award is also dedicated to thought leadership. Read on to learn more about this year’s 10 winners.

Gail Anderson [Photo: Declan Van Welie]

Lifetime Achievement: Gail Anderson

A mainstay of New York City’s graphic design community, Gail Anderson is creative director of the Visual Arts Press at the School of Visual Arts, where she’s taught for more than 25 years. She is also partner of an independent firm, Anderson Newton Design, an author of more than a dozen books, and previously worked in advertising and as an art director of Rolling Stone.

Anne Whiston Spirn [Photo: courtesy Anne Whiston Spirn]

Design Mind: Anne Whiston Spirn

The Design Mind honor is reserved for those who have significantly altered the conversation around design, be it a writer, an educator, or a public advocate. This year, it goes to Anne Whiston Spirn—an author, landscape architect, photographer, and MIT professor. Since 1987, Spirn has directed the West Philadelphia Landscape Project for 30 years, and is known for centering her focus on ecological sustainability and artful functionality.

[Image: courtesy Design for America]

Corporate and Institutional Achievement: Design For America

Founded in 2009 by Northwestern University faculty member Liz Gerber and three of her students, Design For America began with a mission to connect and empower young people to tackle pressing social issues—such as access to drinkable water and healthcare—through design and innovation. The effort has since grown into a national, community network of more than 4,000 designers, educators, and students. It’s a big win for a category that’s previously awarded big companies like Adobe and Target.

Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi. [Photo: Shuli Sadé/Sadé Studio]

Architecture Design: WEISS/MANFREDI

Husband-and-wife duo Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi founded their New York-based architecture practice, Weiss/Manfredi, with an eye towards incorporating art, landscape, and infrastructure. Among their best-known projects are Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park and the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi; this year, they’ll also be featured in the Venice Architecture Biennale.

Corey Gutch, Michael Ellsworth, and Gabriel Stromberg. [Photo: Summer–Lee Schoenfeld]

Communication Design: Civilization

Seattle-based firm Civilization has created more than a handful of crisp, millennial-friendly identity systems, digital experiences, exhibitions, and graphics over the years—with several projects taking a socially progressive bent, tackling big issues ranging from the drug epidemic to ecological preservation. Last year, the team won the Webby Award for Best Activism Website with the crowdsourced storytelling platform, Shout Your Abortion.

Christina Kim. [Photo: Hideaki Hamada]

Fashion Design: Christina Kim

A rare voice of conscientiousness in an industry conventionally known for excess and waste, Los Angeles-based fashion designer Christina Kim has made a career of creative reuse. Her clothing, accessories, and housewares company, Dosa, blends artisanal handcraft with ecological responsibility and a relaxed, bohemian ethos.

Neri Oxman [Photo: Noah Kalina]

Interaction Design: Neri Oxman

She may have made Page Six in recent months for her budding friendship with Brad Pitt, but the visionary MIT professor, inventor, and architect Neri Oxman has been on our radar for years (see our June 2009 cover for evidence). Head of MIT’s Mediated Matter Group, she’s a frequent TED speaker and leads pioneering research at the intersection of technology, robotics, biology, digital fabrication, wearables, and more.  The team’s experimental designs often involve 3D printing in novel materials—from chitosan resin, to silkworm fibers, and glass—that push the envelope of possibilities to otherworldly effect.

Chad Oppenheim [Photo: Ken Hayden]

Interior Design: Oppenheim Architecture + Design

Best-known for his work on film director Michael Bay’s three-story residence (dubbed L.A. Villa), founding partner Chad Oppenheim has built a wide range of project spanning 25 countries, with a focus on hospitality, residential, and mixed-use structures.

Mikyoung Kim. [Photo: Christopher Baker]

Landscape Architecture: Mikyoung Kim Design

The founding principal of the eponymous Boston-based firm, Mikyoung Kim often examines issues of urban resiliency and her work features artful meditations on water and light. Among her built works are Chongae River Restoration in Seoul, Korea; and the Chicago Botanic Learning Garden Learning Campus.

Maurice Blanks and John Christakos. [Photo: Dan Monick]

Product Design: Blu Dot

Minneapolis-based furniture manufacturer Blu Dot was founded in 1997 by three college friends—John Christakos, Maurice Blanks and Charlie Lazor—partly out of frustration by the lack of affordable, quality designs in the market. Two decades on, they now safely inhabit the wide valley between Ikea and Design Within Reach, producing pragmatic and pleasing designs with economic fabrication methods.


About the author

Aileen Kwun is a writer based in New York City. She is the author of Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations On a Lifetime in Architecture and Design (Princeton Architectural Press), and was previously a senior editor at Dwell and Surface.