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Why Design Now?

June 2010

The Why Design Now? exhibition will spark the interest of WIPO Magazine readers already familiar with the intellectual property (IP) tools that serve the international design community – the Hague System for the registration of industrial designs, the Madrid System for the registration of trademarks, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) for the protection of inventions and the Berne Convention for copyright protection. The exhibition features over 130 projects. Some have already appeared in the WIPO Magazine, but most are new to our pages. This article was written by Laurie A. Olivieri, Senior Press Manager, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

OLPC (One Laptop per Child) XOXO
Laptop, prototype (Photos: fuseproject

Why Design Now? That is the question answered in the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum exhibition running from May 14, 2010, to January 9, 2011, in New York. The exhibition explores the work of designers in responding to human and environmental problems across many fields – from architecture and product design to fashion, graphics, new media and landscape design.

“Why Design Now?” examines why “design thinking” is essential in addressing some of today’s most urgent challenges; what draws creative thinkers and problem solvers to this cutting-edge field; and why business leaders, policymakers, consumers and citizens should be aware of the importance of design. The exhibition will present key developments in the areas of: communication, community, energy, health, materials, mobility, prosperity and simplicity.

Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue
New York
Hours: Monday-Friday, 10h-17h; Saturday, 10h-18h; Sunday, 12h-18h


Smart phones, digital reading devices and social networks are changing the way people use and produce information. Designers are helping people to have greater access to information on the critical issues affecting the world by making the visualization of complex data easier and delivering urgent messages about safety, equality and the environment. Works exhibited include:

  • One Laptop per Child’s XOXO laptop, designed by Yves Béhar specifically for the developing world, can be held flat, angled or like a book;
  • Etsy, a global online marketplace for craftspersons, artists and designers that is also an internationally registered trademark (Madrid 912704) and the subject of a PCT application (WO 2008/089475); and
  • the Etón FR 500 radio, an emergency radio charged via hand crank or solar panel, which works when or where the energy grid fails to function.


In response to the expanding sprawl of cities in the developed world and escalating urban density in developing areas, architects – whose works are protected by copyright – are creating rooftop villages, urban farms and mixed-use housing developments that employ local materials and encourage harmonious, energy-efficient living at close quarters. Highlights of the design projects on view include:

  • H20tel, the first hydrogen-powered hotel;
  • vertical farming initiatives, such as the Eco-Laboratory; and
  • the Mapungubwe National Park Interpretive Center, built using local materials and labor.


Around the world, scientists, engineers and designers are seeking new ways to harness energy from the sun, wind and ocean tides and to create new products and structures that use energy efficiently and self-sufficiently. Among the projects shown in this section are:

  • the Z-10 concentrated solar-panel system, which intensifies solar energy through the use of mirrors and tracking devices;
  • the bioWave, an enormous underwater machine that mimics the swaying motion of seaweed and is designed to capture the kinetic energy of ocean turbulence;
  • the Philips LED replacement for the common light bulb, for which Philips holds an international industrial design registration (DM/071941); and
  • the experimental desert city, Masdar, in the United Arab Emirates, which may well be the largest and most advanced carbon-neutral community.

Credits left to right: BioPower Systems Pty Ltd., Centre for Vision in the
Developing  World

Australian company BioPower Systems has filed three PCT applications (WO 2007/ 019609, 2007/019608 and 2007/019607) for the technology related to the bioWave energy system.

Adaptive Eyeglasses made by Adaptive Eyecare Ltd and the Oxford Centre for Vision in the Developing World using plastic tubing, aluminum rings, silicone fluid, polyester thin film and polycarbonate covers.

AGV train: The industrial design for the Automotrice à Grande Vitesse (High-Speed Self-propelled Train) was registered as a design under the Hague System (DM/059166) by Alstom Technology Ltd., a company that also has some 550 PCT applications.


From creating prosthetic limbs controlled by the human mind to devising new ways to deliver health care to remote rural populations, designers are helping to improve physical, mental and social well-being. Among the projects in this section are:

  • the Solvatten Safe Water System, which uses UV light to make water potable;
  • Adaptive Eyeglasses, affordable corrective eyewear that the wearer can adjust by injecting various amounts of fluid into the lenses of thick glasses;
  • the Zōn Hearing Aid, nearly invisible when placed behind the ear, which is made by Starkey Laboratories Inc., filer of 21 PCT applications.


Great efforts have been made in the past decade to identify and create more sustainable materials that reduce the amount of energy and fossil fuels used in manufacturing. Chemists, engineers and designers are inventing everything from biodegradable, petroleum-free plastics to foam insulation that grows in the dark like a mushroom, requiring minimal energy to produce.

Products made with post-industrial and post-consumer recycled content range from IceStone’s colorful and durable pre-cast concrete slabs containing 100 percent recycled glass to items by fashion designer Martin Margiela, who remakes used objects into couture clothing. New information systems, including Ecolect’s Product Nutrition Label, also help consumers to find goods with a clean biological record, such as materials made from reclaimed waste, non-toxic substances or rapidly renewable agricultural products.


Allowing people to travel across town or over a continent while conserving resources requires fresh design solutions and an examination of mobility patterns and components. Featured works include:

  • Coulomb Technologies’ ChargePoint – a broad network of vehicle charging stations connected to the energy grid and installed in public and private lots – for which two PCT applications have been filed (WO 2010/011545 and 2009/089249);
  • urban transportation such as foldable bicycles and do-it-yourself bicycle trailers; and
  • France’s recently designed AGV high-speed self-propelled train.


Progressive designers and entrepreneurs are building engines that enable local communities to use their own resources to create wealth, as well as to participate in the global economy. Projects on display include:

  • items that address basic necessities, such as a pearl millet thresher (Ghana) and a low-smoke stove developed for use in India;
  • examples of slow design such as hand-made, limited-edition clothing; and
  • works made in collaboration with international designers and local craftspersons.

The improved clay stove manufactured by
Sudanese women’s networks.
(Photo: Practical Action Sudan)


As designers strive to streamline production processes and consume fewer materials in smaller amounts, the quest for simplicity is shaping design’s economic and ethical values. On view are:

  • architect Shigeru Ban’s 10-Unit system, which employs a single L-shaped component that can be used to construct a table, chair and bench;
  • Karin Eriksson’s Gripp glasses, which help people comfortably grasp the vessels and hold them steady;
  • the adjustable-height AlphaBetter student desk, which allows students to sit or stand while working.

The exhibition, sponsored by General Electric (GE), was created by Tsang Seymour Design. It features clean modular platforms, constructed from eco-friendly, recyclable materials, with natural finishes. Founded in 1897, the National Design Museum is devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design and has been part of the Smithsonian Institution since 1967. Cooper-Hewitt presents compelling perspectives on the impact of design on daily life through active educational programs, exhibitions and publications. The museum is fully accessible.

The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.