Cooper Hewitt Announces 2021 National Design Awards Winners

The long-running program honors exemplary design leadership in the United States.

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s annual National Design Awards program honors the legacy of preeminent design leadership in America—and the power of design to change the world. Now in its 22nd year, the accolade recognizes innovation across nine categories such as architecture, fashion, design, and climate action. Dr. Jill Biden served as the Honorary Patron for this year’s awards, which were established in 2000 as a project of the White House Millennium Council. An esteemed jury of design leaders and educators, including Joe Gebbia, Kristine Johnson, and Patricia Saldaña Natke, selected the winners after reviewing multiple nominations from design experts and enthusiasts.

“The 2021 National Design Award winners challenge boundaries of their fields,” Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar, interim director of the museum, said in a statement. “From community and future-focused to socially responsible design, these designers fill us with an optimism for the future by demonstrating the transformative capacity of design.” Mark your calendars for even more programming to celebrate this year’s winners: In September, Cooper Hewitt will present the awards in Detroit as part of Detroit Month of Design, and each winner will participate in virtual activities such as talks, workshops, and tours to celebrate National Design Month in October. 

This year’s winners include: 

Back to School Jam! advertorial insert for YSB magazine by Cheryl D. Miller

Cheryl D. Miller (Design Visionary)

A graphic designer, author, and theologian, Miller is best known for her advocacy on racial, cultural, and gender equity, diversity, and inclusion. She established one of the first Black women–owned design firms in New York City in 1984, and three years later published an a seminal article in PRINT magazine called “Black Designers Missing in Action” that laid the groundwork for her future advocacy.


InVert Self-Shading Windows by Doris Sung

InVert Self-Shading Window by Doris Sung (Climate Action)

The InVert Self-Shading Window uses smart thermobimetal pieces inside the city of a standard double-glazed window to shade a building in a magical way—with a kaleidoscope of fluttering butterfly-like pieces. By responding to the sun, it dynamically blocks solar radiation from heating the building and thus reduces air-conditioning usage by 25 percent using zero energy and no controls. Given that 40 percent of all energy used is in buildings—far more than other industries—and 12 percent of that energy is spent on cooling interiors, any amount of reduction has a tremendous impact on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.


Storia Project: Delta by Colloquate Design in New Orleans

Colloqate Design (Emerging Designer)

A multidisciplinary nonprofit design justice practice based in New Orleans that focuses on expanding community access to the design of social, civic, and cultural spaces, Colloqate Design’s mission is to organize and advocate for spaces of racial and social justice throughout the built environment. Colloqate organizes to build knowledge, power, and access in communities through ongoing local gatherings and workshops to share and build collective knowledge around the process of city-building.


McDonald’s Chicago Flagship by Ross Barney Architects. Photography by Kendall McCaugherty, Hall + Merrick Photographers

Ross Barney Architects (Architecture and Interior Design)

Founded by Carol Ross Barney in 1981, this Chicago-based firm’s mission is to create well-designed spaces for everyone. The studio is dedicated to“noble” projects—ones without the most generous budgets or sought-after commissions, but those crucial to daily life and that require innovative interventions.


Stranger Things main title sequence by Imaginary Forces

Imaginary Forces (Communication Design)

Specializing in design-based visual storytelling, Imaginary Forces has created work that challenges audiences to conjure up entirely new worlds. Known for designing iconic title sequences for Marvel, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, and Stranger Things, the 25-year-old communication design studio has been instrumental in bringing motion design into advertising, architecture, gaming, and documentary film production.


Iridescence by Behnaz Farahi

Behnaz Farahi (Digital Design)

Farahi is an award-winning designer whose work is situated at the intersection of digital design, architecture, fashion, and interactive design, ranging in scale from wearables to architectural installations. Her practice explores how materials can be imbued with artificial intelligence and life-like behaviors, incorporating techniques such as EEG brain imaging, facial and gaze tracking, 3D printing, as well as smart materials and pneumatics systems. She engages with the latest developments in neuroscience, cognitive philosophy, computational design, AI, and feminism in order to spark new conversations about the future of design.


Adrenaline dress for Momentum SS16 by Becca McCharen-Tran. Photography by Christelle Castro

Becca McCharen-Tran of Chromat (Fashion Design)

The fashion designer and founder of future-forward bodywear line Chromat, McCharen-Tran has shaped her design practice by interrogating the cultural hegemony around representation and inclusion. She also delivered a TED Talk on the urgency of racial, gender and disability justice in fashion and staged the “Queer Joy” exhibition at MoMA PS1, which included a series of performances and installations celebrating the LGBTQ community.


Lucas Museum of Narrative art with landscape design by Studio-MLA. Rendering courtesy of MAD Architects

Studio-MLA (Landscape Architecture)

Operating on the mantra of “advocacy by design,” Studio-MLA integrates landscape architecture, urban design and planning to create places that inspire human connection, unite communities and restore environmental balance. From the master planning of rivers to the design of intimate plazas and gardens, the studio has been recognized for creativity, pragmatism, and responsibility across a range of scales and geographies, and believes in the transformative power of design to recalibrate its shared surroundings for a resilient future.


BioLite CampStove. Photography by Scott Markewitz

BioLite (Product Design)

A social enterprise that develops, manufactures, and markets advanced energy products for off-grid communities around the world, BioLite creates novel cooking, charging, and lighting solutions that serve both outdoor enthusiasts and rural communities without access to the grid. To date, BioLite has impacted more than 1.7 million people across Africa and Asia and avoided 400,000 tons of carbon emissions through its clean energy solutions—equivalent to taking 100,000 cars off the road for a year.

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