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What is good design? A few months ago we asked our senior editor Nolan Giles to start speaking to our correspondents, contacts and editors about everything from the best examples of new urbanism to pieces of perfectly executed product design that they had seen and experienced. The ambition was simple: the inaugural Monocle Design Awards. Now, Mr Giles could quite rightly have fallen off his chair – although it’s hard to fall off a handsome and, yes, well-designed Maruni chair – because it’s a topic everyone has strong views on. Especially now.

In the past year we’ve seen some of the ugliest sticking- plaster designs take over our streets, homes and offices. Expediency, the need to enforce physical distancing and efforts to encourage people to get on their bicycles have all prompted a rash of quick-fix designs that will hopefully fade along with the pandemic. Here in London we have a new world of cheap cycling-lane bollards, warning signs plastered on pavements, and plastic barriers to block your movements that are not only unsightly but often ineffectual too.

But it has also been a great time for design. The debate about what makes a home able to sustain a family in lockdown, for example, has already prompted many designers to ask better questions about the things that surround us every day. Is that a chair you really want to hunker down on? Will that light fade from favour or become a cherished possession? Do those materials add to your sense of feeling good about life or do they seem harsh and cold?

We require more of this thinking because good design will be needed to reignite derailed retail in hard-hit cities. We will need joyous and inspirational spaces to lure people back into restaurants and hotels. And we’ll want office designs that make room for people to share ideas and come together again.

Luckily, being the practical Aussie that he is, none of this daunted Mr Giles and he has co-ordinated a lengthy process of elimination that allows us to present the Monocle Design Awards, which cover everything from branding to light switches. There are no showy starchitects and nothing that will fall out of favour in a season – just plenty of wit and joy and benchmarks to aspire to.

The role of good design drifts through this issue. It’s examined in our Business pages, where we look at how co-working spaces are trying to win back customers who have fled to the suburbs or found that their kitchen serves just as well as a perch in WeWork. Elsewhere we look at the revival of fashion illustration. We also interview Diane Hoskins, co-ceo of Gensler, the world’s largest architectural firm, to ask what needs to be done as we rebuild, hopefully, for the better.

So while the world feels as though it’s moving and regrouping at very different speeds, if you survey everything that’s happening in terms of design you’ll be left with a real sense of hope. We have a generation of fixers and doers who have learnt lessons over the past year, have been able to reassess what truly sustains us, and have set about planning, making and fixing. If we ditch those sticking-plaster solutions, this can be a moment when modest, practical, humane, tactile and heart-warming design can come to the rescue. And that will be a very good outcome.

Thank you for reading monocle and always feel free to send feedback and thoughts to me at at@monocle.com. Have a good month and join us next issue for a preview of The Monocle Book of Homes and an electrifying look at mobility. But before that we will also be bringing out a new issue of The Entrepreneurs magazine. 

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