Since 2013, the Lexus Design Award has provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for designers to not only work with world-class mentors, but also exhibit their work to a global audience at Milan Design Week. Creative Bloq attended the event at Superstudio Più last week, where we explored the four winning ideas and talked with the designers about their process.
Among the final designs is Touch the Valley, a 3D topographical puzzle for the visually impaired. Created by USA-based design team Temporary Office, it was through the Lexus Design Award's mentorship programme that the project found its focus. (Feeling meditative? Check out the best puzzles available in 2023.)
Touch the Valley involves matching adjacent contouring pieces to recreate real mountainous landmarks such as Yosemite or Monument Valley, and experience the physical world through touch. Designers Vincent Lai and Douglas Lee were inspired to create the initial design by both their shared love of board games, and their professional experience as architectural designers – which involved making models for clients that needed to be transported.
But it was through working with mentors Sumayya Vally and Yuri Suzuki that the team experienced a "wake up call" moment, giving them the focus to direct the puzzle specifically towards visually impaired people. This led the the breakthrough of moving away from traditional puzzle 'socket' and 'loop' connectors, and towards a much more tactile (and aesthetically pleasing) magnet system.
"The magnet is one of the key features we added to the prototype," the team told Creative Bloq. "This makes it easier for people to verify if the pieces are adjacent to each-other, just by simply moving them close together”
But while Temporary Office is currently focussed on the visually impaired, the studio can see the appeal for a more general audience. "Firstly, we wanted to design for the visually impaired because they have a specific way of navigating their environment – we wanted to use the sensitivity they have built up and build it into a product. But ultimately we are interested in reaching general users because ultimately, we want to encourage everyone to touch and not just use their visual to problem-solve. It could simply be something cool to put on your coffee table. It doesn’t just have to be a mind-boggling challenge."
To find out more about Touch the Valley, and the rest of the winning designs, take a look at the Lexus Design Award website.