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Brazil's Best Product Designs


The first location-specific program for the International Design Excellence Awards celebrated 53 examples of top Brazilian design

How can an awards system with the word "international" in its title possibly hope to get away with introducing a rigidly localized program of events? That's exactly what the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) did this year with its inaugural IDEA/Brazil show.

By calling for design submissions from around the giant South American nation, the organization aimed to emphasize the importance of design to Brazilian business, which has surged in recent years thanks to robust exports as well as a booming national economy. From nearly 350 submissions, some 53 objects were deemed worthy of a gold, silver, or bronze award. All the winners were also entered into the main annual IDEA competition, organized by the IDSA and chaired this year by Alistair Hamilton, creative director of mobile communications Microsoft (MSFT) (see the 2008 slide show of winners or listen to Hamilton discuss the judging process.)

Yet the niche concept has some merit, argue the organizers from the nonprofit design advocacy firm Objeto Brasil, which had support from government organizations such as Apex-Brazil, the Brazilian Trade & Investment Promotion Agency. As Tucker Viemeister, lab chief at U.S. design consultancy Rockwell Group, who traveled to São Paulo earlier in the year to help judge the event, puts it: "As much as Americans think we're 'normal', we have a different point of view from other places. It can be difficult for other countries to present their work in cultures other than their own."

Lost in Translation?

Not least because English is not, contrary to the beliefs of some, the world's default language. Brazilians speak Portuguese, and many entrants to IDEA/Brazil were attracted to the competition by the chance to explain their design projects in their native tongue. "Language can be an obstacle," explains Joice Joppert Leal, president of Objeto Brasil and a tour de force in IDEA/Brazil. She adds that the timing was right for such an event. "In the past 20 years, more and more industries and companies in Brazil have begun to understand what design and innovation are capable of doing for business," she adds. "Launching this program sends an important message about Brazilian design, and about the importance of design as a whole for the economy and competitive industry."

Certainly IDSA seems to be onto something by tapping into the talents of one of the so-called BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China, nations which are expected to outpace current leading economies in the next century. The absence of submissions from Asia and South America has long provided a blot on the records of organizations claiming to represent the world of design with their awards. This year, the IDEA had a better international mix, with Korea and Brazil following the U.S in number of awards won. In all, 12 Brazilian projects won double honors.

The awards themselves were presented for a hugely diverse array of products, submitted by independent designers, global multinationals, and well-known brands such as Whirlpool (WHR) and Electrolux (ELUX). Motorola (MOT), for instance, won a gold medal for MotoID, a music-recognition application for cell phones. "It is a great honor to receive an award like the IDEA," said Charles Bezerra, Motorola design manager for Latin America at the IDEA/Brazil ceremony, held in São Paulo at the end of May. "This award recognizes the work done by the Brazilian team, which developed the design of an application now used by Motorola consumers worldwide."

Some of the winners were peculiar. Jewelry, for instance, wouldn't win in the U.S., but two such projects were awarded in Brazil. "There was a lot of discussion about whether an object was too decorative or not functional enough," said Viemeister of the judging process. On the whole, however, Viemeister thinks the judging was typical. "The caliber of the design was fine," he recalls of the entrants. "It was totally equal to American design, just with a different twist."

See a slide show of all of the IDEA/Brazil Gold medal winners.

Return to The Best Product Design of 2008 Table of Contents

Helen Walters is the editor for BusinessWeek.com's Innovation and Design Channel .

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