It started a month ago when I was asked to compile a list of 20 designers who will influence design in the next decade with Paola Antonelli, senior design curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. After weeks of emailing ideas to and fro, the list was nearing completion and we scoured it for possible omissions.
One worry was whether we had included designers from enough disciplines, especially the new ones, that will be increasingly important in the future. Another concern was geography. Were there too many designers from Western Europe and North America? And not enough from emerging design centers in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America? Though we soon realized that we didn't need to worry about one issue, which has traditionally bedeviled such lists. There was no shortage of women. Our list was equally balanced between the sexes. No surprise there, you may think. Why should the gender split in design be different to the rest of the global population? But it has been. How many female designers do you see in design history books? Not many. So why are there so many women on Ms. Antonelli's and my list? Was it solely because, consciously or not, we wanted to support younger women? Possibly, although there are also encouraging signs that female designers may fare better in future. Another factor is that design is expanding into new areas in response to advances in science and technology and social and economic changes.
As our list is focused on the future, many of our chosen designers work in these fledgling fields. Had we stuck to traditional areas, such as graphics or product design, the gender balance may have been different. A defining quality of these new disciplines — and the evolution of older ones — is collaboration, both between individuals and by fusing elements of different fields, something that women tend to do well.
British design group at the forefront of research into the changing relationship of people and objects, and in the development of iPad interfaces.
Hilary Cottam / Participle
British pioneer of social design, who has developed landmark projects on ageing, youth inclusion and problem families.
Ben Fry + Casey Reas / Processing
Hugely influential US software designers and programmers, whose computing language, Processing, is the chief cataylst for the data visualization movement.
Young Italian product designers who develop collections of very beautiful conceptual objects to explore political issues - cultural identity, rural poverty, the decline of craft traditions, the plight of asylum seekers in Italy.
Young graduate of the RCA Design Interactions program, she has set out to prove that designers are synthetic biology's best friends by, among other initiatives, participating in iGem (International Genetically Engineered Machine competition) and setting up a wide collaborative network for artists and scientists in universities all over the world.
Multimedia storyteller and "digital anthropologist," together with Sep Kamvar he developed the website We Feel Fine, which renders statistical and narrative snapshots of how people are feeling all around the world. His critical consideration of technology—which he uses masterfully but always keep at arm's length-is highly influential among young designers.
Institute of Play
Based in NY, it advocates that games—whether played, analyzed, or designed—can be fundamental to a truly contemporary education system. The Institute even runs a 6-12 school that focuses on design and complex problem-solving and aims to teach students to think like designers, inventors, mathematicians, writers, and more.
A leader of the new generation of Chinese graphic designers seeking to use their work as a medium of self-expression by drawing on contemporary practise and Chinese tradition.
Christien Meindertsma The Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma is at the forefront both of conceptual or "critical" design, and the tendency of young designers to explore rural culture, which has traditionally been taboo in design, specifically its often unpalatable politics. She did so brilliantly in Pig 05049 in which she traced what happened to all of the components of a single pig, finding them in glue, beer and bullets as well as bacon and sausages.
Dutch multimedia-turned-book designer who has exemplified lateral thinking in design by reinventing the traditional atlas for the age of sat nav, Google Earth and the internet.
Based in Paris, interested in sustainability and environmental science, he has managed to give "green" design a good name by foregoing ideology in favor of elegance and ingenuity.
A German designer whose conceptual objects explore and articulate provocative issues such as environmentalism, waste and animal politics, as well as researching the development of new design materials.
Dutch design provocateurs, who use graphic design as a tool to explore political and cultural issues by identifying and executing specualtive projects such as an identity for Wikileaks.
Assistant professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab, architect and designer Oxman began years ago building a catalogue of material behaviors occurring in nature—for instance a leaf section, a butterfly wing, and a scorpion paw analyzed and reproduced digitally, ready to be applied by architects and designers when the circumstances call for them.
In the forefront of developments in prosthetics technoloy as director of the biomechatronics group at MIT Media Lab.
Japanese-English, mathematician, computer scientists and interaction designer, Sputniko! creates scenarios that comment on technology and society—especially seen from a woman's point of view – with sharpness and surprising frankness.
Maya Pedal is a Guatemalan NGO, which recycles unwanted bicycles from North America and either reconditions the bikes for sale or uses their components to build pedal-powered machinery of different types—water pumps, vehicles, corn threshers, mobile smoothie stalls etc.
Emily Pilloton / Project H
As co-founder of the US-based volunteer network Project H, Emily not only initiates sustainable and humanitarian design projects but enables other designers to conceive and execute them. She is also pioneering a new approach to embedding design within high school education with Studio H.
A Dutch-Arabic network of designers and design theorists seeking to stimulate debate on design in the Arabic world and to use type design, in particular to build bridges and foster understanding.
The Franco-Danish duo of Anna Gerber and Britt Iversen have breathed new life into the book as co-founders of Visual Editions by commissioning a series of literary novels that are as notable for their design as their texts—witty, original and ingenious.