Our distinguished panel of judges considered entrepreneur-made products that were designed and sold by privately held U.S. companies and became available for consumer purchase after January 1, 2014.
The Text Expert
Lupton can wax poetic about text on a page--or on an egg carton--while sounding both persuasive and authentic. It's infectious.
"I love this egg box," Lupton says, clutching the calligraphy-covered Vital Farms egg carton that was one of our finalists for packaging design. "It uses beautiful graphics to seduce the consumer into coming close and learning that these are good eggs made from happy, humanely raised chickens. It helps us make the leap to paying more for better eggs."
Now the curator of contemporary design at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Lupton literally wrote the book on typography: Thinking With Type, a guide to every subtle nuance of, for example, how these words look on the printed page versus a computer screen. She splits her time between her curatorial duties in New York City and Baltimore, where she runs the graphic design MFA program at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
"Try to think about users and how you could make their day better," she says. "It's really not about the designer; it's about the user."
The Fashion Leader
Spend a few minutes with the woman who built one of New York City's lasting fashion empires, and come away with a fresh perspective on everything from office supplies to gift giving. (Rowley's partial to brewing her own beer, and was the most vocal fan of the DIY gin kit.)
"The design of something helps tell the story," she says. "So you have to just look at everything and ask, 'What does this mean to me and my aesthetic?' and 'How can I influence this?'"
The things Rowley is influencing now include eyeglasses, fitness apparel, and, through a new partnership with Staples, even pencil erasers. But of course, she made her name decades ago with her line of women's clothing, resulting in year after year of kaleidoscopic, print-forward designs. Rowley's quirky but wearable styles have launched more than 60 boutiques and brought her a slew of fashion awards, pop-culture cred, and a company that's close to celebrating its 30th birthday.
"I try to be as creative in the business side of things as I am in the design side of things," she says.
The Corporate Visionary
Casey didn't set out to be a designer. So her degrees in English, psychology, and critical theory might be unusual in her profession--but they make perfect sense to her.
"What ties my education to my work is a respect for storytelling," says Casey, who spent two decades in design, with stints at some heavyweight firms, before landing at Samsung, where she's chief product officer of the tech giant's Global Innovation Center. "As you evolve, you start to see that the impact you can make as a designer is deeper when your design affects how people do their work and communicate."
Now she spends her time "trying to demonstrate how small groups can design products and services quickly."
The Architectural Engineer
Therrien knows how to find the most stunning designs among hundreds. After all, that's what the Guggenheim tapped him to do in November, when it named him curator for architecture and digital initiatives. Since then, the computer engineer and architect by training has been helping coordinate the Guggenheim's ambitious competition for the design of a planned Helsinki location.
It's not an easy assignment from the modern-art museum, which inhabits some of the best-known works by Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright. More than 1,700 architects submitted Helsinki designs, which have been pared down to six finalists.
"If 'iconic' was the way we described architecture as we closed out the 20th century--and the Guggenheim was one of the great instances of what that meant--in Helsinki the question is, what does iconic design mean today?" Therrien says. "It's not about a kind of building as a piece of jewelry, but really about a building that performs in a totally different way."
There are dozens of reasons why design-focused businesses excel today. But ask Amit, the creative leader and founder of studio NewDealDesign, and you'll get just one simple reason: "Because it makes money."
He should know. The designer is behind some of the most eye-catching tech gadgets of recent years, including the Fitbit, the Sproutling smart baby monitor, and Google's Project Ara smartphone. The son of Israeli architects, Amit studied design in Jerusalem before moving to San Francisco to work at Frog Design.
He launched his company in 2000, and advocates for design to become a bigger priority for the tech disrupters of today. "If you use design correctly, it will be the best return on investment," he says.