Fifty years on, the prize has become known as the Prince Philip Designers Prize and annually honours designers for their lasting contribution to the status and standing of design in the UK.

Past winners have included Thomas Heatherwick, Lord Foster, Sir Terence Conran and James Dyson. The 2010 award ceremony took place at the Design Council offices in London at the beginning of November and HRH was there to say a few words and present the award to the winner. 

The line-up was as impressive as ever with contenders coming from a broad range of disciplines from architecture to industrial, graphic and fashion design.

Amongst them were avant-garde fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood, creator of the London 2012 Aquatics Centre Zaha Hadid, and the man behind Burberry, Christopher Bailey. However, the judging panel awarded the prize to industrial designer Bill Moggridge.

In the company of such a stellar line-up, consisting of globally recognised design superstars, what made Moggridge stand out?

Well, it really all started with his design of arguably the world’s first laptop. In 1969, after completing his studies in industrial design, Moggridge set up his own design consultancy in London.

Having ranked up a pretty impressive portfolio, he went over to California in the late 1970s with the intention of setting up a US outpost.

It was here that he picked up his first major client – John Ellenby, who had set up GRiD Systems to develop a new type of portable computer that would be small enough to carry around in your briefcase, but still as powerful as a desktop computer. He asked Moggridge to create the physical design of what would be known as the GRiD Compass.

The end product was an extremely strong and rugged laptop that contains many of the features we still see today, such as the flat electroluminescent graphic display, the low-profile keyboard, bubble memory and the die-cast magnesium enclosure.

In fact, its unique geometry contained more than forty individual patent licenses, highlighting how innovative and truly precedent-setting this product was when launched in 1982.

But the impact for Moggridge lay not in the physical design achievements, but in the way that the user interacted with the hardware and software. He realised that in order to design the whole experience for the user he would also have to learn how to design the interactive technology rather than just the physical object.

So he came to pioneer the discipline of interaction design. With this new-found design principle, which really focuses on applying a user-centred approach to the design process, he co-founded IDEO in 1991, a global design consultancy.

Moggridge describes his career as having three phases: first as a designer designing stuff; then as a leader of design helping interdisciplinary teams design stuff together, and then from 2000 as a communicator of design. In this latter role he regularly talks about the value of design at conferences and seminars all over the world.

He is also very active in design education, notably as visiting professor in interaction design at the Royal College of Art and consulting associate professor in the Design program at Stanford University. He has also written two books: Designing Interactions (published in 2006 by MIT Press) – which was named as one of the Ten Best Innovation and Design Books of 2006 by BusinessWeek – and Designing Media (published in October 2010).

In 2010 he also took up a new post as the director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York.

So, Moggridge is indeed a very worthy winner of the Prince Philip Designers Prize, not only because his laptop has shaped our lives but he has continued to make a massive contribution since then.

However, with such an unprecedented line-up of nominees, the judges decided to also award three Special Commendations: to Dame Vivienne Westwood, a fearless and groundbreaking fashion designer who has had a profound influence on British design and culture over the past forty years; to graphic designer Neville Brody for his impact on the graphic design industry and to furniture designer John Makepeace, who since the 1960s has helped to raise the profile of British furniture.

HRH concluded the award ceremony by stating that “In the end, it doesn’t matter who wins. It’s about celebrating remarkable design in all its forms.”

Now in his eighty-ninth year, let’s hope he continues to champion the cause of good design with such energy and passion. 

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