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Maria Benktzon © EUIPO
Coffee serving pot, Maria Benktzon, S-E Juhlin, SAS 1987
Serving set, Maria Benktzon, S-E Juhlin, SAS 1992

The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) is responsible for the administration of the EU trade mark and registered EU design. Every two years, EUIPO organises the DesignEuropa Awards to recognise outstanding design achievements by holders of registered Community designs (RCDs). This year’s prize for small and medium-sized enterprises was awarded to RemigoOne (Remigo) from Slovenia for its lightweight, intuitive and easy-to-use electric outboard motor. The 2023 Industry Award went to the Italian company SMEG Spa for its compact fully automatic espresso coffee machine, which allows professional coffee preparation in a simple and intuitive way.

The “Lifetime Achievement Award” of the DesignEuropa Awards for her life’s work was given (as the first woman) to designer Maria Benktzon. Her work, according to the citation, shows “an exceptional and recognised ability to design inclusive, ergonomic and easy-to-use products with a strong aesthetic quality.” According to the jury, her work “strongly reflects the Swedish and Nordic model of welfare society, which emphasises equality and democracy by combining usability, functionality, aesthetics and a strong sense of ethics.”

Maria Benktzon was born in Nyköping, Sweden, in 1946. She studied at Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm. She was particularly inspired by Victor Papanek’s advocacy of social design after experiencing him at a conference in the penultimate year of her studies. From then on, she focused on a user-centred and inclusive approach. After finishing her studies in 1969, Benktzon joined Henrik Wahlforss’ group, which was founded in 1971 under the name “Ergonomidesign”, renamed “Veryday” in 2012 and acquired by McKinsey & Company in 2016. At the same time, she began working with Sven-Eric Juhlin, who was a designer at Gustavsberg at the time.

Maria Benktzon has always tried to combine the sensibility of fine art with the demands of everyday life. Many of her works are considered milestones of integrative design. Her collaboration with Sven Eric Juhlin resulted in the world’s first angled kitchen knife in 1973 (for Gustavsberg). Four years later, the two designed the then revolutionary “Knork Fork” for people who are unable to eat with two hands. In the 1980s, Benktzon concentrated on designing user-oriented, integrative products and working environments. She placed great emphasis on systematic user research, collaboration with users and sustainability. One of her best-known designs is the drip-free coffee pot she created for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) in the late 1980s (together with Sven-Eric Juhlin). The pot was used by more than 30 airlines worldwide and more than 500,000 copies were produced. In 1992, an ergonomically designed serving tray with sugar bowl and creamer followed, and in 1994 a juice jug. Benktzon has also designed protective work gloves, crutches, walking sticks, clothing for the disabled and mobile phones for senior citizens.

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