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Four categories, 2,500 euros prize money each: The German Design Graduates initiative of the German Design Council has awarded prizes to graduates of German universities. We present the projects, which can be seen in an exhibition in Hamburg until 8 October.

By Jasmin Jouhar

Dare to Design 2023, Photo: Jakob Boerner

Cigarette butts, invasive plants, a queer-feminist library and sex toys for self-insemination: the final theses of German design universities honoured with the German Design Graduates Award 2023 deal with very different topics. But the four projects have one thing in common: they exemplify the committed, empathetic attitude of many young designers today. The projects can be seen at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg until 8 October 2023, as part of the exhibition “Dare to Design”. The exhibition was organised by the initiative German Design Graduates (GDG) and shows a total of 47 graduation projects from 23 German universities, including all finalists and the winners of the awards offered by the GDG. The prizes were awarded in four categories and are endowed with 2,500 euros each. The nine-member jury of experts from the design industry not only selected the winners, but also chose the works shown in the exhibition.

The Award Winner in the Category Sustainability & Circularity: Leila Wallisser

The subject of Leila Wallisser’s master’s thesis “Toxic Legacies” at the Kunsthochschule Weißensee is located literally on the street: cigarette butts, often carelessly discarded, yet very toxic. Wallisser set out to find solutions for recycling smokers’ waste. And demonstrated greenwashing strategies in recycling with not entirely serious products such as a soap made with cigarette ash and textiles dyed with tobacco residue. The work awarded in the category Sustainability and Circularity also includes a multimedia campaign that criticises greenwashing in a humorous to ironic way. The award means a lot to Wallisser: “I doubted for a long time whether I was actually making enough of an impact with my project in this difficult situation we find ourselves in today,” says the designer. The award gives her new energy to continue working on this issue. She wants to invest the prize money in her next project.

Leila Wallisser, Photo: Jakob Boerner

The Award Winners in the Research & Transfer Category: Beatriz Oria Lombardía

In the Research & Transfer category, the jury awarded Beatriz Oria Lombardía and her Master’s thesis “(non-) local lab” at Bauhaus University Weimar. With the help of design tools, Oria Lombardia researched how to deal with invasive plants (neophytes) in Thuringia and proposed a change of perspective: Instead of simply removing plants like Japanese knotweed, they should be used, for example as dyes or to make paper. The master’s thesis also has a participatory component; the designer shared her knowledge in a series of workshops. For her, the GDG Award is “recognition for many months of hard work and a kind of confirmation that I am good at what I studied and want to continue doing professionally from now on,” says Oria Lombardía. She is currently working on another workshop offer to participate in together with a scientist researching neophytes.

Beatriz Oria Lombardía, Photo: Jakob Boerner

The Award Winner in the Category Society & Community: Anna Unterstab

Anna Unterstab was surprised that her master’s thesis “Bücheria” was awarded. The award winner in the category Society & Community was not sure “whether my very open, expanded concept of design would meet with approval in this context, since I did not design a classic product. That’s why I’m all the more pleased about the award and also see it as a recognition of the work that has gone into the project from everyone involved and often remains invisible.” Unterstab developed the concept of a feminist, queer district library in Hamburg’s Wilhelmsburg neighbourhood for her degree at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Hamburg. She has also been running the library for a year now – on a voluntary basis together with a team. The “Bücheria” not only offers reading material: with events like “open mic” nights, writing workshops and readings, the neighbourhood is to be brought into the building. At the moment, Unterstab and the team are looking for more people to join them.

Anna Unterstab, Photo: Jakob Boerner

The Award Winner in the Inclusion Category: Juliane Kühr

Juliane Kühr has also focused on an often marginalised social group with her bachelor thesis “Vruit” at the Hochschule der Bildende Künste Saar. The designer created a set of sex toys for self-insemination and compiled medical and legal information about it. Especially queer people or single people cannot afford clinical insemination or are excluded from it. “Vruit” is intended to support them in realising their desire to have a child in a self-determined way. So far, the set is still a prototype, but thanks to a grant from the Hochschule für Wirtschaft und Technik des Saarlandes, Kühr can now continue to work on the concept and develop a second prototype. “I also plan to further explore the physical and legal issues that ‘Vruit’ informs about and coordinate these with experts,” says the designer. She hopes that through the GDG Award she can “initiate a dialogue about sustainable reproductive technology and rights, as well as about design and its role in a just and equal society”.

Juliane Kühr, Photo: Jakob Boerner

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