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Designs of the Year: the contenders

We round up our favourite contenders for the award that celebrates the most inventive design from the past year

Designed by Veronica Ditting

Pink and grey are always cool together, as shown in this issue of The Gentlewoman which features legend of stage and screen Angela Lansbury as its cover star.

Designed by Craig Green

Rising fashion star Craig Green plays with ideas of utility and function for his Autumn/Winter 2012 collection. Inspired by luggage carriers, the large wooden structures have connotations of religious pilgrimage and dwarf the models to create abstract, menacing silhouettes on the catwalk.

Designed by Heatherwick Studio

With its 204 copper petals aflame like a giant fiery sea urchin, Heatherwick Studio's design for the 2012 Olympic Cauldron wowed the world at the 2012 Games opening ceremony. We reckon it’s flamin' brilliant whether it wins or not.

Designed by Berg

This happy little chap is designed to live in your home, bringing you news, puzzles and gossip from your friends. In a natty combination of new and old media, Little Printer enables you to use your smart phone to set up subscriptions, which it will gather together to create a mini newspaper.

Centre for Vision in the Developing World and Goodwin Hartshorn

Designed by The Centre for Vision in the Developing World these self-adjustable glasses allow the wearer to tweak the lenses until they focus clearly. The specs are based on a fluid-filled lens technology developed specifically for use by kids and young adults who have no access to opticians.

Designed by David Kohn Architects, photo: Charles Hosea

A Room for London (nominated in the Architecture category) is a wonderfully whimsical temporary hotel room designed by David Kohn Architects in collaboration with artist Fiona Banner in response to a competition organised by Living Architecture. It looks like a boat washed up by a freak high tide on the Thames and has proved a poetic addition to the Southbank skyline, playing host to numerous artists, musicians and thinkers as well as paying punters.

Designed by Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Bertini Viegas

The Wind Map shows the delicate tracery of wind flowing over the US using different shades to signify different speeds and directions in endlessly entrancing patterns.

Designed by Konstantin Grcic for Mattiazzi

Three types of wood – thermo treated ash, walnut and douglas – are joined at irregular angles to make the Medici Chair. We think it looks like a stylish update of the classic Adirondak chair and a pretty comfy perch.

By Random International

Random International’s Rain Room gives visitors the chance to experience how it might feel to control the rain. The trick is that due to the special sensors built into the structure, as the water pours down from the ceiling, you can stand in the middle of the shower and not get wet. During its Barbican Curve Gallery stint it offered a double-whammy of Britishness, being both weather-related and so popular that to see it you had first to stand in a lengthy queue.

Designed by Ben Wilson; photo: John Selby

It’s the steel beam that turns this compact bicycle, created by British industrial designer Ben Wilson, into a load-bearing donkey of a bike. Perfect for those gas bottle/terrier transportation dilemmas.

Designed by Renzo Piano

You can probably see it from your home, your office, and your bus on the way in to work. Towering over the rapidly regenerating London Bridge Quarter, Italian architect Renzo Piano’s omnipresent Shard has already made the transition from super-ambitious building project to hot new London landmark. Can it also scoop a ‘Design of the Year’ gong?

Polish your interesting specs and pause to marvel at the best design from the past twelve months. The Design Museum's Designs of the Year exhibition shows nominees in seven categories – architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphics, product and transport – and, as ever, it's a deliriously broad mix. Where else can you see The Shard, Angela Lansbury and a mini newspaper-maker all vying for a prize? Category champs and an overall winner – the gov.uk website – were announced on April 16, but why not tell us your favourite designery delight in the comments box below.

See more fantastic exhibitions in London

Missoni Art Colour

The stripey overhead lighting makes it clear that the Fashion and Textile Museum is under occupation by Missoni, the Italian family firm founded in 1953 and famous for its stripes and zig-zags.  Before you get to the meat of the exhibition, there’s a screening room – think of it as the antipasti – with films showing what it takes to make a Missoni garment. The fleece is dyed and spun into spools of fine yarn before being knitted into patterns. It’s the first of several strangely soothing moments.

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Fashion and Textile Museum , London Bridge Until Sunday September 4 2016

Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear

The V&A is a victim of its own success. Ever since the Alexander McQueen exhibition ‘Savage Beauty’, with its drama, tragedy and preposterous gorgeousness, the bar for their fashion exhibitions has been set impossibly high. While this is not another ‘Savage Beauty’, it is a thoughtful and interesting show. ‘Undressed’ tells the story of undies from the eighteenth century to more recent times. It reveals the ingenuity of underwear, from the missing bones at the back of crinolines which allowed women to sit, to corsets designed for horseriding – forerunners to the sports bra. 

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V&A , Brompton Until Sunday March 12 2017

Cycle Revolution

The bicycle is the pinnacle of simple but effective human design. It has evolved from nineteenth-century push-along hobby horses through patently ridiculous penny farthing ‘ordinaries’ to the ubiquitous epitome of functionality it is today. So how do you improve on perfection? And why would you want to? This new exhibition at the Design Museum doesn’t answer those questions, but gives us plenty to think about.  It’s not just a display of cool bikes, although obsessives can get within touching distance of some of the most iconic machines of the last 100 years.

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Design Museum , Bermondsey Until Thursday June 30 2016

Shakespeare in Ten Acts

To generalise wildly, most of us can imagine what a Shakespeare play looked like 400 years ago – breeches, ruffs, dudes dressed as chicks. And anybody who goes to the theatre in 2016 knows what one looks like now. But in between? This smart new exhibition at the British Library aims to shed some light on the reality of Shakespeare’s four century-plus hold on our imagination, which it notionally does by focusing on ten key performances over the years. It doesn’t achieve its goal particularly literally – there’s very little specific documentation of individual theatre productions until the twentieth century.

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British Library , Euston Until Tuesday September 6 2016

The Rolling Stones: Exhibitionism

When Time Out interviewed Mick Jagger in advance of the opening of Exhibitionism – a massive touring retrospective of stuff dedicated to the history of The Rolling Stones – he told us: 'What I didn’t want was for it to all be on screens. People live their lives on screens so much that if people don’t see a screen for a second, they think they’re not alive.’  It’s odd then that’s exactly how Exhibitionism has ended up: on many, many screens. 

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Saatchi Gallery , Chelsea Until Sunday September 4 2016

Clangers, Bagpuss & Co

Hopefully you were first introduced to the wonderfully weird worlds of Smallfilms, the production company of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firman, at an early enough age that this small but beautifully put together exhibition will be like a magician revealing his secrets. See the paper pieces that became Noggin the Nog, find out which '60s model was the fashion inspiration for the Clangers, learn how Bagpuss ended up pink and make your very own stop-frame animation starring Ivor the Engine. With lots of beautiful artefacts to admire – including Bagpuss himself – you'll feel even more fond of the shows than you were to start with.

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V&A Museum of Childhood , Bethnal Green Until Sunday October 9 2016

This Is a Voice

Walk through the soundproofed corridor that opens the Wellcome Collection’s latest show and you hear a surprising sound: birdsong. What place does this twittering have in an exhibition about the human voice? It’s astonishing to enter Marcus Coates’s installation ‘Dawn Chorus’ and see footage of people singing like wrens and robins. Coates recorded birds individually, then slowed their songs down to be imitated by singers. He filmed the humans in their natural habitat – in bed, on the couch, in the bath – then sped his footage up until their voices were indistinguishable from the birds they mimicked. 

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Wellcome Collection , Bloomsbury Until Sunday July 31 2016

The Great British Graphic Novel exhibition

Britain's the home of the graphic novel, from Hogarth 300 years ago to Dave Gibbons. Whether you're a Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Tank Girl or Tamara Drewe fan, the Cartoon Museum's 10th birthday exhibition is sure to draw the crowds.

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Cartoon Museum , Bloomsbury Until Saturday July 23 2016

Sensational Butterflies

Visitors can come face-to-face with tropical butterflies, including the swallowtail, blue morpho, the moon moth and many others originating from Africa, Southeast Asia and North and South America, and take part in games, activities and challenges that teach more about the sensory world of the fluttering creatures.

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Natural History Museum , Brompton Until Sunday September 11 2016

Pre-Raphaelites on Paper: Victorian Drawings from the Lanigan Collection

Victorian painting is generally thought of as a pretty stilted, academic affair. The problem is that a lot of it looks like it wants to be more like drawing – particularly those paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who, in harking back to some fantasy of pre-Renaissance purity, created a style that emphasised crisp outlines and fussy detail over traditional painterly effects. If that’s the case, then surely an exhibition of their actual drawings should be a doozy, right? Well, sort of. 

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Leighton House Museum , Kensington Sunday May 29 2016
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Daniel O'Farrell
Daniel O'Farrell

It has to be The Rain Room. Simply jaw-dropping. Sure, the aura of it is a lot more impressive to the reality, but it's still pretty darn good experience!