DAME Awards

Great design is more than innovation

Kim Hollamby
Tuesday, 22 March 2022

DAME Awards non-voting secretary, Kim Hollamby, explores why METSTRADE’s globally renowned marine equipment design competition highlights products with excellent merit in all design disciplines.

The DAME Award enters its 31st season this year. Our inaugural winner in 1991 was Sony's PYXIS GPS receiver. It was brilliantly innovative as one of the first-ever mass-market handheld GPS receivers. However, that was not why it won. According to the Jury's report, the PYXIS offered evidence of great holistic design practice, being "compact, functional, portable, water-resistant, user friendly, easy to handle, simple to operate, light to carry, aesthetically pleasing and an outstanding product for a competitive price.”

The Sony PYXIS and other early handheld GPS receivers like the Magellan 1000 (which beat it to marine market three years before) set the path towards a revolution in compact satellite navigators. The brilliance of these pioneering products was not simply the innovation involved in placing an accurate geographic location in the hands of civilian users. They laid down a standard for others to match in the thoroughness of their conception, from the user interface to branding, supplied accessories and packaging. Those efforts not only made a new technology available, but attractive and accessible to a wide audience. All thanks to great attention to design detail.

DAME Awards: so much more than innovation

The DAME Award is world-renowned and very aspirational but not always fully understood. Some mistakenly assume it is an ‘innovation’ competition or that it only focuses on radically new to market solutions. The reality is it has a much broader scope.

DAME Jury members through the years would no doubt agree that their always busy judgement days would have been simpler and shorter if ‘innovation’ and ‘being first’ were the only criteria to consider. However, the competition’s full name, Design at METSTRADE, indicates its mission – to highlight the efforts of marine companies who place design in all aspects right at the centre of their new product developments. Great design is an enabler for many things – innovation certainly, but many others too including business differentiation, market expansion, customer experience, environmental improvement and production efficiency. Good and poor design affects us every day, afloat and ashore.

Dr Ian Campbell, Interim Executive Chair for the British non-departmental public body, Innovate UK, says: “Take a good look around you. Almost everything that you can see or might use, from manufactured household or office goods, electrical items, and furniture, to the services and apps on your smartphone, computer or TV and even the built environment around you, has been designed – either consciously or by default. The extent to which we love (or dislike) those things, and whether they help or hinder us in our daily lives depends, to a great extent, on the consideration and expertise that has gone into their design.”

The marine equipment sector offers a plethora of different products, some with their roots in century’s old practice, to completely new items. What will count as the leisure marine industry seeks to attract next generations is how well each product integrates into the user experience. Designs must keep pace with day-to-day expectations set ever higher by global pacemakers in consumer manufacturing and digital enterprise.

Recognition of the drive for design improvement lies at the heart of the DAME Award. Much of the development we see in the world around us is iterative. Even minor functional improvements that you would not necessarily perceive as innovative can yield significant gains in usability and customer acceptance.

What does ‘design’ mean?

The word ‘design’ means many things to many people. For some, it suggests aesthetics and beauty – for others, functionality, efficiency and other tangible end outcomes. The Japan Institute of Design Promotion offers the idea that design refers to a plan for achieving the objective of a new product or service. Colour, shape, technology, and function are all ways of realising this objective.

Lecturer at TU Delft’s Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering and DAME Award Jury, Dr Arjen Jansen, explained in his METSTRADE blog last year: “Great product design is user-centred. It’s both feasible and viable as well as desirable. We don't care about any one single element, such as technology, people, or money. Good design is sometimes mistaken for something that is shiny and beautiful outside, but that’s just one aspect. It's much more important to think from the inside out.”

That’s why you’ll find the DAME terms and conditions outline a broad range of design criteria against which each product is judged, down to the detail. Even the way the product is presented and explained will be a factor, simply because it helps the Jury understand the design effort made and it also says something about the design ethos of the leisure marine company presenting it.

The business value of design

So what is the payback for all of this focus on design? In a 2018 study, McKinsey & Company analysed the business value of design. It found a strong correlation between good design practice and business performance across various sectors, with the most differentiated companies performing exponentially better again.

The same report also highlighted issues with how companies integrate design into their processes, such as whether they engage end users in iterative design improvement and objectively set desired end outcomes and targets for design teams.

The McKinsey report studied 300 publicly listed companies The majority of METSTRADE exhibitors will not be operating anywhere near that scale, so the effort required to achieve design excellence is often proportionately far greater than for a large corporate body. That point neatly summarises what the DAME Awards seeks to celebrate. Thousands of nominated products and hundreds of overall and category winners have proven time and time again the leisure marine industry’s impressive capability to drive itself forward through great design.

We look forward to seeing the latest generation of brilliantly well-designed products when the window opens for DAME entries in July.