Innovation & Design

IDEA Awards: The Last Decade


Over the last 10 years, IDEA's consumer-product winners have demonstrated good design from a number of companies, from Apple to LG

Each year, the International Design Excellence Awards highlight the best in design. It's not an easy achievement. Thousands of products are submitted each year, but only a relative few emerge with awards. Over the last decade, winners in the consumer products category have come from a cross section of the economy, from electronics and office supplies to toys and cleaners.

Entries are judged in seven categories: innovation, user benefit, benefit to society and the environment, benefit to the client, visual/aesthetic appeal, usability/reliability, and internal factors and methods, like implementation. Experts from a variety of companies and design firms form the jury, which puts submissions through two rounds of vigorous examination. Gold, silver, and bronze awards are doled out, and one product is singled out as Best in Show.

Apple Leads the Pack

Apple (AAPL) has been the biggest force in the design awards over the last 10 years. It has won awards for the iPod, iPod mini, iPod Shuffle, iPhone, iTouch, iMac, and Mac Mini. In fact, the company has become the epitome of excellence in product design. It's no coincidence that Apple went from an also-ran to a market powerhouse over the same period. Consumers obviously responded to the company's award-winning products, snatching them up by the millions.

The IDEA judges don't always hit the mark. Reliability and durability can sometimes be issues. Evenflo's Triumph Convertible Car Seat was recalled for safety problems. Some products just don't catch on. LG's AN110 Projector was heralded for its ultraslim, wall-mountable design—very different than the chunky industrial-looking projectors that were once the norm. But if you search through LG's current catalog, it's nowhere to be found.

And sometimes the market changes so rapidly that innovative designs become dated almost overnight. Polaroid's I-zone instant camera, which printed out mini-stickers, started a hot trend, but the company has since quit making instant film. When digital photography took began to supplant film, Kodak (EK) introduced the first dual-lens camera, which gave it a high pixel count for its time. But sales of digital cameras are falling, and the money-losing company is now betting its future on printers.

For the most part, though, the IDEA jury has been prescient in its decisions. Many of the winners are still on the market or live on in updated models. And one can't deny the breadth of winners: 2009's honorees include a flash drive for data storage, an in-home HIV test kit, and fashion sandals. It's proof that no matter the industry, design and innovation are essential ingredients in products consumers want to own.

Joseph is an innovation and design writer for BusinessWeek.

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