The government rarely receives accolades for design but on Tuesday its website won the Design of the Year award for 2013.
The new site (Gov.uk) brings together the hugely disparate sources of information, forms and regulations for everything from benefits and citizenship to taxation and business, previously strewn across a plethora of websites. It aims to simplify communication with departments and rebrand the government in clear, accessible terms.
The site was designed in-house by the Government Digital Service, a body in the Cabinet Office set up in response to a report by Martha Lane Fox, Lastminute.com founder, “Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution”.
David Cameron, the prime minister, said: “This government is committed to being the most transparent in the world. For the first time, people can find out what’s happening inside government, all in one place, and in a clear and consistent format. It is just another example of Britain’s world class design talent standing out on the global stage.”
The result looks like an uncharacteristic throwback to a post second world war era in which British government-sponsored graphics led the world. The typeface it uses is based on that developed by Margaret Calvert for the nation’s road, rail and airport signage in the 1950s and 60s, which was internationally admired and widely emulated.
Among the category winners were a number of other notably elegant and ingenious designs. The Tour Bois-le-Prêtre was a grim social housing block on the edge of Paris that was brilliantly transformed into a glassy, ineffably elegant tower by French architects Frédéric Druot, Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal. This was not gentrification but a genuine effort to improve the conditions of its residents.
A new chair for Italian manufacturer Matiazzi, designed by the always reliable Konstantin Grcic, won the furniture category. John Morgan, British designer, was recognised for his wonderfully simple graphics for the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale, a system based on Venice’s instantly recognisable stencilled street signage while Vitamins Design’s ingenious Morph folding wheel allows wheelchairs to pack down to a smaller size.
Perhaps the simplest and most effective of the designs, however, is the winner of the product category, the Kit Yamoyo, designed for Cola Life.
This was inspired by Simon Berry, UK aid worker, who noticed that even in the remotest villages in Zambia, Coca-Cola was available when the most basic drugs were not. The Kit Yamoyo was designed to piggy back on the efficiency of that distribution network by slotting life-saving medicines, particularly anti-diarrhoea drugs for children, into the gaps between bottles in Coca Cola crates. It is an extraordinarily simple idea and one that has had a real effect on the lives of some of the world’s poorest people.
If design can sometimes be perceived as a rather remote discipline aimed at the creation of eye-catching fashion and furniture, or as a means to create desire to promote consumption, these awards have once again managed to confound expectations.
Founded in 2008, they have spanned the entire duration of the ongoing economic crisis. The first winner was Yves Béhar’s One Laptop per Child programme, an attempt to design a cheap, durable laptop for the developing world. This year’s winners continue to illustrate the reach of design and its ability to improve almost every aspect of everyday life, even the least appealing interactions with bureaucracy.