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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 January 2006, 12:08 GMT
Gorillaz in the list
From left: Gorillaz, school in Sri Lanka designed by Architecture for Humanity, the Guardian, Copper Shade by Tom Dixon
The four nominees - take your pick

One's a virtual, platinum-selling band, the other is post-tsunami housing. Yet the public are being asked to compare their design merits. How?

In few industries could Gorillaz, the Guardian newspaper, humanitarian relief and trendy furniture share accolades.

But the final shortlist for the annual Designer of the Year award includes all four. The winner will be decided by a public vote and a jury of experts.

The presence of Gorillaz marks not only the band's coming-of-age as a phenomenon of innovation, but it also shows how far the concept and definition of design has come over the years. No longer is it considered to be purely about function and engineering, something which old-school observers like James Dyson note with some regret.

But for others, the broader definition - reflected by exhibitions of flower arrangements and shoes at the Design Museum - is something to celebrate.

Part of the fun in Designer of the Year is to show how diverse contemporary design is
Alice Rawsthorn
Alice Rawsthorn, the museum's director and chairman of the awards' jury, says: "The shortlist presents a very dynamic and eclectic view of design in all its manifestations - functionality, innovative use of technology and a contribution to the economy and industry.

"It's hard to compare furniture, emergency housing for a Third World disaster zone, a virtual band and a modern newspaper but the public tend to be very intelligent in the way they analyse design.

"And part of the fun in the awards is to show how diverse contemporary design is. All four are incredibly talented designers and this shows how design influences every area of our daily lives, so the public and jury must judge each on its own merits."

At last the design world is following the example of the Turner Prize to put interesting exponents to the fore, says designer Damian Chapman.

They may not exist but they do perform
"It's a very difficult choice to make but that's the whole point - putting the spotlight on the breadth of design we have, and that's important."

People will probably vote according to what they know best, he says, which may give Gorillaz and the Guardian an edge, although architecture fans may vote for Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity, which has built schools and medical clinics in south-east Asia.

"I see function and engineering as the building blocks of design but I'm excited that it's shifting because designers are agents of change. It excites me that they are keeping stuff dangerous and edgy and not always following a grid of how aesthetic something should be.

"The wonderful thing about British art and design is that it's prepared to take risks, although that puts it up to be criticised."

While furniture designer Tom Dixon represents the most conventional design form among the people nominated, it is Jamie Hewlett, the cartoonist behind the visual image of Gorillaz, who is positioned at the other end of the design spectrum.

Clever concept

The band, which was created in 1999, is a collaboration between Hewlett and Blur's Damon Albarn, who looks after the music.

"Jamie Hewlett created the visual identity which, being a virtual band, is every manifestation of them," says Rawsthorn. "In 2005 the artwork and visuals he created around Demon Days were amazing."

He worked for three months with more than 30 animators, programmers and model makers to create a live interactive performance at the MTV music awards which was such a sophisticated digital performance that the band were programmed to react to the audience, she says.

"Gorillaz was always a very cute, clever, cool visual concept with great music but they have used technology to its limits this year. They've been very imaginative and very clever in the way they've taken it forward."

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