The Year in Design That Works

It’s December, and for journalists that means roundup season, as we all scramble to compile definitive lists of the BEST and WORST things to happen to all of us in the past year. I was tapped by my editors at GOOD to create a list of design highlights for 2011 but with a twist: We decided that I could only pick things that looked good and worked well. It’s tougher than you might think. Design seems to be fracturing into two camps: Stuff that works but doesn’t look especially aesthetically pleasing, and stuff that’s all surface with absolutely no substance. I argue that the best design out there can solve massive issues around depleting materials and changing technology, but still be something you want to bring into your home.

One of my favorite examples of design that’s addressing problems but is still enticing enough for consumers to embrace is Prettymaps, above, by the San Francisco-based firm Stamen (who I’ve written about many times this year). Using crowdsourced data like Flickr and OpenStreetMap, they’re able to create these incredible highly-detailed maps of pretty much anywhere. This data can be used by designers and developers, who can enlist Prettymaps as an open source mapping tool, but the technology is so visually engrossing that the maps themselves are being sold as art. You can buy Prettymaps of most major cities at 20×200 and, in a related experiment also powered by Stamen, you can buybeautiful custom textiles of any address over at SoftCities.

Prettymaps is one of 11 products I selected (for 2011, of course) and I’d venture to say they’d all make nice last-minute gifts for the holiday. Check out my story over at GOOD.